A light on a hill? Or a noisy gong?

Here’s a question for Christians.  Are you a light on a hill? Or a noisy gong?  Or are you just wondering why I’m asking?  It is a legitimate question.   We’re supposed to be “making disciples”.  But how?  Are we supposed to beat people over the head until they finally give in?  I know that’s been done.  Is still being done.  But is it what Jesus asked for?

A light on a hill?  Or a noisy gong?The same can be asked of any “in your face” approach to making people become Christians.  The thing about “making disciples” is that Jesus said a whole lot more than just “go do it!”.  He taught us how.  He was a living example of how to do it.  But do we pay attention to that part?

These are all questions that came to me as I was reading Dallas Willard’s The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus.  Can we defend the faith if we’re always on offense?  And how can we defend the faith, or do anything related to Christianity, when we’re offensive?  In other words, are we a light on a hill, or a noisy gong?

What is apologetics and why should I care?

Let’s answer the “why should I care?” question first.  Every Christian should, even must, care because it’s a fancy word for defending the faith.  But it’s more.  Here’s what Christianity Today said about it:

Many Christians talk about Christian apologetics. Indeed, the topic is very interesting for Christians on many levels as we seek to gain confidence and assurance for our own faith. And, of course, apologetics also has great value for us as we seek to help seekers and doubters to get over the intellectual barriers keeping them from embracing faith in Christ.  [1]https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/june/what-are-christian-apologetics-and-how-do-they-relate-to-go.html

It’s about knowing about our own faith.  And assurance about what we believe.  So even for somewhat “selfish” reasons, we should care about apologetics.  But then CT also said, has great value for us as we seek to help seekers and doubters to get over the intellectual barriers keeping them from embracing faith in Christ.

We see another fancy word here.  intellectual.  And it might seem like it’s something for only the super-intelligent people.  University professors.  Seminary people.  But really, it’s about using our minds.  And don’t forget what Jesus said about that topic.

The Greatest Commandment – Matthew

22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31

Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

That’s right.  Jesus’ answer to what’s the greatest commandment included Love the Lord your God … with all your mind.  It doesn’t matter if our IQ 60 or 160 – we are to use whatever capabilities  we have in our minds.

In fact, I’d submit that it’s important for everyone to help seekers and doubters to get over the intellectual barriers keeping them from embracing faith in Christ.  Too often, that job is left for the people who use words like apologetics and intellectual – and then everyone who doesn’t consider them to be an “intellectual” thinks it’s not for them.  Or someone reads those words, doesn’t understand them, and proceeds to close the book and move on to something else.

If more people of all “intellectual” levels are involved, a positive result must come out of it.  You’ve probably seen one of those “something for Dummies” books.  They take a complicated topic and make it simpler.  Something like that could be a great help for people who want to be Christians.

We read things like apologetics, and how it’s for intellectuals, and we conclude that Christianity is really hard to understand.  But can that possibly be true?  The original “Christians”, followers of Christ, were fishermen.  I’ve written about this before.  They weren’t today’s highly technical fishing boats, with captains who knew all about tides, weather patterns, Etc.  They were the wooden boat, oar / sail-powered, with no instruments at all.

Those first Christians were highly intellectual.  They didn’t have a clue about apologetics.  They had faith, the Holy Spirit, and a desire to share what they had.  Why do we make it so hard today?  As Christians, we should all be able to have a conversation with someone about our faith.  In fact, if we can’t, then how can we ever perform out part of the Great Commission?

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Answer – we can’t.  We must be able to talk about our faith.  And so, on some level, that fancy word apologetics – something considered for the highly “intellectual” – must become something every Christian does.  Each at our own level.  But, as Jesus said, always with love.

A light on a hill? Or a noisy gong?

You probably recognize the light on a hill part of the title.

Salt and Light

Mt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

Mt 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

So we’re supposed to be the light of the world.  As in a city on a hill.  We’re supposed to be a light to be seen.  And seen in a way that brings praise and glory to God.

That’s not a blinding light that hurts everyone’s eyes.  Not something that drives people away from us.  Our light is supposed to draw people to us.  And then through us, to God.

If you don’t remember the noisy gong, it’s a reference to something Paul wrote.  Not directly equivalent to the light on a hill.  But still, it makes a point that’s relevant.  Especially when we consider the full context.

Love – 1 Corinthians

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

1Co 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1Co 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1Co 13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1Co 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Love

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

1Co 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1Co 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1Co 13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1Co 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

A noisy Gong

Paul’s writing about something called speaking in tongues.  There’s a whole lot of controversy over this, especially whether or not it still exists today.  Without getting into the details of exactly what it was / is, the point he’s making is that someone is needed to interpret for the person speaking in tongues.  Without the interpreter, the speaker is just making noise.  It’s not unlike when someone speaks Latin to you, but you don’t know Latin.  Without an interpreter who knows both Latin and whatever language(s) you speak, the sounds coming out of the mouth of the person speaking Latin are just noise to you.  Noisy gongs.

Earlier, I mentioned that the early Christians had, among other things, the Holy Spirit.  Part of what we get with the Holy Spirit is the ability to have a deeper understanding of Scripture.  Not that it’s guaranteed – it’s something we need to really want in our hearts, and put some effort into it.  Remember – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?

Well, if we talk to someone who doesn’t have the same level of understanding that we do about Christianity, and we speak as if they did, then we’re just making noise.

Paul goes on,

1Co 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

If we continue to speak words that our listener doesn’t understand, it’s just noise.  It’s not done in love.  Neither is it kind.  Depending on the situation, it could be boastful and proud – like look what I know and you don’t.  That’s not loving.  Neither is being rude.  None of those things is going to help anyone become a believer in Christianity.  We’d be just as successful beating them over the head.  It’s not going to accomplish anything!

BTW, if anyone’s going to go back and try to justify that any kind of beating people over the head also saved them, here’s a question.  Do you really think those people willingly accepted God into their hearts?  Or did they finally just give in, to stop the pain?  Did they really love Jesus?  Or did they just want the noisy gongs to stop?

A Light on a hill

So, if we’re going to be that light on a hill, how do we do it?

Let’s take a look at some of what Dallas Willard wrote in The Allure of Gentleness.

Please understand that I’m taking time for this because the context of apologetics is so very important. If you do not exhibit the presence of a life that is above this world, something that is coming into you and giving you joy, peace, and strength in a situation that looks very bad from the outside, there isn’t going to be anything for people to ask about. You’re just going to be behaving in the same way that unbelievers down the street behave. I realize this gets us into a lot of things beyond apologetics, and I’ll ask your forgiveness for that, but I’ve got to say this: we are talking about a life here, a life that Jesus spoke about like this: “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26).  [2]Willard, Dallas. The Allure of Gentleness (pp. 31-32). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Now you can see why I talked about apologetics at the beginning.  Didn’t want to scare you here, beating the noisy gong and turn you off.  It’s what comes after the first sentence that we look at now.

A light on the hill – a life different from the rest of the world

If you do not exhibit the presence of a life that is above this world, something that is coming into you and giving you joy, peace, and strength in a situation that looks very bad from the outside, there isn’t going to be anything for people to ask about.

Yes, the light on the hill is supposed to be the Christian.  We’re supposed to be different.  We aren’t supposed to be like everyone else.  If we are, then the first thing to do is realize that we’re doing something wrong.  If that’s you – realize that you’re not alone.  No one really gets it right.  We can’t.  It is, after all, still a fallen world.  However, there really should be enough of a difference that it’s noticeable.  And yes, even lots of Americans get it really wrong, no matter how much insistence there might be that it’s not the case.  Please see American Theology is Mixed Up for more on that.

To explain this, I’m going to switch authors over to John Stott.

True, some non-Christians adopt a deceptive veneer of Christian culture. Some professing Christians, on the other hand, seem indistinguishable from non-Christians and so deny their Christian name by their non-Christian behaviour. Yet the essential difference remains. We might say that they are as different as chalk from cheese. Jesus said they are as different as light from darkness, as different as salt from decay and disease. We serve neither God, nor ourselves, nor the world by attempting to obliterate or even minimize this difference.  [3]Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 63). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

The difference between someone who claims to be Christian but doesn’t really try to follow Jesus’ teachings and someone who really does try in their hearts to follow, is something I often write about.  And it’s what John Stott’s talking about here.  If someone cannot tell the difference between any of us, as Christians, and someone who’s not even claiming to be Christian – we have a problem.  We really need to examine ourselves, with God’s help.  Please see Search me, know my heart, test me for more on that thought.

I don’t know how many people even know what chalk is anymore.  With all the marker boards now, maybe not too many.  But we certainly know the difference between dark and light.  Bottom line, it should be a noticeable difference.

This theme is basic to the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is built on the assumption that Christians are different, and it issues a call to us to be different. Probably the greatest tragedy of the church throughout its long and chequered history has been its constant tendency to conform to the prevailing culture instead of developing a Christian counter-culture.  [4]Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 63). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

This – the tendency to conform to the rest of the world, is a real problem.  Even something simple like watching a movie.  I enjoy a good movie when I want to relax.  We have a Netflix account and Amazon Prime.  Both have movies.  But it can be so hard to find something in between kids’ animated movies and adult R-rated movies.  I really don’t want to sit down and listen to a bunch of four-letter words or watch some of what passes for even PG-13 these days.  So I don’t.  Even at home. But how many of us are willing to do that?

Even watching something at home, with the windows open, that I think will be OK can be embarrassing.  All of a sudden all these four-letter words come spewing out.  No, I don’t want to hear them.  But what if one of the neighbors hears it coming from my TV?  Again – how many “Christians” even care about that?  I do.

That may sound like a lot already, but there’s still more to being the light on a hill that Jesus spoke of.

A light on a hill – a light that people will ask about

It is when in each metaphor we bring the affirmation and the condition together that our responsibility stands out. Each affirmation begins in the Greek sentence with the emphatic pronoun ‘you’, as much as to say ‘you and only you’ are the earth’s salt and the world’s light. And therefore—the condition follows with inexorable logic—you simply must not fail the world you are called to serve. You must be what you are. You are salt, and so you must retain your saltness and not lose your Christian tang. You are light, and so you must let your light shine and not conceal it in any way, whether by sin or by compromise, by laziness or by fear.

Yes, if you even claim to be a Christian, this is for you.  Including this part – you simply must not fail the world you are called to serve. You must be what you are.  So if you’re thinking that just saying some words and claiming to be Christian are good enough – guess what?  You’re actually lying to God.  If you even sort of want to “please” God, although that’s not what He asks, everyone who claims to be a Christian really should understand what we’re getting into.

There’s that Great Commission thing. It’s not the Great Omission that many turn it into.  It’s a commission.  Go and do something, not just say some words and do nothing. And when we’re doing our part of the Great Commission, we’re to let your (our) light shine and not conceal it in any way, whether by sin or by compromise, by laziness or by fear.

It’s hard, I know.  It’s not easy.  And it’s often not what we’d rather do.  And yet …

This call to assume our Christian responsibility, because of what God has made us and where he has put us, is particularly relevant to young people who feel frustrated in the modern world. The problems of the human community are so great, and they feel so small, so feeble, so ineffective. ‘Alienation’—a term popularized by Marx—is the word commonly used today to describe these frustration feelings.

At first, I was really shocked to see the reference to Carl Marx.  It seemed odd.  Until I kept reading.  Then it got really interesting.

What message do we have, then, for such people who feel themselves strangled by ‘the system’, crushed by the machine of modern technocracy, overwhelmed by political, social and economic forces which control them and over which they have no control? They feel themselves victims of a situation they are powerless to change. What can they do? It is in the soil of this frustration that revolutionaries are being bred, dedicated to the violent overthrow of the system.

It’s important to note the part about violent overthrow of the system.  It’s equally important to note that violence isn’t just about physical violence.  Dictionary.com has the following definitions for violence.

        1. swift and intense force:
          the violence of a storm.

        2. rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment:
          to die by violence.

        3. an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws:
          to take over a government by violence.

        4. a violent act or proceeding.

        5. rough or immoderate vehemence, as of feeling or language:
          the violence of his hatred.

        6. damage through distortion or unwarranted alteration:
          to do editorial violence to a text.

Violence can even be words.  But then, words don’t have to be violent.  They can also be loving.  And that’s one of the big differences we see when talking about that light on a hill.  We see that as John Stott continues:

It is from the very same soil that revolutionaries of Jesus can arise, equally dedicated activists—even more so—but committed rather to spread his revolution of love, joy and peace. And this peaceful revolution is more radical than any programme of violence, both because its standards are incorruptible and because it changes people as well as structures. Have we lost our confidence in the power of the gospel of Christ?

To be honest, I think we have.  Too many Christians look to something or someone other than God to solve our problems.  I know – I was there.  Until I realized that there are way too many compromises we have to make when we do something like look to the government.  No matter which political party we choose – we have to compromise in areas where Jesus taught love, joy and peace.

Without even getting into where any politician stands on any issues – just look at the way they talk to each other and about each other.  Then remember something Jesus said:

Murder

5:25, 26 pp — Lk 12:58, 59

Mt 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Enough said?  I certainly hope so.

Then listen to Luther: ‘With his single word I can be more defiant and boastful than they with all their power, swords and guns.’

So we are not helpless and powerless after all! For we have Jesus Christ, his gospel, ideals and power, and Jesus Christ is all the salt and light this dark and rotten world needs. But we must have salt in ourselves, and we must let our light shine.  [5]Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (pp. 63–64). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Actually, it’s more like we are not don’t have to be helpless and powerless after all! For we have Jesus Christ, his gospel, ideals and power, and Jesus Christ is all the salt and light this dark and rotten world needs.  I say don’t have to be for the simple reason that we too often don’t do what Stott concludes with: we must have salt in ourselves, and we must let our light shine.

We have the same seasoning that everyone else does.  When we become “Christian” political activists, we fight the battle on their terms, not God’s.  And the light we show is the darkness of the world, not the light of God.

If we aren’t a light on a hill, then we are a noisy gong

If we aren’t a light on a hill, then we are a noisy gong – even if we’re silent!  That’s right – even if we’re silent.

As we saw above, when Christians become political activists, trying to wield our faith as a sword in political warfare, we most definitely become noisy gongs.  We must abandon major parts of our faith in order to participate in the political process in the U.S. today.  There’s just no question about that.  Then, when we do that and still scream at the top of our lungs that we’re allegedly Christians – we poison non-Christian attitudes towards true Christianity.  People who are supposed to be leading others to Christ – end up turning them off, leading them away.

That’s not unlike something Jesus said to the Jewish leaders:

Mt 23:13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

Conclusion: A light on a hill? Or a noisy gong?

No – the average Christian isn’t a teacher of the law or a Pharisee.  At least not in title.  But to some extent, all of us, Christian or not, are teachers.  People watch other people.  They make assumptions based on what people say about themselves, versus the way they really act.  Unfortunately, a whole lot of non-Christians call too many Christians hypocrites.

And too often, they’re right.  We claim to be full of peace, joy and love.  And we spew lots of hatred.  We run the risk of not really being Christians ourselves, because we’re so far off the path of what Jesus taught that He just might tell us, I never knew you. ‘Away from me, you evildoers!’

And if we’re like that – we certainly aren’t going to lead anyone else to be a Christian.  Not a true follower of Jesus anyway.  Maybe someone who follows us, on our path away from Jesus.  But the truth is, the only way a noisy gong type of person is going to lead anyone to Christ is when they recognize that the noisy gong is a hypocrite – reject their message – and then go find Jesus on some other path.  Yes, I said that – they’ll find Jesus when they reject the noisy gong – and go search for the true light on a hill.

So – if you claim to be Christian – what do you think?  Are you a light on a hill?  Or are you a noisy gong?

If you’re not Christian – who are you looking at to get your impression of Christianity?  Realize that the noisy gongs do not represent what Christianity is about.  Look for the light on a hill.  Someone who really tries to follow Jesus’ teachings.  Someone who lives the kind of life that’s got peace, joy and love.  The kind of life you’d like to have for yourself.


\Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Footnotes[+]

Please leave a comment or ask a question - it's nice to hear from you.

Scroll to Top

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close

I