You are the Light of the World – Matthew 5:14-16

Light also is a positive image: the world is in darkness and Jesus’s followers are to be a light in that darkness. A “light in the darkness” is part of the messianic age, the suffering servant was to be a “light in the darkness.” Zechariah alludes to this in Luke 1:79, his son John will shine a light for those living in the darkness. They are in the dark because they live “in the shadow of death.” The Gospel of John describes Jesus as the “true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9) which overcomes the darkness (1:4-5).

Jesus offers two metaphors for the way his disciples were to be light in the world, a city and a lamp. First, a city on a hill cannot be hidden. it can be seen from a distance and any light from that city will be seen clearly in the darkness. Jeremias (Parables, 217) understands the saying as a word of comfort for the disciples, the “citizens of the … eschatological city of God … whose light streams through the night needing no human efforts.” Second, when a lamp lit, it was normally placed on a stand or in a niche in the wall so the light can illuminate the whole room. In makes no sense to hide an oil lamp under a basket, the point of a lamp is to shine light in the darkness.

The point of the two illustrations is that it is impossible for the Christ-follower to hide their light, and even if they could manage to hide their light, it makes no sense to do so since their entire purpose is “being a light.”

If the “Salt of the Land” referred to the disciples as a preserving agent within Judaism (as opposed to the Pharisees), then “Light of the World” refers to the function of Israel as the light to the Gentiles. Jesus uses κόσμος rather than γῆ, so the whole world (Jew and Gentile) is in view rather than just the Land of Israel.

Pennington points out that Scot McKnight is unique in his assertion the two words refer to different things. He argues they are in parallelism and therefore have the same reference. Pennington, Sermon on the Mount, 164, note 74. Late he says “both the salt and light metaphors are communicating the same idea, that Jesus’s disciples are not the heralds of the new and lasting covenant being effected by Jesus” (p. 165). While it is true Jesus’s disciples are heralds of the new covenant, is that what this passage is actually saying? He argues that salt and light overlap in the area of covenant, salt used with bread to conclude a covenant agreement, and light as associated with the messianic age of the new covenant.

Israel was supposed be so devoted to God, living out a wise lifestyle, that the nations would see them and be attracted to God. They were the “light of the world” in the Old Testament, but they failed to be devoted to the Law and failed to live out a wise life and rarely attracted Gentiles to the God of Israel. There are some examples of Gentiles honoring the God of Israel (Nebuchadnezzar, for example, perhaps Nehemiah, Esther and Mordecai), but for the most part Israel did not act as the “light to the world.” Ultimately, the “light to the whole world” is the messiah, especially in Isaiah 9:2, a passage quoted by Matthew 4:16 (cf., Isaiah 42:6, 9).

Finally, the followers of Jesus are to let their light shine in the world so that people will see this and glorify the Father. This too was supposed to be a function of Israel in the Old Covenant (Deut 4:5-8). If Israel is obedient to the Law, then the nations will see this and consider Israel to be a great and wise nation.

The followers of Jesus are to be the preserving agent in their culture; they are still the only light in this dark world, the only want that light can be seen is if it is active in the world in some real and tangible way. Good works is “a translation of the Jewish מַעֲשִׂים טֹובִים, the thought is of those demands of God that are not legally prescribed by the Torah, such as especially works of charity and almsgiving” (Luz, Matthew 1-7, 208).

There are many examples of Christians who live out their faith in a way which benefits the whole culture and demonstrate to the culture the light of Jesus Christ. Some Christians live out a Christ-like lifestyle in a way which makes life better, healthy, etc. so that people are attracted to the Light.

But there are far too many Christians who are not unlike the Pharisees in the first century, so committed to a narrow way of thinking they are no longer benefiting their culture and they are more like a dim lamp underneath a basket!

25 thoughts on “You are the Light of the World – Matthew 5:14-16

  1. Jesus creates such an intriguing picture of what it looks like to be His disciple when He states that “you are the light of the world”. He did not state that you “are like” the light of a world. As you mentioned, Jesus uses the analogies of a lamp in the darkness and a city on a hill. A cities light cannot be quenched by the darkness as darkness is only the absence of light. Once light appears it cannot be taken away by adding more darkness. The only way it is taken away is if it is put out. As followers of Christ, we are filled with the testimony of the kingdom to come, just like the Israelites. I can agree that the text implies that this was specific to the Israelites being a light to the Gentiles as Jesus wanted them to understand that I have given you eternal life, and something this good cannot be hidden and kept up for you alone. We are to have this same mindset as believers as we have the same duty of sharing the gospel to the unreached, and it will continue to be until it reaches the ends of the earth (Matt. 24:14). McKnight mentions that light is also connected to knowledge, truth, revelation, and love (McKnight 58). As Christians, the best way to be the light is to love people through our words and actions. As you stated the verse also implies that the result of this love or good works is to give glory to the Father. We are not to boast in our faith or the fact that we have salvation and a secure hope in eternal life for those still in the darkness to look at us as prideful or better than them. We are instead to boast of the work of Christ and how He has transformed us into new creations, sharing His love in this way to “spread our light” further in the darkness making His glories known.

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    • This is a very interesting topic, just the other day I was watching a video on the late Muhammad Ali and a young asked him, “Why did you choose the Islamic faith”. And He answered by saying “I never seen and felt some love in any other group than the Muslim faith. In addition, he encouraged people to listen the words of Jesus because he was a great prophet. The problem I had with his remarks would be the fact that he chosen a faith that believes in doing anything necessary to show their dedication to their God, Allah. As mentioned in Isaiah 51:4, “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: instruction will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations.” The reason why I mention the interview with Ali is because he is a part of a religious group that wants to shine light to the world with a dark state of mind. My example comes from suicide bombers, assassination of great leaders, and the terrorism. If Ali and other Muslim listen to Jesus because he is a great prophet, wouldn’t these acts totally contradict the idea of listening to what a prophet has to say. McKnight mentioned “Jesus concern is with the inevitable of the light in darkness. As a town full of lights cannot be hidden, people do not light a candle and put it under a bowl. (McKnight, page 59) Although I praise Ali’s wisdom and he stance on the country being better, he’s beliefs, statements, and logic of the Islamic faith is strictly putting a candle under a bowl.

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    • Mary I really like the point you made that Jesus tells us we ARE the lights of the world and not LIKE lights of the world. I think so often we as Christians begin to confuse the two. We think that we can pick and choose when we are going to be like lights to the world. However, Jesus tells us that we are the lights of the world. We are always lights of the world, even if we try to hide that. We can never truly hide that we are the light and we should never try to. I also love how you explained how we can be lights of the world. You explained what McKnight was stating very well. It is done in our actions and words that are used for the glory of God and not ourselves. We must remember to never become prideful because of the hope that we have in Jesus. We must remain humble and realize that we are also sinners like those who do not have Jesus as their Savior. We must be relatable to them and kind so that we can show them the way to eternal life through Jesus Christ. This becomes increasingly harder the more we become prideful and judgmental of those around us that are in the darkness.

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      • “It is done in our actions and words that are used for the glory of God and not ourselves.” (Alex Tolar-Key, 2018) As I read your post and Mary’s, makes me very curious on you guys stance on the idea of being the light of the world through our actions, when indeed we are made to sin. I am fully aware of the fact that we can resist sin if we walk in the spirit. And walking by the spirit can easily display light upon the world. At the same time we are not perfect, therefore what do you think we should do in those type of situations that occur. There’s been plenty of times where I hear from people that the reason why they don’t believe is for the reason of the people of the Christian faith being just as corrupt as they are, and even worst. What shall we do as Christian when that problem floats around? Shall reevaluate our actions, admit that our life is a process that desire effort every day, or just give up as a whole. In the Sermon on the Mount, “…light is connected to knowledge, truth, revelation and love” (McKnight, 2013, p.58). In other words, we have to make sure we as Christians be in tune with what we present and learn about when it comes to reflecting the light Jesus wanted us to shine upon the world. It’s not at all an easy process but we can at least apply more effort to what we need to do as the light of the world.

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  2. This is a very interesting topic, just the other day I was watching a video on the late Muhammad Ali and a young asked him, “Why did you choose the Islamic faith”. And He answered by saying “I never seen and felt some love in any other group than the Muslim faith. In addition, he encouraged people to listen the words of Jesus because he was a great prophet. The problem I had with his remarks would be the fact that he chosen a faith that believes in doing anything necessary to show their dedication to their God, Allah. As mentioned in Isaiah 51:4, “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: instruction will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations.” The reason why I mention the interview with Ali is because he is a part of a religious group that wants to shine light to the world with a dark state of mind. My example comes from suicide bombers, assassination of great leaders, and the terrorism. If Ali and other Muslim listen to Jesus because he is a great prophet, wouldn’t these acts totally contradict the idea of listening to what a prophet has to say. McKnight mentioned “Jesus concern is with the inevitable of the light in darkness. As a town full of lights cannot be hidden, people do not light a candle and put it under a bowl. (McKnight, page 59) Although I praise Ali’s wisdom and he stance on the country being better, he’s beliefs, statements, and logic of the Islamic faith is strictly putting a candle under a bowl.

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  3. Light cannot be anything other than what it is purposed for; to illuminate the darkness. It enables us to be able to see what we are doing. When Jesus tells His disciples to “let our light shine before others” (Matt. 5:16) He is calling us to actively put our faith in Him. McKnight explains it by relaying how Jesus is pointing His disciples to reach people outside the land of Israel (59). The context is different for us today, but our purpose is still the same. When we invest in a relationship with the Lord and we are growing in our love for Him, then His light will flow from us. It allows us to impact our communities and the people we are coming in contact with on a daily basis. We’ve made it clear that our world is broken, dark, and decaying – it was when Jesus walked on the earth as well. Which is why the gospels and Paul’s letters still ring so much truth for us today. We should feel urged to spread the light that brings life everlasting. A huge part of letting our light shine is stepping outside of our comfort zones. We have to involve ourselves with community and have vulnerable/meaningful conversations with people – getting past the surface level of life and digging deeper to seek God more intimately with one another. We have to put aside our selfishness and check our hearts. Are we shining light for others to see us, or for others to see Jesus? Are we living for us, or to be used by Jesus to impact lives?

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    • “Are we shining light for others to see us, or for others to see Jesus? Are we living for us, or to be used by Jesus to impact lives?” (baileykolkema, 2018)
      Not to play the Devil’s Advocate, but I’m curious on your take on what method works better if we are presenting our upon those who do not believe in the Jesus but are very intrigued by the way we carry ourselves when in our hearts we know that we are reflecting Jesus. Jesus in my eyes and love, patience, righteous and many other things that are ideal for a good way of living. In a world that are filled with the idea that religion created more division upon people than any other problem the world faced. Not saying we should not try of best to reflect Jesus but how shall we approach the conflict of reflecting a image that isn’t a lot of people do not agree with. What shall we tell the people? I am not no way encouraging denounce of Lord Jesus Christ but it sort of leaves us with our backs against the wall. There’s so much saving that the world is in thirst of, and Jesus is the way. Shall we reintroduce Jesus in the way where we start over with the effort of God’s desires from his children and the image they should carry to bring his lost children back to he’s glory. Just because we are the light of the world, doesn’t those in the darkness are attracted to what they see. We must show them through us that Jesus is there for all. Therefore the idea lof living for use not a bad thing to do.

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  4. What does the phrase “you are a light to the world” mean? “In Bible and the ancient world light is connected to knowledge, truth, revelation, and love (McKnight pg.58).” When we think of the word light most people probably think about lights like in a house or maybe a flashlight. I was told a while ago that Christian’s are like glowsticks. Glowsticks only glow after they are broken. I think that what the verse means is that we are meant to reflect how Christ changed us and by doing so be a beacon to the lost people in our world.

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    • I agree with you when you said that the light “reflect{s}how Christ changed us.” I don’t think our jobs as Christian is to point out all the wrong others are doing, but with kindness, show how Christ would have done. This can be hard sometimes because we are not perfect and we will always make mistakes so we should never act like we are better or above anyone else.

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    • Charlie,
      I really liked your post and your mention of the Bible and ancient world. I completely agree! Many people don’t think of this as being an ancient world kind of thing. As mentioned in the text, Jews and Gentiles had this issue that they dealt with. So, it is something that is constantly needing to be addressed. Your illustration of glow sticks was very well put together. How can we be a light if we cannot admit that we are broken ourselves? Realizing that we are broken is the first step in advancing His Kingdom and shining our light. As Christians, we are not perfect. Nobody is perfect. This just gives us an even better understanding of what it is like to be broken. The world is a dark place and it is up to us to be the ones who change it. We know the truth. Some people have never had the opportunity, so it is our responsibility to be their light.
      I think another aspect that needs to be looked at is the different kinds of lights. You said a house and a flashlight are what many people think of when they think of lights. I completely agree. As McKnight states, there is a light shines in the darkest of times. There is also a light when we might not see it. But, the city on the hill is like the light at the end of the tunnel. We will get there, but it takes work and also takes trust. Overall, excellent post Charlie! I really liked your insight.

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  5. Lights are designed to shine, and we are a light on a hill, shining before all men (Matt 5:14-16). We are the light of the world as Christians, and God has put this light within us so that we can sine for others. McKnight writes on how the image of a “light” impacting darkness was a connection to Israel sharing the story of God to the nations, and now we have that light of God’s story within us so that we may continue to share it with the rest of the world. I loved the passage in Daniel 12:3, where we are told that those who are wise will shine like the brightness of heaven, and as God’s light is shining through us when we follow Him and continue to share the good news of the Lord to others and show the world the love of Christ through us.

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  6. Have you ever been in a situation where you lost power? Everything goes dark and there is no way to see in the dark. So, you get a candle and just that small wax stick is able to light up a big room. Each of us (the followers of Christ) are like those little candles. We are all able to light up a small portion of the earth, but if we all light up together, there can be a huge change. In chapter three McKnight explains that being the light goes beyond than just being the light. He states that “…light is connected to knowledge, truth, revelation and love” (McKnight, 2013, p.58). Being the light in the world means shinning not only the good news but also spreading love and truth to everyone who we encounter. Our job is not to judge people and their lifestyles, but to shine a light in the darkest places so they recognize how a Christ-like life should be lived.

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  7. We are definitely the light of the world. So many people now days are living in darkness because they are lost without Christ and a way we can testify to them is being children of God and reflecting His testimony. Being the light of the world we have to live like Christ and truly share His testimony with people who haven’t heard about Christ because by our actions they will know we are different and will wonder because we have something attractive that they want. The Bible mentions this and its true and very important for being a Christian because living a life like Christ is our main goal. Because Christ is not here physically anymore we are the only way people can see Christ because He is living in us and should reflect how we live day to day. the differences in us should be enough to lead someone out of the darkness because the darkness can’t hide from the light (1 John 1:7). McKnight stresses this idea because as Christians and believers in Christ our duty on this earth is to bring the lost to an awareness of Jesus Christ and to do that we must be focused on living like Christ did, and to be the light of the world like Jesus was and still is the light of the world so that people here can see a glimpse of Christ.

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    • Dustin, I agree with what you said. I also think that us as Christian can struggle with being the light of the world. I think that being the light people may think that, that is a lot of pressure and we can live up to the standard that “people” have made. Yet we do not understand that we are not here to please people or have standard for the people of this world. I feel like that is how we lose our lightness and we start hiding under a bush. But we are to shine like no one’s business! Mcknight writes that it is “inevitable impact of light in darkness” (McKnight 59).

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  8. The way Christians are supposed to be living is so that we can be seen by everyone and that they will be attracted to the Lord. There are way to many of us Christians though that do put there light under a basket, they hide it because they don’t think others deserve it or they just want to keep it to themselves. As a Christian I think it is very easy to get into a mind set that everyone who doesn’t know Jesus does not deserve to know Him. however, as Romans 3:23 says,”For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” None of us deserve to be a light to this very dark world but Christ calls us to be nonetheless. Therefore, we need to stop be judgmental of those who do know Christ and show them what it actually means to be a follower of Jesus. We need to stop being hypocritical and condemning those that already feel condemned and reach out and show them what light actually looks like.

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  9. Being a light refers to the act of not being hidden about our faith but letting the whole world see it “like a city on a hill.” Letting our light shine might be easy but choosing how bright it shines is a different story. This world can very easily tear us down and cause our light to be dim. This often happens out of fear. Some common fears are rejection or judgment. Hope comes from a few verses before that say “blessed are you when people persecute you…rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.”

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    • Heather, you really got me thinking when you said that choosing how bright our light shines is a different story. So often we are just told to let our light shine and we are unsure on how to do it, or we don’t want to let it shine to bright out of fear. Our commission is to spread the gospel to all nations and when we have a dim light, that becomes much harder. I feel like the dim light could almost represent the lukewarm church that is described in Revelation. The light is on, but it is neither hot nor cold, therefore Revelation say, “so since you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold- I am about to pit you our of my mouth.” With that being said, fear is real and causes for the light to be dim, but we should be fighting at overcoming that fear with the strength that comes through Christ.

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  10. Scot McKnight mentions three different images the show what light impacting darkness looks like. As mentioned above, we see a city on hill. You can see the lights in the darkness (McKnight, 2013). Second, he mentions a terra-cotta oil lamp. This is a tool that gives you light in the dark when you can’t see (McKnight, 2013). Third, we see light as good works. “Good works are designed to shine, not be hidden”. -Scot McKnight
    The big question here is, “Are you actually living out your faith or are you not shining your light? Being a light is about not being afraid of what you believe. Be the person who starts something big that is world=changing or change one person’s life with your light. People’s lights shine in different ways. The trick is finding out how yours will shine. Where is your place to shine your light? Personally, athletics is a place for me to shine my light. It is a place where I am comfortable and I know that I can make a difference. I think it is amazing how different people thrive and shine in different areas. Matthew 5:16 shows this in an extremely clear way. It states, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” This is a verse that I believe anyone can take to heart and put into action. It just takes a little bit of initiative and getting out of your comfort zone. It is difficult, but can definitely be done.

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    • Chris, I really enjoyed how you described the different ways in which light can be described. I also would agree that people shine their light in different ways. While reading the portion where McKnight talks about good works and how they are designed to be displayed I was a little bit skeptical. Even though they are meant to be shown to others in order to give God the glory, often times I find myself showing the light so that others can see me. Thankfully McKnight clarifies later on when he explains how Jesus himself puts both scenarios in his teachings: the first one is found here in Matthew 5:14-16, where He encourages good works to be seen by others and impact them; the other perspective is found in 6:1-18 where Jesus warns about doing works publicly. McKnight explains that the difference is that the second scenario is done just to be noticed and praised by others, while the first one (which refers to being a light) is “to mediate God’s redeeming presence in Christ and thus to glorify God” (McKnight, 2013, p. 60). The difference I believe is the intention with which the “light” (or works) is done. Our only focus should be to give glory to God, not ourselves.

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  11. In a world full of darkness, we are called to be a light in the world. Jesus briefly touches on this point in his Sermon on the Mount. This light that we are to be cannot be hidden, but rather shown for all to see. Jesus states that we should let our lights shine before others. Now what is this light? No, we cannot physically become a candle or a lamp, but the light that we have is our good deeds. Matthew 5:16 states that this light should be our good deeds and that others may see them and the deeds can glorify the Father in heaven. Jesus states right there why we should be the the light. To glorify God. Not for our own glory, but to bring glory to God. McKnight states that lights are ultimately designed to shine and to not be hidden. This also goes for our good deeds. We have to have good intent behind our good deeds in order for them to truly glorify God.

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  12. I think that it is cool how God gives us illustrations like being a light on a hill, and also being light and dark. when we read the light on a hill it is not as straightforward as when Jesus was explaining how we as Christ followers are the light and how the world is the dark. I find it interesting that the Bible is very clear on that if you are not living your life in the light, are you really a Christian? it is interesting to see that the people that claim that they are Christians, and at the same time they just hate life. I think that if you are true Christian you shoul have the light of God in you, and it will show through.

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    • Hey Alan! Thank you for your comment. It is cool to think about the term “the light” in the Bible and how we use it. Our mission is to be a light to others through what we say and what we do. I like to think of Psalm 119: 105; reminding us that the Word also acts as a light to us. Without it we will live in darkness.

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  13. We are called to be the light in a world full of darkness. We are to be the light to the ones who are suffering and the ones who are wandering without any source of light. There are individuals who walk in the dark because they are constantly living in the shadow of death and pain. The Gospel of John describes Jesus as the “true light that gives light to everyone” He overcomes darkness. Through Him we find our light and his light guides us and allows us to shine more light. “Growing up in a world where the dinging of the alarm in their minds meant stopping whatever they were doing, facing Jerusalem and praying, these observant Jews decided to use the custom to the advantage of their reputation (Knight, 164). We should come to contact with our alarms and the things that we do not want to interact with but interact with them to bring the light onto those things.
    To bring to light to what we are supposed to resemble Jesus called us and referred to us as a city and a lamp. A city cannot be hidden, it can be seen from large distances and can be clearly seen. Our light should not use large amounts of effort. It is strictly based on our hearts and who we truly are. Do not hide your light or try to cover it up. It makes no sense to hide a lamp under a basket because it will still shine through, so no matter how hard we try to cover up our light in current situations, it will still become visible. Our entire purpose is to just shine our light. No matter what. We are to be devoted to God, living out a life with wisdom, and encourage others to be attracted and in love with God. Our light is not to glorify ourselves, but it is to glorify God. Your goal is to bring God all things and bring the attention you get and give it to him.

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  14. “you’re the light of the world” I would think of this saying or statement and something really deep and meaningful. Something that is really being cared for. Something very important. As Christians, I believe we are the light n this word trying to spread the word of God sharing it with others. This world is not filled with all good people there is always something wrong going on with todays world and being the light I feel is something that can be changed.

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  15. The phrase “the light of the world” is not a metaphor, but is a phrase that is actually our mission as followers of Christ. “You are the light of the world… 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” (Mark 5: 14 & 16). As Christians it is important that we act in ways that demonstrate the Lord’s ways, while making sure that our light never dulls. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did no run in vain..” (Philippians 2:14-16). Everything we do and say mirrors our character in Christ and sets an example for those around us. Especially in today’s society it seems as if we see more evil in news than good. As Christians, ways that we can show our light onto others is making sure we watch way we say. As Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear”. Taming our tongue is a very difficult task, but what we say to others, what we say about ourselves, or about others can determine whether our light shines or dulls. Our actions have the same impact.

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