“I am not ashamed” (II Timothy 1:12).
No one enjoys being embarrassed. We do a hundred things to avoid it–take a daily bath, use deodorant, no longer wear some of the things in our closet, take care of the words we speak, admonish our children, and cut our lawns.
Shame is embarrassment on steroids. If embarrassment means to blush, shame means dying a thousand deaths while continuing to breathe.
To be ashamed is to be humiliated in front of people from whom you wanted acceptance or admiration or appreciation. You are devastated at the way people now see you; you wish to crawl into a hole.
Shame is a big issue with the Apostle Paul. Writing from his prison cell in Rome, in his final letter (or, at least, the last one we have of his epistles), he had this to say on the subject:
“Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel…” (II Timothy 1:8)
“I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him against that day” (II Timothy 1:12).
“Onesiphorus…was not ashamed of my chains, but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me….” (II Timothy 1:16-18)
People were ashamed of Paul.
For years, Paul had been the star, the hero, the shining light of the church. He was acclaimed by churches everywhere. He wrote letters that were read in every church and which people found to be profound and helpful. And now look at him.
Sitting there in a Roman jail cell.
They deserted him. Toward the end of this final letter, Paul wrote, “At my first defense (before Caesar), no one supported me. All deserted me. May it not be counted against them” (4:16).
They were ashamed of his chains, of his cell, of the way he was ending his great career so ignominiously. They would not be caught dead sitting beside him in that Rome courtroom, identifying themselves with one on trial and facing a certain execution. No, they could serve the Lord just as well by lying low and going about their own business.
If Paul is so great, why is he rotting in a jail cell. There must be reasons we don’t know about. The Romans believe in justice. They wouldn’t be arresting him and holding him without good reason.
We like our heroes magnificent, beautiful, strong, victorious. We do not like them to look weak and defeated. It doesn’t line up with our prosperity gospel which promises that God blesses those with health and riches who do His will.
Onesiphorus went against prevailing opinion, however, and searched for Paul until he found him. When he did, he ministered to him. This man was a champion of the first order in Paul’s eyes. He said of this faithful brother, “The Lord grant to him to find mercy on that day.”
Jesus knew about shame.
Hear the writer of Hebrews. “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2).
The word “despising” here literally means “to think down upon.” The Lord scoffed at the concept of shame and courageously stayed on that cross. He took the idea of shame and sneered at it.
Don’t miss this, please. It was humiliating for the Son of God to die on the cross. He was either naked or practically naked. He was the Savior of the world, the Son of the Most HIgh God, the most precious Thing Heaven Owned, and here He was hanging on a cross with nails in His hands and feet and a rabble around Him jeering and spitting and scoffing. He did not have to put up with “the contradiction of sinners against Himself” (Hebrews 12:3). He could call “twelve legions of angels” (Matthew 26:53) and be done with this foolishness, put these humans in their rightful place, send them to hell which they deserve, and return to His celestial glory.
He could have. But He didn’t.
Thank God, He stayed on the cross.
No one pleases God who cannot handle a little shame.
He said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26).
The Old Testament believers took continuous harassment from their neighbors for following a God who could not be seen, eschewing practices the pagans found effective and satisfying, and preaching a message outsiders found infuriating. These believers went out following a God they could not see into a place where they’d never been, and did a thousand things incomprehensible to outsiders because of the commands of God. “Wherefore,” we read, “God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16). I find that one of the most heartening texts in all the Bible.
God was saying, “I’m proud of these people. They walked by faith, and they endured when normal people would have bailed out.”
I want to make God proud of me. And, I’m betting, so do you.
“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” said the Father at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:17).
And, may we say, God was never more proud of His Son than when He went to the cross and paid for our sins. It was the ultimate act of obedience, and we are evermore the beneficiaries of what Heaven’s Glory accomplished that day.
“God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
“If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed; but in that name let him glorify God” (I Peter 4:16).
And, “therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (I Peter 4:19).
“I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. For it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes….” (Romans 1:16).