I was listening to a song this week by the Smalltown Poets, a now-defunct Christian group. The song is called, “Hold It Up to the Light,” and while I was listening to it, I was thinking of the imagery of taking an object and holding it up to the light. What could that mean? What are some things I hold up to the light in the course of my days? Why would you hold something up to the light, anyway?
I hold things up to the light to see whether they’re correct.
The first thing I thought of was making labels at work. My job as a library clerk entails making a lot of labels: labels for library cards, barcode labels for books, and spine labels. When I am ready to print my labels, I rarely skip the intermediate step of printing out a test sheet of labels on regular paper, and then holding them and the guidelines (a blank sheet of labels) up to the light. The light shines through that set of guides and shows me whether my work lines up the way that it should.
It wouldn’t make much sense for me to hold the test sheet up against an imperfect set of labels. They might look good, relatively speaking, but there would be no way for me to evaluate whether the new sheet was actually correct, or whether the new labels were just imperfect in different ways from the imperfect sheet.
Likewise, as Christians, we are not to compare ourselves with other Christians as our guideline. We are told in Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The example we hold ourselves up to is the Light itself: the example of Christ, the perfection of God.
The guidelines I use can be compared, I think, with the commandments of God. The psalmist writes, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). The Light has revealed the laws of God, which help us to hold ourselves up to the light and see the needed corrections in our own ways.
I hold things up to the light to see whether they are genuine.
The next thing I thought of was the example of paying for something with a larger-denomination bill. I have often seen a cashier hold the bill up to the light, checking for the security features that will tell him or her whether that bill is legitimate legal tender.
Peter admonishes us that trials “have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed… Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:7, 17, New International Version).
I hold things up to the light to see what’s inside.
Have you ever tried to guess what was in an envelope or a translucent box? Odds are, you’ll hold it up to the light at some point, to try to get a better view. It’s possible to think that one really knows what’s inside until the light reveals something different; our hearts are the same way.
Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” It is entirely possible to think that we know ourselves really well: and then somehow we are given the opportunity to hold ourselves up to the light, and we discover that our own hearts have all kinds of shapes and shadows that we had never seen before.
There are probably other ways to hold things up to the light, and other reasons to do so. What’s the bottom line? If we want to get a good view of ourselves, the only way to do it is through the illumination that God provides. The example of Jesus Christ gives us the bar we should be aiming for. Looking to others and judging ourselves by them will do us no good at all. Instead, we have to hold ourselves to the light of God’s Word and His ways.