“People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, so it can give light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:15)
We have been talking about being the Light of the world. Jesus was. Now, we are. It is our task to be the Light just as He was the Light – living as vessels of measureless grace and always being “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1Peter 3:15)
The idea is to live in such a way (with such grace, joy, integrity, and hope) that people cannot help but ask why you are as you are.
When Jesus told His disciples that they were the Light of the world, He immediately gave them a picture to help them see what that meant. “A city on a hill” is a welcoming thing. It compels people to want to escape from the peril of darkness.
But He also offered another picture as a bit of a warning. He spoke to them of lamps and lighting dark houses.
Again, this doesn’t mean much to us (until our electricity goes out – then we are forced to go “old school” with “lamps” and flames [candles!]). But in those days, when it got dark, your only opportunity to alleviate the darkness was to use an oil lamp. It was lit and placed on a stand so it could illuminate the living space.
Jesus’ lesson was to point out the problem of lighting a lamp and then placing it under a basket, where it would do no good. Covered lamps offer no light to take care of darkness. There is no point in lighting a lamp if you are going to make it ineffective in its purpose!
There are a couple of applications to Jesus’ point.
First, as “lamps,” our purpose is to bring Light. Jesus seems to be indicating that it is possible to BE a lamp and NOT be useful for your purpose. Unless we shine, unless we alleviate darkness, we are not useful in God’s purpose for us.
And we must shine in a way that illuminates all in the house. We must live with attention to our intention – to love as Jesus loved and to be prepared to speak truth as the opportunities arise. Being the Light is centered in being full of grace and truth (just as Jesus was!).
Secondly, our intention must be pure. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus points out something that should be really obvious to us… our “good works” should draw people to honor (and worship) God as God. It is easy (more than we often realize) to do things to draw attention to ourselves OR to gain the approval/recognition of people around us. When we are seeking to gain the praise of those around us, we have stopped being the Light and are simply “lamps under a basket.” We may think we are shining brightly – but our “light” extends only as far as our basket-covering allows.
The safeguard to pure intentions is simply found in loving with Jesus’ kind of love (which IS already within us!). His love compelled Him NOT to be served but to serve — and NOT to be recognized for the wonderful Person He was (even though He deserved to be!), but to point all attention to the Father – to discover and know His immense love.
And to live in a way that deflected all praise to the One Who truly deserves the fullness of our worship.