Preach the Gospel, Then Use Words
Dr. Jim Denison
Last weekend, on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day, I bought Janet a red rose in a bud vase, along with some other things. Clinging to the vase was this cute little red bear. I was in a hurry, so I bought it without a second look and smuggled it all home.
The next morning was Valentine’s Day, so I handed Janet the rose with its cute little bear. She started to laugh and said, “You gave me a little devil?” I had no idea what she meant, then looked closer. The “bear” I bought was actually a stuffed red devil, with horns and a tail. If I’d known that I would never have bought the thing, but in my haste the day before I didn’t even look. It boils down to this: your pastor gave the pastor’s wife a Satan doll for Valentine’s Day, as an expression of his love.
Janet was very nice about it all, but she did make one comment: “If you want to appear thoughtful, it’s best to be thoughtful.” Our lives must back up our words.
Last week we focused on the need for close proximity with lost people. Today we’ll look at the kind of “high potency” faith required for maximum impact in their lives. Why? Because we all want our lives to back up our words. None of us wants to be a hypocrite. But most of us are afraid that if we start telling more people about Christ, they’ll look at our lives and be turned off. We think our lives are not good enough to share Christ.
So, what is required to be “high potency” Christians? The answer may surprise you.
Who is the “light of the world?”
When Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” believe it or not, he was speaking of us. Now, this is a great compliment. The Bible says that “God is light” (1 John 1:5), and Jesus repeatedly called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35; 1 John 1:7ff.). And the Jews typically called themselves the “light of the nations” as well.
But now Jesus says that you and I are the light of the world. Not the Jewish people; not Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Gandhi, the New Age enlightened; not the good and moral people we know; not politicians in Washington, Austin, or Dallas. You and I, sitting in this sanctuary today, are the light of the world.
This compliment is his grace gift to us. Remember that the first hearers had only followed Jesus a few days. They had virtually no training, experience, or contribution to make. They were the “light of the world” solely because they were related to him. The same is true of you and me. “You” is plural, referring to all of us. No matter our mistakes or failures. By his grace, every Christian here today is the light of the world.
Why? A lamp cannot light itself. What is the source of our light? Ephesians 5:8 is clear: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Because we are children of God, we now have the light of God in our lives, shining to others.
II Corinthians 4:6 says that God “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Our “light” comes from Christ in our lives. And so ours is a reflected light. Think of the moon and the sun. The moon has no light of its own—it merely reflects the sun, which it can “see,” but we cannot. In the very same way, Christ has returned to his Father and we cannot see him now, but his light is reflected in the lives of his people, Christians.
Here’s the point: if you are a Christian you are already “the light of the world.” Believe it or not.
What can our light accomplish?
Now, what can this light in your life actually accomplish? Isn’t “high potency” Christianity really reserved for the Billy Graham’s and Mother Teresa’s of the world? For the missionaries and the monks, those few who are really “sold out” to God? If I knew your problems, your mistakes, or what’s in your mind right now, I wouldn’t call you the light of the world, right? But God does.
And he says that your light can defeat the darkness of your fallen world. Right now, you already have within you all the light you need to be a “high potency” believer.
“A city on a hill cannot be hidden,” according to Jesus. Their houses were made of very white limestone, and reflected the sun’s rays even from a great distance away. They were built on the hills around Galilee, so that you could see them at a distance. And at night, the city lights were visible from even farther away. Just as you cannot hide Dallas as you’re driving toward the city, so we cannot hide the light of Christ in our lives, unless we want to.
Jesus continues: “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” (v. 15). Their “lamps” were small clay pots, with a tiny wick floating on olive oil. They were hard to light, so people didn’t extinguish them at night. Instead, they put a bushel basket over them so the flame could get air while hiding the light.
But you don’t light a lamp to hide its flame. You put it on its “stand,” a rock or ledge built into the wall of the home. Then, because theirs were one-room houses, one oil lamp would give light to “everyone in the house.”
The point is obvious: Christianity was never meant to be lived in secret. The purpose of a lamp is to give light. The point is not what the lamp looks like, how big it is, how much oil it possesses, what kind of wick it uses, or how much it costs. The point, the purpose is not the lamp but the light. And if the lamp does its job, its light will always defeat the darkness.
Listen to I Peter 2.12: “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.” Flip a light switch, light a candle, turn on a flashlight. What happens? The light wins over the dark. Every time.
The choice is ours (v. 16)
Now we have a choice to make. There is no option as to whether or not we are the light of the world—Jesus established that fact. The question is, will you and I let his light shine in us so that others can see it (v. 16)? Will we be “high potency” believers? The choice is ours. How do we make the best decision?
Ryan’s science experiment this year used magnifying glasses to convert sunlight to heat. So he and I learned some facts about light. Let me share them with you.
First, find the right light source. The magnifying glasses worked well with sunlight, but not at all with sun lamps or heat lamps. Without the right source, the light doesn’t make any difference. Listen to I Peter 2:9: you are “a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (emphasis added). We’re not here to impress people with us, or our church, but with Christ. No other source will make an eternal difference in the lives of the people we know.
Make sure Jesus is your Savior and Lord. Then decide to reflect him to other people through your life.
Second, stay turned to the light. Ryan and I had to keep focusing the magnifying glasses, because the sun kept moving, or so it seemed. Actually, the earth moved, not the sun. We must stay turned to Christ, centered on him, walking with him, relating to him, or he cannot reflect his light in our lives. We do this daily through his word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Ps. 119:105). We spend the day communing with God, walking with him.
Then with Job we can speak of “the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head and by his light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:2-3).
Third, keep the lens clean. Ryan and I had to keep the glass clean, or dirt would distort the light. We had to stay out of shadows, and wait for the clouds to pass. The lens must have a clear path to the sun. So with our lives: “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 orgies and drunkenness, 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).
So with other people: “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” (I John 2:9-10). If your lens is dirty, confess your sins and claim God’s promise to forgive you and to “cleanse you from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Keep the lens clean.
Last, stay focused on the object. . Ryan and I found that it was hard to burn anything with a quick flash of light—it took time, and we had to be patient. The light would have its effect, but we had to stay focused on the object. So, focus on the people you know who don’t know Jesus Christ. Start with your family and close friends, for “the light that shines farthest, shines brightest at home.”
Shine the light of God’s love on those in need, for God promises that “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 58:10).
We must have both “close proximity” and “high potency” if we are to achieve maximum impact in the lives and souls of others. Choose people upon whom you will focus the light of God’s love, and do it this week.
“High potency” Christianity is really very simple. We decide we will walk so close to Jesus, in his light, that others see that light in us and want it in their lives. Francis of Assisi said it well: “Preach the gospel at all times—if necessary use words.” I’ve adapted his motto for my title today: “Preach the gospel, then use words.” I can testify personally that this strategy still works today.
I became a Christian because of the joy and love I saw in other Christians. I didn’t understand the sermons or the hymns. I just knew that I wanted what these people had. And so on September 9, 1973, I asked my Sunday school teacher how I could have what they had, and she led me to faith in Christ.
Then when God called me to ministry, he used other “high potency” Christians to encourage me. One in particular stands out, Dr. A. O. Collins, a Christianity professor at Houston Baptist University. When I was a confused and discouraged freshman, he reached out to me. He encouraged me when no one else did. He became a father in the faith to me.
And he showed me Christ’s love in his own, over and over. One example: while I was pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Mansfield, one year the church decided to have a “This Is Your Life” party for my birthday. A terrible idea. They got my brother to videotape my teachers in Houston from elementary school up, and everyone had a great time but me. Then Mark stepped out of the closet in the back of the fellowship hall to tell some more horrible stories.
More partying went on, then 45 minutes into the program, another voice emerged from that broom closet. It was Dr. Collins. He preached that morning in Waco, drove that afternoon to Mansfield, sat in a broom closet for 45 minutes, came out and talked to the church, stayed until 10 that night, then drove back to Waco to get his wife, so he could drive home to Houston and teach his 8 o’clock class the next morning.
I’ll never forget such love. I want to be a “high potency” Christian like that. Don’t you?