In an op-ed article in yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks wrote of the way that ‘great powers’ have allowed ‘the global order to fray’ because of the loss of conviction and meaning.
He concludes by asserting the primary problem is mental and spiritual. Some leader has to be able to digest the lessons of the past 15 years and offer a revised charismatic and persuasive sense of America’s mission. This mission… would be… more realistic about depravity and the way barbarism can spread.
Increasingly I find people around us are looking for answers. Indeed over coffee or at dinner party the conversation often turns to concerns about the future and where the world is going. We need to consider ways we might respond.
LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE
It’s important we keep Jesus’s words before us: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
What we often overlook is that the world into which Jesus Christ spoke these words was a time of one of the most powerful and ruthless dictatorships – the Roman Empire. Most people had no vote and there was no such thing as free speech. Say a word against the emperor and you could be jailed.
In his Letter to the Philippians Paul the Apostle applies Jesus’ words when he writes: Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world (2:14f).
Shine like stars. God wants us to shine like heavenly bodies in a crooked and corrupt world, a world of darkness and despair. But, Paul notes, ‘as stars in the world’ or, to use Jesus’ words, as ‘the light of the world’, we face a danger: As we stand together and work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12), we will encounter difficulties, hardships and frustrations. The sacrifices we have to make in dealing with people around us will lead us, in tough times, to grumble, to complain, to be bitter, and even to fight amongst ourselves.
You may know the lines: ‘To dwell above with saints we love, oh yes, that will be glory. To dwell below with saints we know, well that’s another story.’
Grumbling and complaining will make us blemished. The blazing witness of our lives and our church will dim or even be extinguished. Paul is saying that where the people of Israel failed, you ought to succeed for God is at work in you enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. This is a new feature of the new covenant. God’s Spirit is at work in us.
LIGHT OF THE WORLD
We are to shine as the stars of the sky, not in our own strength but in the strength of God himself. As heavenly lights, God’s people in Philippi and we today, are to shine in the world – a world that is crooked and twisted because it’s a world that is in darkness and despair, without ‘conviction’ and without ‘meaning’, because it rejects its God.
When people come to know we are Christian they will observe us. They want to know whether we are genuine, whether what we profess is changing us for the better – making us someone they might respect. For deep within many hearts is a cry for help.
We often forget a significant line in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:11 – God has put eternity into the mind of men and women, yet they cannot find out what he has done from the beginning to the end. God has given everyone a sense that life doesn’t end at the grave.
It’s a point I find that can be readily introduced into a conversation: ‘There’s more to life than what we have now’. And most agree. This in turn often opens up an opportunity to speak about God in a way that Paul did in his address to the Athenian intelligentsia (Acts 17:22-31). It’s worth working at this, for God has invited us to partner with him in revealing himself to the world.
Through the light of our lives others will be drawn to find out who we are and what makes us a dependable and joy-filled people whatever the circumstance of life. If we have taken Jesus’ Beatitudes to heart, and by his grace are living them out, others will notice. In turn, through the words of our lips people around us will come to hear God’s gospel, enabling them to glorify God on the final day. All of us have a part to play for we are called to be the light of the world.