The thought I had as I read this passage was: it is our love which makes us lights! Before that moment I always associated light with truth. That resulted in my thinking that if we are going to be lights then we had to preach, teach, and live out truth.
What I have come to realize is that being light is more than proclaiming truth. From this passage we learn that it is our love which makes us the light of the world. Without love we still live in darkness, but our love, which provides a sharp contrast with the way of the world, shines for all the world to see.
Why is our love a light? One reason is because love reveals life the way it is supposed to be lived. One of the lessons I have tried to teach the congregations that I have been a part of is that is it vitally important that we genuinely love each other. We need our churches to be seen as loving families.
The world is filled with places where people are abused, where they are taken for granted, or they are simply ignored. If the Church participates in these same actions then we will look exactly like the world.
To be lights requires that we stand apart from the world. That is why John talks about loving other Christians. If we can’t love other Christians, how can we love those in the world? If we can’t love other Christians, why would the unloved who are lost want to be a part of God's Family? Our love for each other meets a need that everyone has in their hearts.
A second reason love makes us lights is because love deals with our actions. Truth deals thoughts and philosophies which are constantly argued and debated. When we reduce Christianity down to just being truth we turn it into just another philosophy/religion that is debated. If the truth of Christianity is lived out through our love then the Gospel moves from something that is debated to something that is real, practical, and transforming. Our love is proof that the message is true.
To be the light of the world means that we love: Love God, love the Church, and love the lost. We can possess all the correct doctrine and have all the rational arguments for God's existence, but they are meaningless without love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
What frustrates me is to see so many people who claim to be standing for "God's Truth," but who are so very unloving in their approach. Most of the time I agree with what they are saying, but I shake my head because by their approach I know they have missed the point. John is clear: When we live in an unloving manner we prove that we are living in darkness! Now that is something to consider.
So how can we live a life of love? It begins by doing loving actions, regardless of how we feel about the person or situation. If we wait until we feel like loving then we will never love. Love begins by making the choice to be kind and respectful to other people. When we do this we begin to shine in the dark world around us.