Lord, Make Me a City on a Hill

How many pastors would be ordained if Jesus examined them?

Let me be more personal. Would Jesus have ordained me had he sat on my council of examiners? When I look back on my ordination exams, I wonder if I got off too easy.

It’s not that the brothers who examined me pitched me softballs. They grilled me with difficult and complex questions. They required me to give clear evidence that my theological understanding was sound. Some of their questions exposed my weaknesses.

But a text that sets me wondering is this:

“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)

My examiners focused their questions almost exclusively on what I thought, which is, of course, very important for effective pastoring. But I don’t recall any pointed questions about how my intellectual theological understanding was producing the shining light of good works. I wasn’t required to give clear evidence that I was an actual doer of the word, and not just a well-informed hearer of the word (James 1:22).

If Jesus Had Examined Me

Now, my brother-examiners no doubt gave me the benefit of the doubt, assuming I would not have been recommended for ordination if my life wasn’t consistent with my words. But I think Jesus would have been harder on me, knowing me as he does, knowing how I can often talk a better game than I actually play.

I think he would have wanted me to demonstrate that my theological knowledge was in fact fueling the burning of my visible lamp. He might have asked me to describe how those in my neighborhood and relationships were tangibly receiving the benefit of my “light.” He might have required specific examples of the last time I was reviled and persecuted on his account (Matthew 5:11–12). He might have asked me when I was last aware of someone giving glory to my Father in heaven after seeing my good works.

Those questions would have been harder to answer. They would have exposed even more weaknesses, and in certain ways more important ones. My intellectual theological understanding from years and years of hearing the word would have only satisfied him to the degree that it was producing light through my doing of his word.

What Makes Us Light?

Jesus called himself the light of the world (John 8:12). What made him shine? Certainly it was his words (John 7:46). But it wasn’t only his words; it was also his works. He said, “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25). Jesus’s works made who he was manifestly clear. His works shone, and they still shine.

Jesus called us the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). What makes us shine? It isn’t only our words, but our works. The works we do in Jesus’s name bear witness about us and about him. Our outward, observable, public works make who we are and whose we are manifestly clear. Just like Jesus, our works cause some to revile us and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely on his account, and they cause others to give glory to our heavenly Father.

Shining People

“A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” What kind of good works shine like that? It’s not a difficult question to answer. Ask yourself what good works have other Christians done that stand out most in your memory? Who are the people you’ve known who have been most radiant with the light of Jesus?

The shining people haven’t necessarily been the smartest, or most articulate, or most talented, or had the most publicly influential platforms. They’ve been the most servant-hearted and sacrificially loving people. They’ve been the ones who find God’s steadfast love better than life (Psalm 63:3). They’ve consistently loved others in both word and deed (1 John 3:18). Their words and deeds have sometimes been tender and other times tough, depending on the need. Their actions have demonstrated that they truly consider others more significant than themselves (Philippians 2:3), and that they pursue others’ good more than others’ approval.

It’s not merely what the shining people do, but why they do it and how they do it that makes them literally remarkable — people talk about them. Some praise them, and others slander them. But it is their doing, not talking, that sets them apart. And we’ve found ourselves both drawn to them and unnerved by them, because the light of their humble, word-and-deed love has both warmed our chilled hearts and exposed our selfishness and pride.

Whatever It Takes

Would Jesus have ordained me? I trust that through the Spirit operating in my brother-examiners, he did. Seeing how Jesus patiently dealt with his original band, it’s clear he graciously chooses disciples like me whose intellectual knowledge initially outpaces their actions. But he expects that to change. He expects our works to grow into our words and bear shining witness to the reality and power of his words.

I’m grateful for the gift of theological equipping God has provided me. But these days I am asking him to press me harder than ever before, to examine me fully, to search me and try me and transform me so that I shine more with the light of Jesus through my works than I ever have. I don’t want to merely articulate glorious truth more accurately, but to incarnate it more fully, especially in the dark places of the world where it’s most needed. I want to live it more — to so love God and others for his sake that, whether I provoke persecution or the praise of God, my light is more clearly seen.

So, Lord, whatever it takes, make me a doer of your word so that my life shines like a city set on a hill and gives you glory, in Jesus’s name, Amen.