Not Ashamed of the Gospel
October 2, 2016 Series: Exploring the Pastoral Epistles
Topic: Shame Scripture: Psalm 37:1–37:19, 2 Timothy 1:1–1:14,
My first grade teacher was a formidable person, and a good instructor, but she put up with no nonsense. Her name was Valerie Bittenbinder. One day we were all standing around the piano in class, singing a song. When it was over, Mrs. Bittenbinder said, “Well, that was pretty good.” In the moment of quiet reflection that followed, I piped up, “What do you mean, pretty good?” In a flash, Mrs. B was up off the piano bench, standing right next to me. She grabbed a handful of my hair and started shaking it vigorously. “That’s exactly what I mean!” she affirmed, as the rest of the class looked on in awe. I don’t remember feeling shame for this public reprimand. I do recall that I asked my mother to take me to the barber that very day. I ordered a crew-cut—and kept it that length throughout the lower grades. I considered buying flowers for the teacher to get back on her good side. But then I pictured myself handing them to her in front of the class: “These flowers will wilt and die, but you, dear teacher, will smell forever.” So, I dropped that idea.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul uses the word “ashamed” four times. Two of them are right here in our passage. He also employed it memorably in his great letter to the Romans. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”
We might wonder why anyone would be ashamed of the gospel. There are several possibilities. Believers have through the centuries paid a steep price for faith. Shame can be provoked by persecution. There can also be embarrassment at the message of Christ because it seems contrary to human reasoning. Much of “religion” is about what we must do to reach God: the gospel is about what God has done to reach us. It’s centered on the power and love of the Lord, not on our good deeds.
We might also feel reluctance to speak or embrace the gospel because of fear: it’s safer, often, to keep our mouths shut and not say anything. When we are in a group and somebody tells an off-color joke, or we witness some small injustice, we may fail to protest or take a stand.
Paul is urging Timothy to be a stand-up Christian. He reminds him of his good heritage—his mom and grandma—and tells him to stir up the faith within him. It’s his way of saying—there is no hand-me-down faith. We all must decide. If we grew up with no church background, we can still know the Lord. If we have a good background, we must still make that commitment for ourselves.
It is also true that in our early years we can be infected with shame, and be deeply wounded by others. Betrayal, assault, teasing, and taunting can leave us feeling ugly, stupid, or incapable. We need the healing of the gospel for our deep-down shame. It is into that environment that the gospel comes. If truly good news, it must have hope for all of us who are oppressed by this primal experience of being broken.
There is no easy answer—but there is help with the Lord. The message that we are not worthless—that we are profoundly and eternally loved—this is the core of our salvation, our healing and wholeness. Paul writes, “I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust.” In other words, I know this Lord won’t put me down. This great Friend won’t desert or betray. He is always with me, and for me.
If we’ve identified some of these issues in our own life, we can ask God to help us heal. If we’re blessed to have supportive people around, that’s great. We can let ourselves hear and believe the Creator say to us, “I love you, my friend, and my love for you will last forever.”
Today, we receive the Gift of communion. Recently Pastor Matt had a great teaching on the “I am” saying of Christ: “I am the Bread of Life.” He gives his very self to us, and takes away our sin and shame. May God help us to receive by faith, and be renewed in the deepest parts of our being.