4. The Lamp of the Body

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 4.  The Lamp of the Body

Mt 6:22,23   The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

In our two verses above there is a whole bundle of ideas packaged in picture form. The first one describes the eye as a lamp. Let’s just stop it there a moment. A lamp sheds light, it illuminates, as we saw in a previous study. Now this lamp illuminates the body. What does that mean? What do our eyes do? Light hits the back of them and is basically transferred to the brain where it is translated into images. This ‘lamp’, our eyes, illuminates our mind, our thinking, but here’s the thing, we already have a whole bunch of what are called ‘presuppositions’, assumptions we already have, beliefs about a whole range of ideas. Now we sometimes talk about people being ‘open’ or ‘closed’ to new ideas and so when our eyes pick up new things the mind is either open or closed to what it is seeing.

The Message version’s paraphrase starts these two verses as, “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.” That’s lovely. The more you are open to what you see, and yes, you may question what you see, but that is different from rejecting it outright, the more there is likely to be light (understanding) shed in you. Two people can see the same thing and interpret it differently. The mind interprets what the eye sees. Atheists, for example, tend to despise Christians as muddle headed, deceived idiots, instead of seeing goodness, kindness, love, hope, wisdom, generosity etc. They fail to see all those good things.

The reality of what Jesus is teaching in these verses is that when your eyes pick up something (you see) and the mind translates what it sees, it can either be good or bad. The ‘light’ coming through your eyes is translated by your mind and so the state of your mind is critical.  In natural terms cataracts hinder light getting to the receptors at the back of the eye, they distort vision, they distort what the mind ‘sees’. Now when we are faced with people or circumstances, there are, similarly, things that will distort what we are seeing, things that will skew our understanding. Things that distort are prejudice, jealousy, self-centredness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, unforgiveness. All of these are revealed by the way we think of and talk about others – who are poor, different, rich, celebrities, people we like or dislike. (and the reasons for those responses may be completely illogical.)

The light you and I get is a combination of the light waves that hit our receptors plus the understanding our mind gives to what it sees. If our mind is full of anger, hatred, bitterness, hostility etc. then Jesus calls this ‘darkness’. Remember in a previous study we spoke about darkness as an experience that shuts down our lives, hindering us living freely, stopping us going where we want, doing whatever we want, being a different people; darkness locks us in, it acts as a prison. All those things above that we said distort our vision – prejudice, jealousy, self-centredness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, unforgiveness, anger, hatred, bitterness, hostility – all these things lock us down, inhibit us, stop us growing and developing. Whatever ‘light’ appears to come in through our eyes, is immediately shut down by these things and that light is in fact, darkness. Our verses above concluded, If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  The JBP version puts it, If all the light you have is darkness, it is dark indeed!”  The Message version puts all this together and says, If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!”

So when Jesus speaks about our eyes, he really means our sight combined with the understanding we have. If that understanding is locked down by prejudice and all the other things we’ve listed, then whatever gets put before us, whatever we see, is distorted, is turned to darkness, bad, negative thoughts. The Internet has allowed us to see this so clearly. Go to so many chat-rooms or follow the comments at the end of newspaper articles and, if it is the first time you’ve ever done it, you’ll be shocked by the hostility, the anger and the bitterness that is so often poured out of minds that are closed except to their own tunnel-vision view of life.

The truth is that life can be harsh, it can be unfair and it can leave us wounded, and it can, therefore, leave us with distorted vision. Without naming names, I have observed the public comments of more than one crusading atheist and seen their perceptions distorted by bad childhood experiences. What follows is a life of tunnel vision where they focus all their energies, not on studying the evidence with an open, intelligent mind, but on propping up their tunnel-vision views. I have come across great Christian thinkers who just shake their heads in disbelief at some of the amazing things that come from distorted vision of these locked-down atheists.

In these two verses Jesus is giving a warning with such graphic language but it is picture language that really needs thinking about and for the hard-hearted or close-minded that will not happen. Sometimes people need a crisis to bring them to the end of themselves before they will allow light to change their thinking. Some may never let that happen, but others will. Our role is simply to be light, as we saw previously, to give people the best opportunity to see something good from God, something that might just penetrate the darkness which at the moment locks them down, something that may truly help bring changed thinking that results in an opening up to the Lord.

So to conclude: for ourselves, check yourself out and make sure you have none of those negatives we spoke of earlier that will inhibit your life, inhibit your understanding and distort all you see or hear – prejudice, jealousy, self-centredness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, unforgiveness, anger, hatred, bitterness, hostility. If you recognize any of those things confess them to the Lord and ask Him to rid you of them, by helping you understand the wonder of just who you are, loved by Him with a purpose and a plan He has for you for good.

In respect of other people, perhaps people who you have shared with in the past, but with no fruit, persevere and pray and seek to be the very best witness of the love of God that you can be. Seek Him for His grace, His power and His revelation to be that, and then watch this space! He will not only work through you, but start bearing down on that person so that eventually they will one day say, “I see it! I can see! That’s wonderful” Believe it, pray for it, work for it, and expect it. Amen? Amen!

2. Light

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 2.  Light

Mt 5:14-16   You are the light of the world. A city 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 men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

In these three verses Jesus uses 3 analogies and then concludes with an instruction. The three are light, a city, and a lamp on a lampstand.  Now most Christians are aware of Jesus’ own claim, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” (Jn 8:12) but fewer are sure that Jesus said, YOU are THE light of the world” to US, to all his followers. In order to unpack this amazing claim we should perhaps ask, 1. What does light do?  2. How can we say we are the light of the world, what is our source of light? and then 3. How does that work out in practical terms in everyday life?

What does light do? In its very simplest way, light illuminates otherwise dark places to reveal what is there. Now there are various outworkings or results of that, but that is basically what light does. So what are those outworkings. Imagine you wake up after a long period of being in a coma and you are in absolute darkness, and then suddenly a light is turned on. What happens?

Well first of all the light shows up what is there, how things are, what is going on around you, if you like. Light reveals the condition of the room or the world, the state of the world that was previously hidden in the dark. Now from that, second, light therefore reveals a) what is bad and b) what is good, in the world (room) round about you. (Remember, we are only dealing with general principles first of all.) Also, third, light will show how movement is possible, where you can go. In the dark, possibilities are unclear. As soon as a light is turned on – or the sun comes out – pathways become clear and obvious, a door from the room becomes obvious.

What is Our source of light? Well obviously it is Jesus or, to be more precise, the Holy Spirit living within us. If we are to ‘shine’ it is to be him through us. Of myself, I have nothing that can shine in the dark, but with him within me I will shine in the dark. Because he is the light of the world and because he lives in us, we become the light of the world. We aren’t usurping his position to say that, we are just letting him express himself through us, thus revealing light.

How does this work practically? Well, we said that light reveals the world, reveals what is good and bad and also reveals possibilities for change and movement. So, OK, first we reveal that the real world is not only material. It is both material and spiritual. Our lives are to have a spiritual dimension, a spiritual expression that says to the watching world, “Hey, this is reality, are you experiencing this and if not, would you like to?” Second, by the love and goodness of our lives we will a) show up others (not to be negative but to show that ‘bad’ contrasts with our ‘good’) and b) show there is an alternative to their ‘bad’; it is possible with God’s directing and empowering and enabling to live ‘good’! Third, by presenting a good, wholesome example or alternative to so much of what is happening around us – and why we can be living like this – we reveal a possibility that can be reached out for, a relationship with God that was made possible by Jesus dying on the Cross and his Holy Spirit now being available for us today.

So much for the basics, but that is just the first phrase. What is this about a city on a hill and a lamp on a lampstand? Well they are both illustrations of putting light where it can be seen, and where it can shine out over a bigger area. To the person whose inclination is to hide away and keep out of sight, and to the recluse who wants to go and live in the desert to avoid the pollution of the ‘world’, this comes as a direct challenge: get out there where you can be seen, be the person God has called you to be, full of love, full of grace, full of goodness, full of humility, but full of courage and boldness. Shine! Don’t be ashamed of who you are. You are in fact God’s poster-people, those He wants to display to the world.

Yes, those we show up will be defensive and hostile but that is more their problem than ours. Others will see and think and ponder and realise they are unhappy with the life they live and wonder about yours and why you are like you are – and they may just ask, what is it that makes you like you are? That’s why the apostle Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pet 3:15)

That needs a little thought and preparation. Think how you can give a short testimony of how you have experienced God’s love, in a gentle and respectful way, not brash or arrogantly. Think how you can tell that it has been a learning exercise, to realise God is there for you and that He loves you, that you can learn about Him from His word, and talk to Him in prayer. Some people are hard-hearted and callous about God and won’t want to know, but others, those who ask you questions, have seeking hearts. They are the ones who, when they see what you do or say, and the way you do it or say it, may be stirred by your “good deeds” and open their hearts to Him and become one who praise and glorify Him.

To conclude, if you want to see a classic response to the amazing testimony of God’s good provision, read the Queen of Sheba’s response to King Solomon when she went to visit him. Find it in 1 Kings 10:6-9. Solomon not only demonstrated the wonder of what God had done, but by her language it is clear that he had explained to her all about the One he followed, and as he shared, she believed. That was light being shed.