An old story set in a time long gone stresses an ever-relevant truth about the need for Christians to “let their light shine.” A man was killed one night at a railroad crossing. His family sued the railroad, claiming negligence on the part of the watchman. When the trial came, the watchman was called to testify. The prosecuting attorney peppered him with questions: “Were you on duty when the accident occurred? Did you have a lantern? Did you wave the lantern in warning?” To all these questions the watchman answered yes. His testimony helped the railroad win the case. An officer of the railroad later visited the watchman and thanked him for his evidence in favor of the railroad. The officer asked, “Tell me, Mr. Jarvis, were you nervous while being examined at the trial?” The watchman replied, “Not only nervous, sir, but also very afraid. I feared any moment the attorney would ask, “Was the lantern lit?”
That dated illustration reminds us unlit lanterns shine no light! Neither does a light bulb that is “shot.” Light from any source is effective only if not obscured or covered. Jesus famously taught His disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus was describing “silent sermons” – sermons preached, not by a preacher from a pulpit on Sundays, but from the mobile pulpit every professed Christian inexorably carries with them all week long, in every place they go! Wordless sermons, preached not as people merely listen to our words, but as they observe our lives. Silent sermons communicated by life and not just by lip. Sermons based not only on what our talk talks, but also on what our walk talks. As C. H. Spurgeon said, “A man’s life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him they reckon his deeds as dollars and his words as pennies. If his life and doctrine disagree, the mass of onlookers accept his practice and reject his preaching.” Those words remind me of the apostle Paul’s directive to his younger preaching protoge Timothy. As he urged Timothy to be all in and to stay at the sometimes arduous task of preaching the gospel, the apostle writes: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). These words stress a vital truth – silent sermons are equally vital to verbal ones. The world is watching to see what kind of difference Jesus really makes in life. Can He deliver in changing people for the good – or is all this talk about Jesus and the gospel having power to change people a bunch of religious rhetoric and hooie? It’s not that sermons don’t need to be preached with words (Mark 16:15-16 * ACTS 8:4). The Lord knows too many Christians are “silent saints,” rarely if ever verbally sharing their faith. But an equally serious problem is that some Christians are very sub-par as regards the non-verbal lamp of a good, godly example. They hide Jesus’ influence through profane speech, corrupt conduct, a lack of love, an un-Christ-like spirit and attitude, unfaithfulness, and impure lives. We all preach silent sermons. We all set an example. We are all being watched. The real issue is what kind of example are we setting? Let us all – preachers, elders, and church members alike – take care that the wordy sermons we preach with our lips are backed up by the silent sermons we preach with our lives. What is your silent sermon saying?