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On Being the Light of the World

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16

As I was praying for people in my circles this morning, this passage of Scripture popped into my head. In particular, I was praying about the Japanese churches and how God might use them to reach the people of Japan.

To give this post a little context, one must keep in mind that evangelism in Japan has a number of barriers that are a little different from the Western world (though we are beginning to see some of these barriers in post-modern Western society as well). To describe them in simple terms:

Corporatism vs. Individualism. In Japan, the unity of the group is of much greater importance than the desires of the individual. The “group” can be defined in many ways and is fluid in nature, but the basic point is that one does not make decisions for his or her own benefit, but for the good of the group. Christian evangelism is frowned upon because the desire of the individual (to share the gospel) is elevated above the harmony of the group. Even if the motivation of the individual is for the benefit of the group, such actions can be seen as disruptive or selfish in nature.

Polytheism vs. Monotheism. In a sense, the default religious view of a Japanese person is Polytheism. That is, there are many gods and none is completely omnipotent or significantly more important than another. The gods you worship depend mainly on your situation. If you want a business deal to come through, you pray to the god who oversees that aspect of our lives. If you want to pass a test, you get an amulet that gives you good fortune in that area. The concept of an all powerful Creator God is difficult for most Japanese to accept, because to accept the idea of one God Almighty, you must by default reject the idea of many lesser gods. This goes against societal values again, causing conflict between individual and group think.

Japanese-centric vs. Human-centric. Japanese people are proud of their heritage, and rightly so. The culture of Japan, like the cultures of many other countries, is unique and beautiful in many ways. But sometimes the Japanese can take this too far and reject other ideas simply on the basis that they are “foreign”. Christianity, due to its inextricable entanglement with history, is seen as a religion of the West, and therefore, not Japanese. Japanese people often have a difficult time conceiving how they can be followers of Christ and maintain a completely “Japanese” identity.

While it’s not hard to understand why evangelism from a purely Western context, like handing out tracts or talking to strangers about Jesus, might not work well in Japan, we must also remember that even sharing faith with people whom they have close relationships with can be difficult or impossible because of these barriers. For example, a child may not want to disrupt the family harmony by sharing his new faith with his parents or siblings, so he keeps it to himself and sneaks off to church every Sunday.

That’s why I found such joy in remembering Matthew 5. Jesus instructs us to let our light shine, because that’s what light is for. Light attracts in the darkness. When a person lives their lives in obedience to Christ, people are naturally drawn to them, and they are curious about what makes this person so different. One of the single men I met at the Equippers Conference last December made an interesting remark which was something like: “All the sisters [Christian women] here are beautiful because I can see Jesus in them.” He wasn’t complementing their physical beauty; he was recognizing that the love of Jesus that was in these women was making them beautiful from the inside.

I realized what wonderful instruction Matthew 5 is especially for the Japanese. Maybe social mores restrict you from sharing about Jesus outright. But living your life in obedience of Christ draws people to you, and they will “give glory to [the] Father who is in heaven” because of what they see in you. People’s lives will be changed because of who you are in Christ Jesus, not because of what you say about him.

 

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