“You are the light of the world”: The meaning of Matthew 5:14-16

What did Jesus mean when he said “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)? In this blog post, we will discuss what the Son of God is trying to teach us. How can we apply this Biblical lesson to our daily faith?

The meaning of “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)

For context, Jesus tells believers to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) right after he calls us the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).

Salt is used as a metaphor here. In short, Jesus invites Christians to preserve God’s truth, add ‘flavor’ to people’s lives by displaying and sharing His goodness, as well as prevent evil from taking root in the world like weeds.

(To learn more about what it means to be the “salt of the earth”, read our blog post.)

You are the light of the world meaning Matthew 5:14-16 2

Jesus goes on to tell his followers that “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). But what does this mean? In short, just as physical light dispels darkness, so too should Christians live as shining witnesses of God’s light in a world darkened by sin.

So how can we best serve as God’s “light of the world”? Let’s explore several further points.

1. Jesus is the true light that shines from within us.

As Christians, being God’s light of the world should not stem from our own self-righteous and imperfect feelings of right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark.

Instead, Jesus says:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

That is to say, we are the light of the world insofar as we have truly invited Jesus to live within us in spirit (Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:10).

This means having welcomed the Son of God as our savior from sin. It also entails actively trying to follow God’s teachings in the Bible and seek Him through prayer.

In short, the “light of life” (John 8:12) that shines forth from us begins with and is owed to Jesus, not ourselves. To be the light of the world is to be a follower of Jesus.

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The Apostle Paul makes this point extra clear when he says:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7

In other words, we as believers are earthen vessels that contain the treasure of Christ’s light. It is his light that illuminates our hearts with the knowledge of God’s truth – and lends us the blessed ability to be “the light of the world”.

2. Jesus tells us to be a visible light in a darkened world (Matthew 5:14-15).

After calling us to be “the light of the world”, Jesus further says:

A town built 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. 

Matthew 5:14-15
Lamp on table 1

In short, Jesus invites us – as both the collective Body of Christ and as individual believers – to not hide our faith in God from others. We should not be ashamed, shy, or selfish.

Instead, Jesus asks us to serve God as a visible beacon of hope amid darkness. Like a town on a hill seen from far away, we should be a light for others to see.

Town on a hill Jesus

Similarly, a lamp’s true purpose is to give light, not to be hidden away unseen.

To this end, Jesus invites us to shine forth his light like a lamp for others to see, so that they may also come to God and move away from darkness.

How can we serve as the light of the world?

To be God’s visible light of the world, we should humbly yearn to have bold faith.

But, let’s be honest: as imperfect people, being bold in our love for God can sometimes be scary.

For example, we may at times be afraid to share the Gospel with pre-believers outside our church community. They might question or even ridicule our choice to follow God.

In some parts of the world, too, being a Christian means even more severe persecution, including physical violence.

Persecution in Jesus' name

Such persecution – be it subtle or direct – can be very hard to endure, even as God has already warned us this would happen in our fallen world (Matthew 5:10-12).

Nonetheless, Jesus’ teaching still stands. We as believers should desire to openly shine God’s light from within us, not conceal it (Matthew 5:14-15).

In short, we should seek to be bold and open in our love for Jesus, joyously sharing what God has done for us so that others may know Him too. For our Father loves them as much as He loves us, even if some may not yet know who He is.

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Be bold – but also be discerning and wise in how you do it.

Of course, being a bold light does not mean blindly shouting about the Gospel everywhere you go. We don’t need to mindlessly ‘spam’ others in our sharing. Boldness isn’t a license for crassness.

Rather, God desires for us to be mature in how we shine His light.

This means discerning each unique interaction with people as it unfolds and practicing godly wisdom (see Hebrews 5:14; James 3:17; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Galatians 5:22-23).

Fruit of the spirit Jesus

Doing this helps us to be the light of the world in a way that is loving and kind to others, not arrogant or self-righteous nor insensitive to people’s unique life situations.

We can also learn to adapt in how we speak about God to different groups of people, without compromising our faith. Apostle Paul himself encouraged this (1 Corinthians 9:22-23). Be fluid but stay rooted in Truth.

This is an effective way to do our parts to shine God’s light into the lives of others, doing so “for the sake of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:23).

Remember, we are the light of the world for the glory of God, not ourselves

When we aim to be the light of the world, we might at times be tempted to draw attention to ourselves, instead of God.

This can happen in so many ways, both consciously and insidiously.

For example, people might praise us for doing a good deed, leading us to relish their respect and attention. Or we may start to take hidden pride in having some spiritual ‘authority’ among other Christians.

The list of personal glory pitfalls goes on and on.

Falling into pride Bible

Whatever the case, Jesus gives us a gentle but firm reminder:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16 (emphasis added)

In other words, when we do good for others, we should not do them to glorify our profiles or gain personal credit (Matthew 6:1).

Instead, we serve as the light of the world to ultimately point others to God. Not ourselves, period.

Of course, God is kind and gracious! He certainly does bless each of us with personal moments to shine. For example, we may get featured in the press for something we’ve done, achieve success in our field of work, and so on.

However, when people do notice us, we as believers should have the heart to give glory to our Father. We can let people know that everything we have is thanks to God, the Giver of all.

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We can glorify God via our good deeds in so many pragmatic ways. For instance:

  • If pre-believers happen to take notice of our good deeds, we can use the chance to tell them about Jesus in our lives. God is the focus.
  • We can be cheerful givers to those in need. We can do so in a manner that stirs people to give thanks to God, not us. “Sound no trumpet before you”, as Jesus himself said (Matthew 6:2).
  • There’s never a reason for us to boast about being wise, rich, powerful, etc. (James 4:16; Jeremiah 9:23). Instead, let’s give public glory to God in all He has blessed us with. We can remind others that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).
  • … and so on.

In short, to be the light of the world is to draw people’s attention to the greater Truth that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

God truly loves each of us like none other!

But we also need to remember that it’s not all about us. Our goal as the light of the world is to glorify Him and bring His hope to all who are searching.


Though being a light in this dark world is not always easy, God is more than worth it! We encourage you to keep shining His light as you share the love that you’ve found in Jesus Christ. Hold close to the meaning of Matthew 5:14-16, always.

For more posts like this one, be sure to check out the rest of our blog. May God bless you as you seek to follow Him closely!