Fuller

Leadership Wisdom – You are the Light of the World

November 27, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Focus

Isn’t Jesus the light of the world? In what sense are we?

Devotion

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new Christian liturgical year. A favorite text for this season of anticipating Jesus’ coming is from the prophet Isaiah. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2, NIV). Jesus clearly sees himself as the fulfillment of that prophetic oracle: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, NIV). For those of us who are followers of Jesus, none of that is surprising, since we understand him to be God incarnate. What is surprising (if not breathtaking) is that Jesus turns and applies Isaiah’s oracle to us.

Advent Candles © 2020 Uli Chi

Advent Candles © 2020 Uli Chi

“You are the light of the world.” Really? Perhaps a few exceptional followers of Jesus would seem worthy of that description. And yet he doesn’t qualify his statement to just a few individuals. In fact, the “you” Jesus uses is inclusive and plural. He means each of us, and perhaps more significantly, all of us together. Jesus seems not so much interested in finding a few exemplary individuals as in creating an entire exemplary community. That suggests our relationships as a community is how we become “the light of the world.”

Each in their own way, Jesus’ metaphors of salt and light are brilliantly chosen to help us to reflect on our purpose as human beings. As I noted yesterday, salt’s purpose is to bring out the unique flavors of what it seasons. So light’s purpose is to illume its subject, and, as Jesus suggests, to point to its source. As with Jesus’ other metaphor of salt, light only fulfills its purpose in relationship to others.

In today’s text, Jesus points out, with no small irony and humor, that no one lights a light to cover it up. What’s the point of that? No, light is there to illuminate its subject matter.

In Jesus’ teaching, light provides people the ability to see the world as it is intended to be. To begin with, Jesus’ focus on our “good deeds” suggests that we ourselves are to model what being human is meant to look like, rather than focus on other people’s deficiencies or faults. Being light as leaders means owning our responsibility as exemplars, rather than merely becoming critics of other individuals or of our organizational and societal culture.

Further, our light must be sufficiently bright to enable people to see their world in full color rather than just in black and white. In low light conditions, the human visual system reverts to seeing shades of grey. Without enough light, we cannot see the different colors in the world around us. In the same way, when we as leaders lack an appreciation for complexity and nuance and the capacity to deal with ambiguity and mystery – in other words, when everything seems black, white, or at best shades of grey – something has gone wrong. Of course, some things are intended to be black and white. But if most everything looks black and white, we should suspect that we are suffering from a lack of adequate light as leaders. And if we see only in black and white, we shouldn’t be surprised if our followers do as well.

Finally, as Jesus reminds us, the light of our “good deeds” should point back to an external source, not to ourselves. In the same way that we know that the sun is source for all daylight, so our good deeds are traceable back to the source of all our goodness, to God. Our light and our goodness are always derivative, even though we are active participants in them. As my friend, Canadian musician Steve Bell, has wisely noted, “We become by grace what God is by nature.”

Being light is one of the great gifts of being human. And being light is not something we do alone. As Jesus intimated, light is best seen in the work of a community of people. So leadership at its best is about bringing out the combined light that a community has to offer to the world. We are to be “a town built on a hill.” In our varied vocations as leaders, we each have the opportunity to help the corporations, organizations, and communities we lead to be the “town” Jesus envisioned: a beacon of light to the world, demonstrating radical generosity, hospitality and self-sacrifice for those around us.

Then again, in our generation, Isaiah’s oracle will be fulfilled: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Reflect

What insight does Jesus’ metaphor of light bring you in your role as a leader?

How does it relate to your work in leading a community of people who are to be the light of the world?

Act

Watch and listen to Steve Bell Video – Burning Ember.

Pray

Burning Ember – Music and Lyrics by Steve Bell

Judge for yourself how great is the one
Who lives in God – whose God is love
Like an iron when left in embers bright
Everything is fire – everything is light
Oh Love, how beautiful You are
Oh flame of joy within my heart

Burning ember
I remember Love’s first light in me
I was cold then
Like a stone when I saw Your flickering
Oh what beauty as You drew near me
I could scarcely speak
Somehow I knew
I would be new in your glowing

Judge for yourself if a fire isn’t safe
When cities fall before her face
Yet a flower can endure the course of a storm
When bowing to the tempest’s rage
Oh Love, more fierce than all the rest
Oh raging joy within my breast

Burning ember
I remember Love’s first light in me
I was cold then
Like a stone when I saw Your flickering
Burn forever
Let me never curse the pain You bring
Somehow I know
I will be whole in Your burning

Oh Love, more lovely than the rest
Oh flame of joy within my breast

Burning ember
Shine forever in the darkest tomb
Warmth of heaven
Hidden secret in a mother’s womb
Flame of beauty
Blazing through me so that all might see
Somehow we know
We’ll all be whole in Your burning
In Your burning
In Your burning

Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: How Can You Be Light in the World?


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