“…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Here, Paul is talking about his current physical situation and how some folks are responding to it. Just before v. 20 here, he talks about people who are sharing the Gospel out of both pure and selfish motives. Either way, Paul says, the Gospel is proclaimed, which brings him joy. Verse 20 is followed by his much more famous declaration that to live is Christ, but to die is gain.
Focusing in here, though, what would possibly bring Paul shame? And, who would be the one before whom he would experience this shame? Shame is a natural response to knowing that we’ve done something foolish or wrong. The exact nature and scope of our shame, though, depends upon the moral or more simply behavioral standard to which we are holding ourselves. Sometimes we might even hold ourselves to different standards depending on what our circumstances are.
For example, in a social setting, we might hold ourselves to the behavioral standard of social expectations driven into our hearts and minds by our parents or friends or the potential peers whose approval we seek. Shame in this case would come when we violate one of these social expectations by saying the wrong thing or wearing the wrong things or being seen publicly with the wrong person.
It could be that our shame meter is shaped by social media. We’ve spent so much time scrolling through the posts of others, describing with word and image in carefully filtered-for-greatness fashion that we begin to develop a consciousness tuned to imperfections in our own life. And by “imperfections,” I mean those times and places whose public discovery might possibly lead the newsfeed-scrolling observer to conclude that we don’t have everything together. Shame here comes from the feeling that we don’t measure up to the apparently fun-filled, creative, adventurous, constantly cute and well-behaved children-ed, always pithy and also deep lives of the people around us–digitally speaking, of course.
While these and other similar shame meters are not necessarily a bad thing, if they become our primary filters, they run the risk of crowding out an even more important filter: God’s holiness and anything which violates it, namely, sin. You see, when our social shame meter becomes our primary filter, we can find ourselves in a place where we experience more shame by a public faux-pas, than when we do something to violate God’s holiness.
Listen: If a social faux-pas bothers you more than sin, you’ve got a problem. Sure, a social faux-pas might result in the negative assessment of others, but God’s assessment is significantly more important…like, eternally so. Social embarrassment may keep you from the people you want to impress, but sin can keep you from the God who is the source of life.
The better approach is to set ourselves on what Paul says is his goal here: That we would have the courage to honor Christ with our whole selves no matter the cost. And notice he commits himself to having the courage to do this. It takes courage indeed. If we are going to elevate God’s standard of holiness over the various social filters we might otherwise use, we run a high risk of experiencing social consequences for violating the social standards that will come naturally even if we aren’t making those our highest priority.
What becomes clear is that if we are going to be faithful followers of Jesus, we are going to have to decide which shame filter is going to be the most significant in determining our behavior. What’s more, we are going to have to decide what kinds of consequences we are willing to bear for the times when we violate a standard that exists even if we aren’t holding ourselves to it. Or perhaps to put that another way: If the world says, “No,” when God says, “go,” to whom are we going to listen?
If we are going to honor Christ in all things, then the question we really need to answer is this: What causes you shame? Make sure it’s the right things, lest you strive for the wrong goal.