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Authentic happiness

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 5:14-16

What will make you happy? Here are some options in the news recently.

“Pocket Deities” are figurines of Francis of Assisi and the Virgin of Guadalupe. A press release says, “Tuck one of these … into your pocket or bag and take the protective spirit of these deities with you wherever you go.”

Perhaps something more mundane? The newspaper recently carried an article about your new desk chair, the Allsteel #19, starting at $1,350.

Perhaps something for the afterlife? Your body can be buried or cremated, or there’s a third option: a company called LifeGem will take your ashes, manufacture them into diamonds, and produce jewelry for your descendants. Prices start at $4,000 for a quarter-carat with a minimum order of two diamonds per body.

Maybe you just need more money. DebtSmart magazine recently ran a survey, asking Americans the question, “If you had more money, would you be happier?” 75% said yes. But would we really?

I learned that people in Japan have nearly nine times the purchasing power of their neighbors in China, yet score lower in surveys of life satisfaction.

Income in America, adjusted for inflation, has doubled since 1960. We’re now twice as likely to own cars, air conditioners and clothes dryers, twice as likely to eat out on any given night. But our divorce rate has doubled, teen suicide has tripled and depression has increased tenfold.

So, what will really make you happy? Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” So?

Reflect the light of Christ

I found this week a fascinating new book titled Authentic Happiness, by Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. In his book, Dr. Seligman tells us how to experience “authentic happiness” for ourselves.

He describes three kinds of “work orientation:” a job, a career, and a calling. A job earns you a paycheck and nothing more. A career entails a deeper personal investment in your work. But a calling is a passionate commitment to work for its own sake. According to Dr. Seligman, finding your “calling” is the key to authentic happiness.

Now consider Jesus’ words again: “You are the light of the world.” “You” is plural, including everyone who follows Jesus. “You are”—present tense, right now. Not you will be, but you are today.

You are “the light of the world.” This is a spectacular compliment. Not because of who we are, but whose we are. You see, Jesus is the true light of the world.

He said so: “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). And later, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

Now that he is no longer in the world, he has called us to reflect his light, as the moon reflects the sun.

The Bible says, “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (John 1:6-8).

This is true of each of us: “You are all sons of the light” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). We exist to show our Father’s light. To be his mirror. To reflect his light to our dark world. To be the moon to his sun. This is Jesus’ high and holy calling for each of us.

Know that the world needs your light

But why is this calling so significant? Why is being the “light of the world” so important and crucial that it will give our lives deep and satisfying meaning? For this simple reason: you have the only answer to the greatest need in all of humanity.

Would your life be significant and satisfying if you cured cancer or AIDS? If you found the solution to all war, abuse, neglect? If you discovered a way to end all hunger and poverty? Would you then consider your life fulfilling? We could do all this and more, but the world would still suffer in spiritual darkness. And this darkness would be its greatest problem, its worst disease, its most horrific malady.

God says so.

The Bible says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, emphasis added).

God describes humanity this way: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:18-19).

This darkness is Satanic: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

And he is keeping the lost of our community and world from finding the love of God in Christ Jesus. There are one million more lost people in the world today than last Sunday. 1.3 billion people have never even heard the name “Jesus Christ.” The percentage of Americans who rarely or never attend church has grown from 18% in 1972 to 30% in 1998. 85% of Americans call themselves Christians, but only a third say they have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The rest are deceived by the enemy, living in his spiritual darkness.

What is the answer to his deception and darkness? You are “the” light of the world. Not just “a” light—the only light.

The Bible is very clear on this subject. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Because you share his faith and bear his light, you are “the” light of the world. Its only light. Your faith is our world’s only hope of eternal life through a personal relationship with our Creator and Lord.

What calling could give your life greater significance? And thus greater fulfillment, satisfaction, and “authentic happiness?”

Choose to shine for God

Here’s the catch: your light must be visible. Otherwise it does nobody any good, including yourself. Consider these facts.

One: you are already a witness.

Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hid.” “Hill” is literally mountain. Houses in Israel then and now are whitewashed. With their lights at night, a city on a mountain cannot be hidden.

Neither can your life. People see you. They know whether or not you live what you believe, whether you will say what you believe. You are a witness. Is your witness good or bad?

Two: your light is intended for others.

“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl” (v. 15a). Their lamps were small clay bowls filled with olive oil, with a floating wick. They were very hard to light. So once they were lit, at night they were covered with a basket which allowed them air while shielding their light. Jesus’ point is clear: no one lights a lamp so they can hide its light.

“Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (v. 15b). People in Jesus’ day lived in one-room homes, with one small window. So they built a clay or stone ledge into one wall, and there they placed their lamps. For this was their purpose.

“In the same way, let your light shine before men” (v. 16a). “Men,” wherever they are. You are the light of the world, not of the church. Wherever you go, whatever you do. With whomever you meet. Your light was given to you, to be given to them.

Three: your life is your light. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (v. 16). How?

Be godly: “The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:12-14). Do others see godliness in you? There you are the light of the world.

Care about hurting people: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:9-10). Whose need are you meeting? There you are the light of the world.

Love your brother: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him” (1 John 2:9-11). Are you wrong with someone today? Where you love your brother, you are the light of the world.

Share your faith: “become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). Who has heard of Jesus through you? There you are the light of the world.

With this result: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). When we live as the light of the world, God uses us for his glory. It’s that simple.

Conclusion

You are the light of the world—its only light, right now. Shine that light by being godly, by caring for hurting people, by loving your brother, by sharing your faith.

This is the one calling any of us can answer. It’s the one calling God promises he will always use for his glory. It’s the one calling which will give us “authentic happiness.”

The choice is now yours.