LCN Article
Lamps, Not Torches

January / February 2021

Thomas White

"No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light,” said the Christ in Luke 8:16. But here’s a thought: They had portable torches long before Jesus’ ministry. Why didn’t He say, “No one who has lit a torch sticks it under a bed, but waves it around so that everyone can see him”? We are supposed to make our spiritual lights obvious, right?

One of my oldest friends is outside of God’s Church and extremely “liberal.” Over the years, we’ve talked quite a bit about religion and spirituality, but I’ve never gotten my friend truly interested in the Church. And I used to wonder if I was doing something wrong—if I was representing the truth badly.

Lights Like Noah

It can be easy to think that way. But then we can remember the number of people who were called into God’s truth during Noah’s considerable time preaching it while building the ark. As Mr. Rod McNair has said, that number was a big ol’ zero. It definitely wasn’t that Noah’s was a dim, ineffectual light—it just wasn’t the time for the people around him to respond to it. But it’s safe to say that during that time, the foundation was laid for some very interesting conversations Noah will have someday with those who never even considered boarding the ark.

Several years ago, my friend “entered my house” by asking me why I considered homosexuality a sin. Did I successfully convince her to adopt God’s point of view? No. Technically, the ensuing discussion was a failure for us both—neither of us convinced the other of anything. But at the end of the conversation, she said, “I can’t believe how civil and friendly this discussion was. Thank you for presenting your points with kindness and respect.” I sincerely thanked her for doing the same, and we’re friends to this day—she even wishes me “Happy Sabbath!” on occasion, despite not keeping it herself. While it’s true that she didn’t embrace God’s truth, she came to associate that truth not with bigotry and vitriol, but with kindness and respect. And with that foundation, I’m hoping to have some much more fruitful conversations with her after God opens her mind.

Now, as we’re all aware, not everyone of the world handles disagreement so gracefully. But that’s not our problem. We’re responsible for whether we handle it gracefully. We can’t compromise on the truth, but if we’re making the truth look like something only demeaning and disagreeable people believe in, aren’t we doing it a disservice? If our friends “outside” can’t stand to talk about moral principles with us at all, it might be time to change our approach. But if we can talk about such subjects with them, we don’t need to doubt the strength of our lights just because they never actually agree with us—they may not be accepting the light as their own, but they’re definitely looking at it.

An Inviting Lamp

Those who have lit their spiritual lamps set them on lampstands, Jesus said, so that “those who enter may see the light.” Hopefully, those entering our houses are doing so because they actually want to be there; they already find us interesting, and want to get to know us better. We obviously shouldn’t be manipulating anyone—we’re messengers, not salesmen. But neither should we expect anyone to stick around if we’re threateningly waving a torch at them, as if Jesus expected us to demand, “You will look directly into this light and you will like it.” 

When we’re trying to befriend someone, we start with what we have in common with them. We don’t open with, “Howdy stranger, that sure is some sinful music you seem to be listening to—interested in hearing why it’s completely of the devil?” We take a different approach, one that never dims the light, but invites people to behold it by making it clear that the light has something real to offer them personally. The Apostle Paul purposely made himself relatable (1 Corinthians 9:19–21), which is important. Someone who believes he has nothing in common with you will never be interested in entering your “house” and seeing that light.

We’re to invite people “into our house,” thereby letting those who enter see the light of our lamp—not shove a torch in unsuspecting faces. After we’ve made friends based on mutual interests, then we can look for opportunities to show them the Good News in ways that speak to those interests. They’re our friends, or at least our acquaintances—they’ve “entered our house,” so to speak. And once they’re in there, it works even better if they notice the lamp before we point it out, so we can respond to their comments: “Oh, that? That’s my lamp. To tell you the truth, it’s extremely important to me—the most important thing in my life, in fact,” as opposed to, “And over here, you can see my truly amazing lamp. Take a closer look. Bask in its light. Bask, I say!

We’re lamps, not torches, because lamps are friendly. Torches… well, there’s a reason people usually expect pitchforks along with them. If we strive to reflect God in everything we do, and truly care about preaching His message to the world, we’ll do it in a way that will reach the world—“crying aloud and sparing not,” to be sure, but also presenting the inviting, loving light of a lamp on a stand.