What Will We Do With Our Phrase? A Matthew 5:16 Reflection

One thing I’ve grown up to believe in Christianity is that being a Christian is not about us. It’s not about what we do or how we act or what we believe. It’s all about Jesus.

That’s why I was confused this morning when I read Matthew 5:16.

I was praying this morning — an infrequent occurrence, by the way — when I thought of the idea of the “light on a hill.” Seeking some kind of encouragement, I turned to Matthew 5:16 and found these words: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” I was encouraged, yes, but also slightly confused a bit. 

After all, why would we want to act so people could “see your good works.” Isn’t this the Jesus who also said a little bit later, in this same sermon, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:1)? 

Now, what I would normally take from this surface-level contradiction is that it is no contradiction at all. In fact, the essence of Jesus’ teaching lies in the purpose of your works. Are you doing it “in order to be seen” by others, as He warns against in Matthew 6, or to encourage others to “give glory to your Father in heaven,” as He encourages in Matthew 5:16? But as I pondered this, a realization crossed my mind.

Far too often, I’ve withheld my efforts or not made them known for fear of people thinking I’m bragging about myself. Individuals spending a lot of time talking about themselves is one of my major pet peeves, perhaps because I grew up with the attitude that it’s not about me. 

But in Matthew 5:16, isn’t Jesus encouraging His disciples, and thus passing words of wisdom onto us, to make their good deeds visible and known? That seemed blasphemy when I first thought of it. It seemed like the most arrogant thing to do. But if Jesus encouraged it, it has to be good, it has to be right. After all, Jesus did most of His works in public. At varying times, He did tell some of those He healed or helped to refrain from sharing the news, while at others he made no such request. And clearly His disciples saw no issue in writing down or sharing His works for future generations, or at least for the ones immediately after them. 

So if Jesus says it’s good to do good works, and it’s His command that others see it, shouldn’t we be visible with our good works? Shouldn’t we make it plain what we’re doing? 

The trick, I think, comes in the intent. Doing good things for the sole purpose of making yourself look good is no better than the self-righteous Pharisees and those who gave their alms to the poor with trumpets blowing, drawing attention to their charity. But doing good things for making the world a better place, and thus leaving an opportunity to tell people, “This is what God’s love leads me to do,” is something altogether different. It’s an act of love and giving, a way to encourage others to do good things and an opportunity to receive praise and say, “Jesus is the reason.”

I believe this is Jesus saying He wants us to be part of the story of humanity, and He’s challenging His disciples — and, through them, us — to make a difference in the world in a noticeable way. He’s asking us to write our phrase in a sentence in a section on a page in a chapter of the book of human existence. 

What is our phrase going to look like? What words will be used to describe us and our impact? Why will our phrase be one worth reading? What difference will we make with the years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds we have? This is not an attempt to shame or guilt those who may feel they are “wasting” their lives in light of this — that’s a whole other conversation, and one I’ve been having with myself a lot lately. But how will we use the time we have? 

I think it’s allowing God to use you, but not in a “I don’t matter, He does” way. It’s in a way where we choose how we’re going to be that light on a hill, and when people ask us why we do it, we say why. We say it’s the love of Jesus spurring us on, not just to obedience but to making a difference in the world.

We’re not here just to wait for Jesus to come back — although I wish that day were today. We’re here to create a place where there are lights on every hill. And think about what a light does — it shows what’s happening, it attracts people to it, it removes darkness. That’s what we’re called to be. Don’t be afraid to do it visibly. 


Finding a Different Way to Speak in a World Full of Hot Takes

As a journalism major, I find shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to be quite entertaining and fascinating. Stewart makes his living off of accurately mocking mainstream media (mainly the Christian news junkie’s best friend, Fox News), while Oliver’s in-depth reporting and willingness to tackle serious topics gives him an edge over many real reporters. In all, I find any type of journalism and writing to be interesting to study and analyze.

For instance, in the sports realm. If you’re a good friend of mine who has any interest in sports, it’s likely that I’ve complained to you about the poor quality of the majority of ESPN’s reporting these days. ESPN (which stands for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) has resorted in most channels (pun unintended) to shoddy reporting and terrible talking heads. Their 30 for 30 documentaries and in-depth reporting are usually stellar, but those are done away from the lens of the 24-hour sports news cycle. And Grantland, technically an ESPN imprint run by long-time ESPN employee Bill Simmons, is mostly independent and probably the best sports analysis website out there.


This just might be one of my favorite things ever.

From my analysis, the majority of journalism is based around what is called the “hot take.” There’s no dictionary definition to this term, but a pretty concise one is this: “An opinion based on simplistic moralizing rather than actual thought” (kudos to Urban Dictionary for that).

A simple look at Twitter can give you a litany of hot takes from just this last day. An example: Skip Bayless, ESPN commentator, on the Oklahoma City Thunder missing the playoffs: “Good night, Russell Westbrook, Enjoy your scoring title. Your 43-shot loss at Indy, turning teammates into bystanders, did in your team.” Another example: Mike Huckabee, likely 2016 COP Presidential hopeful on our current president: “.@BarackObama acts with far more accommodation to the Iranians than he does the Israelis and that makes no sense to me.” The idea is you take something and immediately justify or condemn it without really giving a lot of good, solid evidence. Bayless is a pro at these and makes his money off of them. Politicians and political analysts are also pretty good at them.

Christians ain’t half bad at this either. Usually Chrisitan hot takes revolve around some event in popular culture or a political speech and finding some way to relate it back to the Gospel or some form of “our country is in shambles, we need a change.” Remember all the hoopla around 50 Shades of Gray a couple months ago and how many blog posts were around that?

Admittedly, I’ve written a few what could be considered “hot takes” myself. I counted four, and they’re all linked here:

So before I give a hot take on hot takes, I want you guys to be aware that I’ve done this too.

Something bothers me about hot takes. Especially when they come from Christians. It’s almost like we need to have some big event happen to actually talk about the things they bring up. We don’t normally talk as freely and as often about pornography as we did when 50 Shades of Gray was coming out. And often these hot takes come in a quick response, without really thinking through the issue, without really processing what the root problem is in each of these situations.

But that’s a problem in Christianity, isn’t it? We see a surface-level problem and we throw Scripture and grace and the Gospel at it and say, “Well, we’ve done our job.” Gay marriage, abortion, pornography, addiction relapse, misapplication of Bible verses. We give our thoughts on social media and blogs and at the Christian water cooler (the church lobby/vestibule/narthex/insert-your-church’s-word-here) and think we’ve done our Christian duty by “speaking truth into” a situation or event.

An example: one of the more popular guys who do this is Matt Walsh, and you can check out his writings here. I’ve read some of the things he’s written, and I tend to agree with most of the things he says. But like most Christians, he falls far short. As do I a lot of the time.

There’s good to this. We do need to be aware that porn is bad and that sin is sin, etc. But most of these “hot takes” are just scratches on the surface.

If you look at Jesus’ ministry, He never gave hot takes. Some examples:

  • On murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
  • On adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
  • On love: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-47).
  • Also, just about every parable He told.

Jesus cared much more about the heart of a person, much more about the heart of the issue. Was He ultimately concerned that the chief priests were having their personal prayer time in front of other people? No. He was concerned that people weren’t being humble and honest in their prayer lives. Was He ultimately concerned that they showed that they were pretty obviously fasting by the disfiguration of their faces? No. He was concerned that people would fast for God’s glory alone, not for man’s. Jesus got down to the heart of the issue.

But wait. Isn’t that what hot takers are doing? Aren’t they getting to the root?

Yes and no. Most hot takes, Christian or otherwise, moralize something really quickly for the benefit of getting a quick post out while the topic is still relevant. There’s little to no time given to really consider the deeper implications of an issue. We point to the issues in America and with the secular people and with the Democrats instead of looking at ourselves and saying, “What’s wrong with us? What part of the Bible are we not believing in our own lives that relates to this topic?” I’m all for writing about current events and relating it to what it means to follow Christ. But what concerns me is that we’re just echoing the world by how we handle issues and not really looking at the real deep hurts and issues that are going on.

MV5BMjE1MTM4NDAzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMwNjI0MzE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Like the example of 50 Shades I gave earlier: we condemn pornography soundly, but do we take the time to lovingly and gracious way those in our midst who are struggling with it?

Take the Osteens example. Are we taking the time to genuinely pray out of love for those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ (as I believe the Osteens are) and ask that they would grow in their understanding of God and realizing where they’re misstepping? Are we praying the same thing for ourselves?

The nine-day Duck Dynasty fiasco in 2013 when Phil Robertson got suspended temporarily for comments he made in GQ: Are we as obtuse and rude in dismissing people who make comments we disagree with as A&E were with Phil Robertson?

I don’t know for sure, but I feel like that’s how Jesus would have handled those things. He would have taken them as teaching moments, yes, but to tell us something about ourselves, not about the world. The world shouldn’t surprise us anymore with how they handle things. The question is: are we handling them the same way, and is that really helpful?