“Unbelief & Shame”   2 Timothy 1:6-12   December 16, 2007

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:  In a sermon series on unbelief.

The thesis of this series is that whenever sins crop up in our lives—

   whether attitudinal or behavioral—

   it’s a sign of lurking, growing, unbelief in God.

 

The flip side of the coin, the positive side is that all righteousness,

   all good deeds in our lives come from faith in God,

   in his word, both the promises and the warnings.

                                                                  

So the way to fight sin in our lives is to battle unbelief,

   and the way to pursue righteousness and holiness and love,

   is to fight the good fight of faith.

                                                                

Each week, we’re looking at passages in which believers

   are struggling with certain temptations,

   and then show how faith helps us overcome.

 


INTRO:  I have several recurring nightmares about preaching.

One nightmare that I’ve had many times is that it is just minutes

   until the service begins and I am frantically trying to finish writing my sermon.

   For some reason, I’m always banging away on an old manual typewriter,

   like the kind I learned to type on in high school.

And there is this horrible, oppressive feeling that I am about to be forced

   to go up on the platform unprepared.

 

Another is that I am in the pulpit and my notes are hopelessly messed up.

   I’m fumbling and shuffling, trying to hold it together in front of the congregation,

   but it’s not working and things are getting worse and worse.

 

I know why I have those nightmares.

   Because one of my idols is approval,

   fear of losing it comes out in my dreams.

 

But I want to focus this morning on the emotion that makes

   those dreams so bad—shame.

 

We’ve all experienced shame.

   Most of us are living with some level of shame right now.

   The shame of failure, the shame of ridicule.

   The shame of being exposed and humiliated.

And, of course, the shame of guilt.

   The shame that comes from the bad things we’ve done,

   our sins against God and other people.

 

Shame is a big topic in the Bible.

   Just to give you an idea of how big, the words “shame,” “shamed,” or “ashamed”

   used 201 times, starting in Genesis 2 and ending in Revelation 21.

As a way of comparison, the word “money” is used 123 times,

   and the words “pride” and “proud” 116 times. 

 

And not only is shame a big topic, it’s very complex. 

   The Bible says that some shame is wrong, some is evil,

   and some is normal and can serve a good purpose.

 

I debated whether or not to include shame in this series on unbelief,

   because shame is not exactly a sin like bitterness or lust.

But it is a very powerful emotion that can be debilitating.

Even Christians can be dominated by shame to such an extent

   that they lose their joy and become ineffective and unproductive

   in the Christian life.

 

It’s very important to understand the connection between unbelief and shame,

   and to see how faith in Christ answers and delivers us from shame.

This may not be your battle, but you probably have friends

   who struggle with shame and you need to know how to help them.

 

So let’s look at this topic. 

And what I want to do is examine three kinds of shame:

   1.  the shame of guilt,

   2.  the shame of failure, and

   3.  the shame of ridicule

And see how faith in Jesus Christ is the answer to shame.

 


MP#1  First, the shame of guilt.

Every person in this room knows the feeling of being ashamed of bad things

   you’ve thought or said or done.

Depending on the seriousness of the offense,

   and the tenderness of your conscience, your shame can be mild or very severe.

Remember once a minister telling of a man in his church whose shame was so

   intense for a time, he would actually vomit when he thought of what he had done.

If you are suffering from this kind of shame, you have to answer it by faith.

   There are some important things Bible teaches that you have to believe.

 

1.  The shame you feel is the response of a normal conscience to sin.

I got on some secular psychology websites to see what they said about shame.  From what I could tell, they all made a sharp distinction between guilt and shame.

   Guilt is a bad feeling about what you have done.

   Shame is a bad feeling about yourself. 

 

It’s ok sometimes to feel bad about what you have done,

   but never, never, never is it ok to feel bad about yourself.

A very sharp distinction must be drawn between what you did and who you are.

   You, yourself are good and must never feel bad about yourself,

   although you may have to admit that you have done some bad things.

Shame is a pathology.

 

But that’s not what the Bible says.  

Far from being a pathology, shame is the response of a normal conscience.

Some of the harshest words in the book of Jeremiah were spoken to people

   who were shameless—and they weren’t pagans, they were Israelites.

   The Lord says:  “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct?

   No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.”

The Bible never makes a distinction between a person and his actions. 

   So sins we commit do reflect on who we are.  “O wretched man that I am.”

Shame is the response of a normal conscience the sins you commit. 

   But God doesn’t leave you there.

 

2.  The shame you feel is trumped by Christ’s forgiveness.

You know how great it is when you are playing cards and someone leads

   with an ace they’ve been saving for the last trick, and that ace looks so strong.

   And all you have in your hand is a 2, but it’s a trump card, and it takes the ace.

   Because it is really in a different category altogether.

Shame is like that ace.  It seems so strong.

   It seems nothing is stronger than this feeling of self-disgust for what you’ve done.

But Jesus trumps your shame with forgiveness. 

   Because his forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a judicial reality.

 

If you confess your sins to Christ then you are forgiven.

And you can know, whether you feel it right away nor not,

   you can know that this thing you have done that fills you with such shame

   is forgotten by God, wiped off your record, never held against you ever again.

   “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

And that, as someone has said, gives you a solid, sure basis for not being

   overwhelmed by your shame and for getting on with life and work for Christ. 

So what of the feeling of shame itself, will it be wiped away?

 

3.  The shame you feel may never be entirely removed in this life,

but it will be in heaven. 

Do you think that Peter was ever able to tell without shame how he deserted Jesus

   in the Garden of Gethsemane and then denied he knew him with curses?

   Of course not.  A great heart like Peter felt that till the day he died.

Or Paul.  Do you think he could ever be reminded of his role in the martyrdom

   of Stephen without shame?  Of course not.  Every time Paul gave his testimony

   he mentioned how he had once persecuted the church of God.

 

Over time, as the reality of Christ’s forgiveness sinks in deeper and deeper,

   and as you experience more and more of God’s grace, your shame is softened.

But it rarely goes away entirely.  And that’s not all bad.  

   It keeps you humbly focused on Christ. 

 

But one day all your shame will be wiped away.  Fascinating verse in Daniel.

   “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake,

   some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Isn’t that interesting.  The people who are shameless in this life, will face everlasting shame.  But those who are ashamed, and find forgiveness in Christ,

   will awake to everlasting life without shame.

 

How can that be possible?  How will we be able to look back on our lives,

   and see even more clearly than we do now the sins and wrongs we’ve done

   against God and other people, and yet not be ashamed?  I don’t know.

That’s one of the glories of heaven that we have to look forward to. 


But all of our shame is not caused by guilt, let’s consider now . . .

MP#2  The shame of failure.

When I was in seminary, I had a friend who taught a college Sunday school class

   at a church near the seminary. 

He would tell me stories about this one college student in the class

   who would challenge and try to pick apart whatever he said.

This student wasn’t malicious but he was socially inept and abrasive.

   This friend of mine who taught the class knew how to handle him

   and actually got a kick out of him and would laugh—which was important.

 

Well, one Sunday this friend of mine couldn’t be there and he asked another

   seminarian to substitute teach for him. 

This other seminarian, I’ll him Bill, was a very soft-spoken, self-conscious person.

   So Sunday passes and Monday rolls around and word around the seminary

   is that Bill has withdrawn from seminary and he is moving away. 

I went to see him, Bill, what’s going on.  And he would barely talk.

   He was withdrawn.  Called friends, something’s wrong.

 

Then we started to hear that the college Sunday school class had not gone well.

   The problem college student had been in rare form, Bill was ripped to shreds.

And the shame of his failure was so great, that he withdrew from seminary.

   And no amount of encouragement on our part could persuade him to stay. 

 

The shame of failure is different from the shame of guilt.

   There is no wrongdoing involved.  It’s just a matter of weakness,

   or even circumstances beyond your control. 

You can look at people who are ashamed of their failure and say:

   There is nothing for you to be ashamed of, you did your best.

   But it usually doesn’t do any good.

 

Perhaps you’ve known this kind of shame.

   Maybe you’ve failed in romance or marriage, or in business or finance.

   Or failed academically or athletically or socially and you are ashamed.

You don’t even feel like lifting your head.

   This kind of shame can be just as debilitating as the shame of guilt.

 

The way you answer this kind of shame is once again by faith in Christ.

   But there is a particular faith that must be applied to your failure.

   Paul was an expert at this. 

In the passage in 2 Timothy we read, Paul was writing from prison.

   And at this time much of Paul’s church planting work was in tatters.

Read the rest of the letter and you will see that there were troubles in churches,

   trusted associates had abandoned Paul, he was ignored by church in Rome.

   That’s why he says to Timothy, don’t be ashamed of me, because many were.

 

And yet Paul looks at this failure, and at himself and says:  I am not ashamed.

   Then he gives the reason: 

   “For I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard

   what I have entrusted to him for that day.”

 

What Paul was saying is this:

The way I am able to push back the shame of failure, is because I know Jesus,

   and I’m convinced he will show his power in my weakness

   and bring good from this failure one day.

Jesus is in this failure I am experiencing, and he is going to guard me

   and work this out for my good and his glory.

   And by believing that, Paul was able to push back the shame of failure. 

 

How did Paul know this was true?  Because of the cross.

   In the cross Jesus himself experienced the depth of failure.

   Everything Jesus worked for fell apart on the night he was betrayed.

   He was abandoned by his disciples who he had poured his life into.

   He was written off by the Jewish people who he had preached to for three years.

   He was reviled by the religious leaders as a false Messiah.

   By every standard Jesus failed.

And yet out of that failure came the salvation of the world.

 

How many times have you heard Christians tell how in the depths of failure

   Jesus met them, and they experienced his grace and power in a way

   that they never knew when they were riding high and successful.

I’ve heard people in this church tell that story over and over.

   You have to look to Jesus and the cross to believe that.

 

I wish I had told Bill that.  I think I said, Bill, this is not a big deal, shake it off.

   Church work is like this some time, don’t let it bother you. 

But a pep talk can’t answer the shame of failure. 

   Jesus can.  The cross can enable you, like Paul, to say—I’m not ashamed.

   I believe in a God who comes to us in failure and pours out his grace. 


That brings us to the third kind of shame

MP#3  The shame of ridicule.

The shame of ridicule is different from the shame of guilt and failure,

   it is an evil shame that other people try to load us with

   in order to dominate and control us. 

And although it’s not exactly the same, this is the sort of shame

   that the innocent victims of abuse feel.  A shame that has been heaped

   on them by the lust or cruelty of another person.

 

I’m sure that all of you have known someone who grew up

   in a shame-based family.  Maybe you grew up in a family where

   shame was the great weapon and motivator.

I had a friend whose father controlled him by shame and humiliation.

   One of the saddest memories of my childhood was when he had been shamed,

   and afterwards we were alone and he wept in front of me and said:

   “My dad treats me like a dog.”

 

If you suffer this kind of shame, you know how strong it is.

   So how do you answer the shame of ridicule?

First, you should be encouraged to know that you are not alone.

   Many of God’s people have suffered unjust shaming. 

 

It’s interesting how often this appears in the Psalms,

   especially the Psalms of David, like Psalm 25 that we read earlier.

David is often asking God to deliver him from the shame

   that his enemies are heaping upon him.

   “Let me not be put to shame.  Let me not be put to shame.”

   “Deliver me from my enemies.”  It’s two sides of the same petition.

 

And of course the Psalms, being poetry, it’s hard to know

   exactly what the circumstances were, how his enemies were trying

   to shame him, but it’s obvious that David couldn’t just shake it off.

Some of it was apparently sticking and he saw that it had the potential

   of paralyzing him in his work and so he asked the Lord for deliverance. 

 

The same was true of the Apostle Paul’s experience.

   Many of the attacks on him were shame-based attacks.

They called him an enemy of Jewish customs and a breaker of Mosaic law.

   I’m the son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers.

If someone attacked me by saying—You’re not Presbyterian,

   John Calvin would roll over in his grave if he heard your sorry theology,

   That would shame me.  That would paralyze me. 

When you consider the depth of Paul’s Jewish heritage,

   the strength of tradition in his life, a shame-based attack that said—

   you are an enemy of everything Jewish must have staggered him.

 

And Jesus himself was the target of shaming.

   John Piper summed it up well:

   “They called him a drunkard and a glutton.  They called him a temple destroyer.  They called him a hypocrite:  He saved others, but he can’t save himself.  In all this, the goal was to load Jesus with shame that was not his to bear.  They hoped they could discourage him and paralyze him by heaping shameful accusations on him.”  

 

And the cross itself was the ultimate instrument of shame.

   Jesus clothes were taken from him, he was hung naked,

   exposed to the ridicule and laughter of the crowds.

You are not alone in your shame.  Many of God’s children,

   even his beloved Son have suffered the shame of ridicule from cruel people. 

 

But now faith comes in—faith in the promises of God.

Once again, John Piper puts it well: 

   “How do we battle this misplaced shame?  We battle it by believing the promises of God that in the end all the efforts to put us to shame will fail.  For all the evil and ridicule and criticism that others may use to make us feel shame, and for all the distress and emotional pain that it brings, the promise of God stands sure, all the children of God will be vindicated.  No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

 

If you have suffered this shame, especially if it was heaped on you as a child,

   you know that this is not easily cast off, the scars are with you perhaps

   for the rest of your life, and yet here is what you must believe—

Jesus has suffered this shame for you,

   And one day he will wipe away all your shame and bring you

   into his eternal kingdom of peace where nothing shameful is allowed. 

 

And as that reality sinks in, and as that hope for the future animates you,

   even this deep and painful shame will be softened,

   and become an opportunity for you to turn again and again

   to the one who loves you.


CONC:  How are you answering the voice of shame?

Whether in your own life, or the lives of those people you care about.

 

With pop psychology?  With pep talks?

We have someone much better—

   Jesus Christ who came to earth at Christmas,

   so that he could walk this earth, and know our shame—

   and deliver us from it by his death on the cross.

 

An old hymn says:

   Fully absolved, through Christ I am,

   From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

 

Look to him, point your friends to him.

   Believe his forgiveness, trust his promises—

   and you will find an answer to shame.