“Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner…” (2 Tim. 1:8)
When I read Second Timothy, I am always struck by how way off the mark we can be when it comes to being ashamed. In our obsession to look good, we shun the authentic and embrace the impressive. There are other places I could cite besides those in this book, but there is enough here to make me take a good, hard look at myself.
In this second letter to his protégé, Timothy, Paul cautions him never to be ashamed of the testimony of Jesus Christ (v. 8). “I’m not ashamed,” says Paul, and he wasn’t (v. 12). He was willing to suffer anything for His testimony, even the stigma of being called a jailbird.
Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: Jesus Christ is no one to be ashamed of. No one ever accused Him of any wrongdoing and made it stick. Some people invoke the name of God lavishly in their conversation, but are sparing in their mention of the manifestation of God on this earth—the Man, Christ Jesus. “God,” a word that can be very generic in our pluralistic society, can be bandied about with little fear of ostracism; but exalting Jesus Christ, the name to which every knee will bow (Philip. 2:10), and the only name whereby anyone can be saved (Acts 4:10-12), can sometimes get you labeled as exclusive and narrow minded. But it’s little enough price to pay, as far as I’m concerned. Paul was put in jail for the testimony of Jesus Christ, and the Apostle John was left to die on a lonely island (Rev. 1:9); and I defy anyone to find where either of them regretted it.
But there is something else in the first two chapters of which we should not be ashamed, but often are. Paul’s other wish for the young preacher was that he not be ashamed of him—Paul—because he was a prisoner of Rome. In fact, he goes on to mention that one glowing attribute of their mutual friend, Onesiphorus, was that he was never ashamed of the Apostle’s “chain” (v. 16). This observation challenges me to ask myself, “Am I ashamed of my brothers or sisters in the Lord who, though maybe not jailbirds, are still sometimes shunned; not because they are guilty of gross sin, but because they are “different.” For one reason or another, they see nonessentials differently than others of us do. They may be too controversial, or (as Paul was accused of being) too confrontational. They’re clapping on the second and fourth beats rather than the traditional first and third, as it were. We don’t have to agree with, or even understand, all of God’s children; but we do have to love them. And if Jesus Christ isn’t ashamed of you and me (Heb. 2:11), we have no reason to be ashamed of them.
Did Paul happen to mention anything in his letter that we should be ashamed of? As a matter of fact, he did. I verse fifteen of chapter two, he said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” If we’re not reading and studying the Bible—working at it—for the approval of God, and not other people, we should hang our heads in utter shame.
Shame is too important to waste on the wrong things. It can lead us to repentance toward God…or it can make us cowards. It can spur us on to excellence in our Christian lives…or it can turn us into ineffective Pharisees. And you can be sure, it will be one of the things that determines whether or not we will be “ashamed before him at his coming” (1 Jno. 2:28).