What is Shame?
I Corinthians 4:13, 14: “Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.”
I Corinthians 6:5, 6: “I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.”
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.”
What is shame? When someone says, “You should be ashamed of yourself” what is that person requiring, or trying to require, of us? What is a proper response?
When we begin with a definition of shame, we must begin with the fact that the sinless Son of God bore shame on our behalf when He died for us on Calvary, as.the above verse from Hebrews states. Our sins were His shame. Our sins are also our shame.
God has a righteous law. When we transgress it, shame is a gift God’s Holy Spirit gives us to woo us back to repentance. A gift. The passage in I Corinthians 6 shows us this. Paul told the Corinthians they should be ashamed for their wrongful lawsuits among churchmembers. He called them to repent of this unrighteousness and to return to God’s standards.
God used shame in the Bible to either call a person to repentance (Peter, after his denial of Jesus) or to seal his or her fate as an unrepentant person (Judas Iscariot, Ananias and Sapphira).
On the other hand, the Holy Spirit plainly points out in the I Corinthians 4 passage that He has no intent of shaming the Corinthians over the humiliations that Paul and his party endured. Those were not the fault of the Corinthians. This and other grace-filled passages of the Scriptures show us that God does not expect us to take on shame over situations that we ourselves do not generate.
Truly, there are enough situations where we have trampled the grace of our Lord Jesus and really do need to repent of what we have done. There is no need for us to feel shame or let others shame us over things that are not related to our sin.
The world throws the word “shame” at people like a grenade because the world does not know God’s grace. We who know how gracious is our Lord have the opportunity to respond to others without using that word. Honestly, I am not convinced that any believer should use the word “shame” anymore, now that the canon of Scripture is closed. The Holy Spirit gave that specific word to Paul and to other writers when the Scriptures were being written but I am not sure that anyone needs to push the word shame at another believer anymore. If I am right, the Holy Spirit can do His work in their lives without us resorting to using that word, not because He couldn’t still use believers to help restore each other via the gift of shame, but because we have become so thoroughly worldly that we don’t use the word or the concept correctly anymore.
If we could learn to sorrow about the fact that a blood-bought brother or sister has fallen and to agree with God that restoration of that sinner is the principle goal, we might be able to partner with God as that sinner deals with the gift of shame, moving through it to repentance and joy at God’s immense forgiveness. But, unfortunately, too many of us get in the flesh and find the details of someone else’s shame to be utterly salacious, especially when shared in gossip. God can’t use that attitude in restoration because we ourselves are in sin when we do that.
It is worth repeating: God uses shame as a gift to move us through a process to repentance. We must go through shame for our sins, for they offend a Holy God, but the goal of our shame is to reach repentance and reconciliation and joy in God’s gracious outpouring of grace into our lives. Think of Peter and imagine his initial shame during that private meeting that Jesus seems to have held with him after His Resurrection. Now imagine Peter trying to hold onto his shame throughout that entire meeting. It wouldn’t have happened that way, would it? One word of forgiveness from the Savior and Peter probably flung himself at Him in a joyous outpouring of relief and love, don’t you think?
Shouldn’t we do the same? Let the Holy Spirit use the gift of shame in our lives when we offend a Holy God, but then move on through it to restoration and joy in our Savior’s very presence? Shame is a tool used by God, but it is not the ultimate goal. Fellowship with our Lord is the ultimate goal.