C.S. Lewis is commonly attributed with saying, “Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine so that through you, others can see Him.” Whether or not he actually ever said this is debatable, but the sentiment is sound. It means that we shine our lights so that we can direct attention to God rather than drawing attention to ourselves. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 5:14 – 16:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
That should be our single motivator, that we shine our lights in a way that give honor to our Heavenly Father and motivates others to want to learn more about Him. That is our mission in this world, and that is our challenge — to shine in such a way that others, through us, can see Him.
How Do We Shine?
In the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells the gathered assembly to shine, He immediately begins to contrast shining God’s light with the conduct of the scribes and the Pharisees. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus tells the crowd that their holiness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, and chapter 6 sees Him criticizing these religious leaders for their motivations.
The Pharisees had an attention problem. In their conduct, they were drawing attention to themselves at the expense of God. They made themselves look very good, but they were doing it in a way that was putting a stumbling block before others. It’s a problem we can still have today — that fine line between righteous conduct and self-righteous conduct.
How do we shine righteous lights with the right focus? How do we avoid being Pharisees?
1. Shine with Humility
When Paul writes to the Ephesians about their spiritual conduct, he says that humility is key in the beginning of chapter 4. In Colossians 3, the same apostle writes that we should clothe ourselves in humility and kindness. In each of these cases, Paul is writing about spiritual unity and how we should be putting others before self. This means we shine our lights in such a way that God and others come before self. This isn’t about making me look good.
This isn’t about the kudos I can receive or about how smart I can make myself look. It’s about how I can lift you up and let God touch your life, in even the smallest of ways. We sometimes sing, “This little light of mine,” and the words of that song are inherently humble. I recognize my light is small compared to the darkness around me. I realize my light is small compared to the Father’s, but it serves it’s purpose, and that purpose is His.
2. Shine for Others
The opening of Romans 15 reads:
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’”
Christ is our ultimate example, and can you think of anything He did purely to satisfy Himself? Can you think of any public work He did solely to earn praises from men? Certainly, praise followed some of His actions, but that was never the point. His conduct lifted others up more than self, and He was always pointing their attention back to the Father.
If we can get rid of those feelings that tell us we need to vindicate ourselves, that we need to put someone else in their place, or that we need to prove ourselves in some way, we can come a long way in putting others and God first. Our lights should be guiding others to Christ, and we can only do that if we hold them away from ourselves.
3. Shine Indiscriminately
We sometimes sing, “All around the neighborhood, I’m gonna let it shine.” Another version we have at home reads, “Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine.” The light of our conduct should not only be humble and focused on God and others. Those others should include anyone we meet, regardless of how deserving we think they are.
Look at the people Jesus shined God’s light for: social outcasts like Samaritans and tax collectors, wrongdoers like the man on the cross or the woman taken in adultery, and the destitute — both spiritually and materially. There was never any question about whether someone was deserving of His light; it was available to all. My favorite example of this is Christ appearing to Saul in a great light, despite his history of persecuting, imprisoning, and possibly killing Christians. If the gospel light could convert a man like that, who are we too put limits on it? The blessed gospel is for all, and that begins with shining His light for all to see.
Hiding Under Bushels
Sometimes, though, we face obstacles to shining our lights. We hide it under a bushel. Do you ever think about that verse of the song? “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine.” What does it mean to hide our light under a bushel? Well, the bushel (or basket, as Jesus says in Matthew 5:15) is anything that obscures our light, and it is something that we actively place our light behind. When we hide our light under a bushel, it’s not an accident; we do it purposefully.
So what’s the bushel? Sin is an obvious answer that obscures our lights. But what about fear, prejudice, or anger? Can we hide our lights behind bushels of judgmental attitudes, impatience, or frustration? That bushel is anything that comes between God’s light and my sharing it with someone else in word or deed.
I may treat you hostilely because of your position on some social issue: that’s become a bushel I’ve hidden my light behind. I may hold a grudge that causes me to treat you differently than other Christians: that’s become a bushel. Uncontrolled anger may cause me to lash out: that’s become a bushel. I may treat someone more harshly because of their social standing, their race, or their religion: I’ve let prejudice become a bushel obscuring God’s light.
In Matthew 5, not long after Jesus talks about being lights to the world, He has this to say in verses 29 – 30:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
It might be that what I need to cut out of my life are those things causing fear, anger, prejudice, impatience, or any of those other bushels under which I hide my light. If we are going to shine our lights indiscriminately, putting others and God before self, we may have to burn some bushels out of our lives so that our lights remain healthy and unobstructed.
The Source of Our Light
All of this comes down to truly understanding and accepting the source of our light. Returning to our friend C.S. Lewis, he wrote in Mere Christianity:
…The Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.
It’s this knowledge that helps us be humble in shining our lights — that our good deeds are not our own but come from the Father. We mirror that light to others. Just as our sun’s light is for all, so too is God’s light. It is intended for everyone regardless of their race, their past lives, or even their initial willingness to receive. Finally, the sun’s light is of no benefit to itself, nor is God’s light for Himself. It’s selfless in nature, and that should cause us to be selfless as well, living in a way that deflects attention and praise from self and directs all glory to God.
lesson by Robert Smelser