Praying through Shame & Philippians 1:20
“My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all courage, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).”
What? Paul’s intense expectation is that he will not be ashamed...ABOUT ANYTHING??? How is this possible???
The Apostle is writing to the Philippian Church from a Roman jail cell and is awaiting trial before Caesar. Although Paul’s cell kept him physically enclosed, his greater concern was the power of personal shame to imprison his mind, mouth, body, and spirit. The song “Ain’t No Grave” accurately expresses this truth, “Oh, shame is a prison as cruel as a grave. Shame is a robber and he's come to take my name”. There are some things worse than death...shame!
What is shame? John Piper defines it as “the painful emotion caused by a consciousness of guilt or shortcoming or impropriety.” The whole article can be read here: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/battling-the-unbelief-of-misplaced-shame but I want you to think about the ways you and I often experience shame and carry it with us.
Guilt Shame -- Piper gives this example, “Suppose you act against your conscience and withhold information on your tax returns. For a couple years you feel nothing because it has been put out of your mind, and you weren’t caught. Then you are called to account by the IRS and it becomes public knowledge that you lied and you stole. Your guilt is known. Now in the light of public censure you feel the pain of shame.”
Shortcoming Shame -- Walking into the gym is an exercise (pun intended) in “Shortcoming Shame” for me. Whereas I’m usually a little sensitive about my overall lack of muscle, I am made most aware of my shortcoming when at the gym. But, this happens in a thousand scenarios: standing next to someone better looking than you, being surrounded by other smarter than you, living next to people richer than you, and the list goes on and on. These are not sinful “shortcomings” but when our weaknesses, frailties, distresses are made known or felt deeply when we compare, we often experience shame.
Impropriety Shame -- These are social blunders that embarrass us to death. I attended a friend's wedding a few years ago. I didn’t ask about what to wear. When I arrived in my green dress shirt and pastel tie, which I bought just for this occasion, I soon realized that I was the odd man out. This wedding was a black tie event! I felt like a moron...I felt shame. This isn’t sin but I felt a deeply painful sense of shame because I didn’t fit in and drew social criticism (at least in my mind).
Can you imagine the amount of shame that could have crippled Paul and his ministry? Paul’s shortcomings were often highlighted: he was a tent maker and thus bi-vocational and not full-time, he didn’t present the Gospel’s case with great public speaking prowess, he is at odds with the religious leaders of his own ethnic group, he talks about a man who died and came back to life and is regularly laughed at, he has been dragged out of towns and left for dead on numerous occasions, and seems to spend more time in jail than out of jail. Could you imagine how Greek Newspapers would have represented Paul’s message and ministry? What would have the Judaizers posted on Instagram about Paul? Not flattering, I’m sure.
Now, Paul is getting ready to stand before the most powerful man on the planet and he says, “My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all courage, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” How can Paul have such courage??? He finds, in Jesus, a superior power to the power of Shame. Jesus is Paul’s Guilt Killer, Weakness User, and His Greatest Love. Simply stated:
1) Jesus is Our Guilt Killer (overcoming Guilt Shame): Yes, we are sinners and we do sin...and shame goes along with that just look at Genesis 3. Yet, our guilt (past, present, and future) was 100% placed on Jesus at the cross...and paid for once and for all!!!
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God (Romans 6:10).
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18).
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Do you have a sinful past that the flesh and Satan continues to remind you of? Are you struggling with certain sin that you have confessed but the flesh and Satan tells you that God would never forgive that? Or, if you meant it, you wouldn’t struggle? Then shame, no doubt, rides along with guilt. Can you offer up your shame to Christ? Can you allow the TRUTH of forgiveness and the REALITY of your forgiveness in Christ wash over you? Talk to God about this!
2) Jesus is Our Weakness User (overcoming Shortcoming Shame): Paul knows he is not enough. He has wrestled with and accepted Christ’s sovereign appointment of weaknesses and his limitations...physically in jail and health struggles, personality quirks that often get in the way of ministry, and his gifting. And, he challenges us to be courageous by accepting how Christ gives...and also how he withholds...and trusting Christ’s will in both.
"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God (2 Corinthians 3:4-5)."
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Do you resent your weaknesses and the shame that comes from not being perfect? Or, not being what you wish you were? Can you confess that what God says about weakness is true and real? Can you offer up, even if it is by faith and not feeling, that “His power is perfectly manifested in our weakness”? Talk to him about it!
3) Jesus is Our Greatest Love (overcoming Impropriety Shame): I can wallow in how I felt wearing a green dress shirt to my friend’s black tie wedding. Or, I can be glad to share in the event with my dear friend. I’m crushed by standing out but this feeling of impropriety is soon overcome by the love I have for my friend, reveling in how special of a day this is for him, and remembering that this event is about others, not myself. If I were Jesus on the cross, I would wonder how people were thinking of me. Yet, look how PAUL sees Jesus and shame in Hebrews 12: 2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The Greek “despising”, means to “disesteem.” Yes, Jesus looked personal shame in the eyes, stared it down, and hated it. How? Because He loved us more than Himself. Jesus was on that cross, not for Himself, but for me. And, because He loved me so much, He didn’t care what personal ridicule He suffered or impropriety He committed. His love for me conquered His shame. Paul is about to stand before a very powerful man as a prisoner and talk about a man who died and rose again. As before, he faces the potential for ridicule but his love for Jesus demands that he “disesteem” himself and shame...and he begins to speak out of a heart overflowing with love for His Savior and Friend.
Have you fallen into a rut where you love yourself more than Jesus? Are you looking to other “things” as the Author and Finisher of our faith? Things like: church attendance, Bible Knowledge, your own abilities, your time to complete what God began in your life through Christ? Are you ashamed of following Christ? Of allowing others to see the social impropriety of walking with Him? If so, just talk to God...ask Him to grow your love for Jesus.