What you see:
Rosemary (my seven-year-old daughter) asleep on the couch with Roughy (the cat) enjoying his nap, too. Pretty cozy!
What you cannot see:
Just over the couch a large picture window frames a gray day, inhospitable and cold. Makes “cozy” cozier still.
What makes a thing really stand out is contrast. What makes light obvious is darkness. What accentuates righteousness is unrighteousness. There is no greater opportunity for the truth than when untruth is lauded in the open square.
Paul exhorts us to 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 . . .” (Philippians 2:15).
Have you ever lit a candle in a room flooded with the light of a sunny day? Its effects on the atmosphere of the room are minimal, possibly even unnoticeable. But take that same candle into a closet, shut the door behind you, and . . . that one weak candle illuminates the whole room.
Have you ever noticed how loud an analog clock can be when absolute silence reigns? Even the tiny “tick, tock” can become a driving beat when the dishwasher isn’t running and the children aren’t laughing and playing. A “silent sound” takes center stage in our conscious minds when other noises are eliminated.
Our house is painted white; but when fresh snow blankets the ground, the white paint mysteriously looks dingy and yellowed. And what’s the best way to tell if those dark pants are black or navy? Try comparing them with true black.
Contrast reveals the nature of a thing.
The value of rest is best comprehended in the strangling atmosphere of insomnia. The worth of health is most appreciated against the backdrop of sickness. The merit of a vacation is highlighted by a regular schedule of work.
God often sets a gem of real righteousness against a backdrop of wickedness and the glory of light against a canopy of darkness. This was the story of Jesus’ life. Ever notice how much demonic activity surrounded the ministry of Christ? Could there be any more stunning way to demonstrate the power and character of the Son of God than when surrounded by spirits consumed by wickedness? Jesus presented hope in the midst of hopelessness, conviction in the midst of complacency, humility in the midst of pride.
It’s no wonder then, that our little lights, lit at the fire of the Light of the World, are set by God in places of willful ignorance and in times of blindness.
It can be discouraging to feel like no one stands with us on God’s side. “If this really is a silent majority, it sure is awfully quiet.” It would be comforting to join hands with a host of others, sit in a circle, and enjoy a sub-world that is light and true. And there is a place for gathering together and enjoying the fellowship that we can never experience with darkness.
But much of life is about standing out, standing alone, being different. It is about contrasting the brilliance of truth with the darkness of lies. It is about setting the pure white of Christ’s virtue against the apparent goodness, the niceness of people who need Jesus They must see their need.
We don’t do this to shame them or because we despise or look down on them. We don’t condescend; we were once just as they are. Yes, we are different, but the difference isn’t because we are super special people, inherently righteous. We have been changed by the love of God in Christ. And it is Jesus, Jesus lived out in normal, daily circumstances, Jesus loving through us, that establishes critical contrast with the world around us. Love shows pagan niceness for what it is: self-centered and ingratiating. When people see real love, God’s love at work, they have a motive to change: They see that there is something better than what they know.
That’s what Paul talks about in Philippians 2:15. We have the privilege—and the challenge—of showing the world that there is a Better Way. We show them by the contrast of Christ’s light with their darkness.
Trouble is, our candles are often hidden behind veils of personal dimness. Paul doesn’t leave the principle of contrast in the realm of grand philosophy; he takes it right down to the nitty-gritty reality of normal living.
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent . . .”
Paul isn’t interested in a “feel-good club” or Pharisaical snobbery. The Light that we have shows us first our own desperate need, meddling with our attitudes and the way we talk about things we don’t like.
Tempted to murmur “This situation just doesn’t make any sense to me”? Tempted to question God’s goodness or His plan? Tempted to doubtfully ask “Why?”
God’s light cuts through our darkness.
Until we expose every corner of living to the Light, we will not be the contrast with the world that it needs.
Beyond defective character (grumbling, questioning), it’s easy to think of reasons to cover our lights: “We don’t want to make people around us think we’re crazy,” or “No one will be interested in so demanding a life,” or “We’ve got to be relevant.”
But the early church was considered crazy, people who turned the world upside down and were drunk in the morning. And the demands are extreme. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). As for relevance, there is no commonality, no relationship between light and darkness. Either the light drives out the darkness, or the light is extinguished and darkness reigns.
Are you enveloped in circumstances as dark as a moonless midnight? Good news—your light will be seen that much brighter. Are you surrounded by people who don’t understand and who wouldn’t care if they did? You follow in the steps of your Master whose Light was hated because men loved darkness. Are you in the middle of a personal crisis and you can’t see any way out? Hope shines brilliantly in the middle of hopelessness.
When our candles are lit by God’s fire, we become His agents of change for the world. The light that shines in the darkness will be a beacon for others and a lamp to our own faltering footsteps.
If we dare to be like Jesus.
© 2011 by Robert G. Robbins