In this episode we will be exploring the topic of integrity, and how a life of integrity cannot help but shine brightly for God in a world filled with darkness.
Yeshua stated it this way:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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. Matthew 5:14-16
This passage can be paraphrased as “Be shining: let your good practices be seen by all. Magnify God.”
The life of a believer is a life that is all about others. It’s not just about receiving light for your own path, but about lighting the way for those around you. As that light is received, others can recognize and honor God for who he is.
As much as we might like to believe it’s all about us, we don’t have the luxury of receiving wisdom from God simply for our own benefit and use. Unfortunately many messages from within the halls of Christendom today ring with the hollow platitudes of self-improvement for the sake of self, living your best life, getting all that God has to offer you. These are merely phantoms and shadows of the truths of the Bible, and yet their message is so seductive that many, if not most, have been led astray.
These messages of self do not align with God’s view of integrity because integrity is not only about doing the right thing, but doing the right thing in view of, and on behalf of, others. In fact, integrity doesn’t exist until it can be demonstrated to someone else, whether it be God or your neighbor.
That being said, this does not mean that we should make a point of everyone seeing how righteous we are. This is hypocrisy, the very opposite of integrity. Yeshua condemned the religious leaders of his day for their hypocrisy.
Matthew 6:5, 16 “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. … “Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward.
Instead, integrity is doing the right thing in the sight of others even if it is the unpopular or undesirable course of action. The motivation for this type of example is not to become the center of attention, but to simply do the right thing even if the right thing to do is sometimes messy. When others can see that someone is going beyond the minimum or is willing to step outside their comfort zone to be of assistance or to take an unpopular stance on an issue, they are more likely to be inspired and encouraged to follow suit.
And isn’t this why integrity is more rare than it should be? Acts of integrity typically come at a personal cost to the individual, and most people do not feel that they are willing to come out of their own safety zone to do the right thing, even if they know what the right thing to do is. It is easier to simply go along with the crowd.
The answer to increasing integrity in our society is realigning peoples’ motivation to do the right thing. If people are unwilling to act with integrity, it is because they have no motivation to do so, and would prefer to guard their own interests. This is just human nature.
Motivation for actions of integrity will come from one of two places: a motivation to please the desires or opinions of men, or the motivation to please the desires of God. Whomever you are seeking praise from is whom you will serve. If you seek the praise of men, you will do just enough to receive their praise, and do nothing more. However, if you seek the praise of God, you will serve him BY serving others AS IF you were serving God directly.
As for believers, we don’t need the praise of men when the things that we do are done for God. Our motivation is to please God, not the opinions or desires of men. Operating in this perspective typically means we are willing to go well above and beyond the minimum requirement of the needs of others. This is because we have the awareness that God is ultimately the one who is receiving the benefit of our efforts.
Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people…
When you serve others as if you are serving God, notice is taken by everyone else who is merely doing the minimum, and God is honored in this world. Those acts of integrity then become a light for others who see the consistency of your beliefs and your actions. When that happens, God is magnified. Just like the principle of a magnifying glass, to magnify God is to make him appear larger, that is, he is brought closer in reality to others.
Psalm 34:3 O magnify Yahweh with me, and let us exalt his name together.
Psalm 69:30 I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.
The reality is that the truth of God can’t be contained when you are operating with integrity. As you do so, your good works make a real difference as they shine into the lives around you.
On the subject of shining, in our passage today Yeshua says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” While this is one of the most popular and familiar sayings of Yeshua, if we step back and take a look at this passage from a cultural and historical context, this well-known saying actually takes on some new and distinct characteristics. Quoting Talumudic sources (that is, the oral traditions of the Jews that were were written down and compiled in the first and second centuries AD), John Gill, in his exposition of the Bible, says that great leaders and rabbis within Judaism have been viewed as “the light of the world.”
So. R. Meir, R. Akiba his disciple, and R. Judah the prince, are each of them called , “the light of the world”; as R. Jochanan ben Zaccai is by his disciples, “the lamp of the world”: and it was usual for the head of a school, or of an university to be styled, “the light of the world.”
This metaphor of light, Gill describes, has been picked up from Daniel 12:3.
Then the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever.
If all of this is the true context, then this greatly amplifies Yeshua telling his disciples that “you are the light of the world.” He was intimating that they were to be the teachers and leaders of that generation of believers.
This is borne out as we view how the religious leaders of the day were viewing Yeshua and his disciples.
Acts 4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
Yeshua himself was accused of the same thing.
John 7:15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”
It was mind-boggling to the Jews as to how men who were not steeped in the traditions and schooling within the Jewish traditions could have such wide ranging and authoritative spiritual influence among the people.
That the rabbis considered themselves to be the light of the world is also intimated by Paul when he writes
Romans 2:17-21 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth– you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?
Paul was sarcastically poking at the hypocrisy of the Jews who considered themselves to have the light of torah and instruction, and yet continued to violate the requirements of torah themselves. The louder someone shouts they have the light, the less light they actually convey, especially if they don’t even abide by the light they say they have.
True acts of integrity don’t need to be announced, they are simply done, quietly and effectively, because they are the right thing to do.
And the analogy to a brightly lit city on a hill also cannot go overlooked. John Gill continues:
The land of Israel, the Jews say, was higher than all other lands; and the temple at Jerusalem was higher than any other part of the land of Israel. And as a city cannot be hid which is built on a high place, so neither could, nor ought the doctrines which the apostles were commissioned to preach, be hid, or concealed from men…”
If we take Yeshua’s analogous city on a hill to mean not just any generic city, but Jerusalem itself, as Gill does, then it takes on even more meaning. The city of believers, as the New Jerusalem, is not a city that can be hidden or missed. Just as a high city at night draws all attention to itself, so the people of God cannot help but be noticed and seen by our very presence among the societies of this world.
On the topic of the city on the hill, John Ellicott writes:
“The imagery might, however, come from the prophetic visions of the Zion of the future, idealising the position of the actual Zion (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1). No image could so vividly set forth the calling of the Church of Christ as a visible society. For good or for evil, it could not fail to be prominent in the world’s history, a city of refuge for the weary, or open to the attacks of the invader.”
Albert Barnes contributes:
“Jesus…told his disciples that they were like [a city on a hill]. Their actions could not be hid. The eyes of the world were upon them. They must be seen; and as this was the case, they ought to be holy, harmless, and undefiled.”
Because believers in this world are motivated by pleasing God and not men, our actions stand out in stark relief to the corruption and darkness all around us. The message of Yeshua’s analogy to a city on a hill is captured in the popular proverb, “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
Paul’s desire was for believers to continue this legacy of light.
Romans 13:12-13 The night is nearly over, and the day is near; so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency, as in the daytime…
Philippians 2:15-16 that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life…
Put your lamp on the lampstand where it belongs. The integrity of your actions fuel the lamp that shines into the night. Together, our collective lights become a city of righteousness on a high mountain that is visible to all, magnifying and broadcasting a beacon of God’s truths to our world. In this way, a generation of those living in the darkness can be drawn to him.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at email@example.com.