If I told you to describe a picture of what Jesus was talking about when he said that Christians were the light of the world, a city on a hill, you might describe something like a fortress on a hill surrounded by darkness but filled with light and shining that light on the things nearby. Ok, now apply that picture to real life, and the real way Christians live in the world. If this is taken as the ultimate meaning of Jesus’s statement what would it look like? Christians drawing together in one spot. The goal would be to get wherever the darkness isn’t.
Here we see an alternate picture of what the “light of the world” means. It looks like a picture of America at night. God does not call us into the spiritual suburbs. It is not so easy. God calls us into the dark places on the map. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said we were the light of the world. Wherever there is darkness, let there will also be light. Wherever there are people living in that dark, there will also be God’s people sent there by the God who sends. We are to seek out the darkness and light up little lights there.
I had a conversation with a friend a while back that was so encouraging because she was doing exactly this. She came to Mizzou and met a lot of people and found that all the people she was meeting and getting to know and making friends with weren’t Christians. They were different than the people she had grown up around and who she had been friends with up to that point. They had different ideas about life and morality and God than she did and there were times when that stuff would come up and she would see those differences clearly.
She had three options at this point, the first two much easier than the third. She could simply leave. She could simply cut those differences out of her life by cutting those people out of her life. Or she could change. She could change her beliefs about the world, morality, life, God, and meaning until they were alike to those of the people around her. This still cuts out the differences, but takes a different route. Or the third option, and the very hardest one, is to do neither of those things. To love her friends and love the truth of the gospel and keep them both in her life. And that is exactly what she is doing. She is living out God’s sending in her life. She is living out the fact that because God sends his people into the world sometimes that will mean living with and loving people who are different… or else what is the point?
What has happened? Her life is winsome. It is making Christianity attractive to the people around her. Because they are seeing that here is someone who cares enough about them to stay and believes enough of what she is saying to do what she can do help them see it too. Her friends are coming to her with questions, she is getting into conversations with people about their doubts. She is learning a lot and she will come away from everything with a more firm grasp of the gospel herself because what she doesn’t know she goes and studies and talks to people and she prays for them and she weeps for them when she talks about the fact that there are so many people in her life who don’t k now Jesus. That is what it means to be a missionary, to live as though Christianity involves being sent for a purpose by a God who loves the world. This is what it means to be a light to the world.