Here we have three sayings, each with its own warning for life.
(i) Verse 16 stresses the essential conspicuousness of the Christian life. Christianity is in its very nature something which must be seen. It is easy to find prudential reasons why we should not flaunt our Christianity in the world’s face. In almost every person there is an instinctive fear of being different; and the world is always likely to persecute those who do not conform to pattern.
Hard as it may be, the duty is laid upon us of never being ashamed to show whose we are and whom we serve; and if we regard the matter in the right way it will be, not a duty, but a privilege.
A short time before the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II most houses and shops were displaying flags. I was out on a country road at that time; and in a little copse by the roadside I came upon a tinker’s camp. It consisted of only one little tent, and beside the tent there fluttered on a pole a Union Jack nearly as big as the tent itself. It was as if that vagrant tinker said, “I haven’t got much in this world; but I am going to attach my colours to what I have.”
The Christian, however humble his position and his sphere, must never be ashamed to show his colours.
(ii) Verse 17 stresses the impossibility of secrecy. There are three people from whom we try to hide things.
(a) Sometimes we try to hide things from ourselves. We shut our eyes to the consequences of certain actions and habits, consequences of which we are well aware. It is like a man deliberately shutting his eyes to symptoms of an illness which he knows he has. We have only to state that to see its incredible folly.
(b) Sometimes we try to hide things from our fellow men. Things have a way of coming out. The man with a secret is an unhappy man. The happy man is the man with nothing to hide. It is told that once an architect offered to build for Plato a house in which every room would be hidden from the public eye. “I will give you twice the money,” said Plato, “if you build me a house into every room of which all men’s eyes can see.” Happy is the man who can speak like that.
(c) Sometimes we try to hide things from God. No man ever attempted a more impossible task. We would do well to have before our eyes forever the text which says, “Thou art a God of seeing.” (Genesis 16:13.)
(iii) Verse 18 lays down the universal law that the man who has will get more; and that the man who has not will lose what he has. If a man is physically fit and keeps himself so, his body will be ready for ever greater efforts; if he lets himself go flabby, he will lose even the abilities he has. The more a student learns, the more he can learn; but if he refuses to go on learning, he will lose the knowledge he has. This is just another way of saying that there is no standing still in life. All the time we are either going forward or going back. The seeker will always find; but the man who stops seeking will lose even what he has.