I think many of us have answered this question academically, however, rarely is this question answered from a Christian point of view. After all, tackling this question should be one of our main priorities, Christ commanded us to be “lights of the world” and St. Paul further affirmed us to “walk as children of light”(Mat 5:16, Eph 5:8). But this is easier said than done, how can I practically become a light for others and change the world? To begin, let’s reword the question for as you will read later on it is never us causing change, rather let’s ask How can God work through us. For such is doing His will which is enough to change the world (Heb 13:21).
“No man can accomplish anything praiseworthy, unless he receives the ability from God.” – St. Cyril of Alexandria
Before God can work through us he has to be in us. This is made abundantly clear in Paul’s letters. Plainly he says, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Why is our relationship with God paramount? Because our services are meaningless without being filled with God’s ultimate love, St. Paul goes as far as martyrdom being futile without this love (1Co 13:2). Our fathers have taught us a common analogy to how our services should be conducted: if we liken ourselves to an empty cup, “the love of God has been poured out” into this cup, and when our cup overflows other cups may be filled (Rom 5:5). Therefore it is imperative that we are filled with this love first or else we provide nothing of substance to others and fool ourselves. Furthermore, Our Lord taught us at the sermon on the mount that we “are the salt of the earth”, but He quickly warns us with “if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?”(Mt 5:13). Just like salt, we have to be seasoned spiritually via “walking with the Spirit” to season others (Gal 5:16).
I am emphasizing this point because it is easy to dismiss our spiritual lives in the pursuit of others. It’s like training someone at the gym when we are laying down eating McDonald’s, it’s contradictory. And beyond contradiction, it can lead us down the wrong path if we think we benefit others without having God working through us. Even after all St. Paul went through and did in his ministry, he says, “it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor 15:10). Before anything can be accomplished we have to read the Word “which is at work in us”, pray that the “might of His Spirit” dwells in us, and rejoice in suffering (1 Thes. 2:13, Eph 3:16, 1 Pet 4:14).
“The deeds you do today may be the only sermon someone hears today”-St Francis of Assisi
While working on our faith and allowing God to work in us, then we can have God work through us. This is a simultaneous process, think equilibrium for my chemistry friends. When the scribes ask Jesus what the greatest commandment is he responds, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mt 22:37-39). Our Lord quickly follows with love to our neighbors as the greatest commandment. Why? Because our love for neighbors is an expression of the Love of God, completion of the Law. Our faith is not static, it is our deeds that are a light in the darkness. So let us first begin small: family, friends, and colleagues, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”(Luke 16:10). St John Chrysostom says that the little is a “presentation of proof” of what we will accomplish with a lot.
Let’s take it one step further, love those we hate. Loving our enemies and praying sincerely for them allows God to work through us. Pope Shenouda says, “God will intervene in his life and will change him”. It Really can’t get better than that.
Once more step, Our Lord tells us that the righteous who are saved on judgment day “ministered” to those in need. Plainly, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’(Mt 25:35-37). It is not merely service, it is a “sacrifice” to God that is inseparable from our faith (Heb 13:16). Through these deeds, God works through us and it is not only well-pleasing to Him but working in His will.
“Those who run after honor – honor will run away from them, and those who run from honor – honor will run after them and show them to the people.” ~ St. Pope Kyrillos VI
Lastly, while God works through and in us, let’s remain humble, patient, kind and all the qualities Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 13. For me, it is a constant struggle to remain non-boastful after service. It is easy to want to flex our deeds, to be commended, applauded, and recognized for our time. With social media being filled with “homeless makeovers” and “giving back” it easy to feel left out in the praise of others. But this is contrary to what our Lord teaches us,”But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”(Mt 6:3). For when we boast we lose our heavenly reward.
Let us pray that God may work in us and fill us with his love, perfect our actions, and become full of light and salt.