2 Timothy 1:8 “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”
If a person has never been ashamed of the gospel then the reason isn’t that he’s an exceptionally good Christian but that his understanding of the gospel has never been clear. You know how the Scriptures begin, with an account of creation, God creating the universe in six days. Do you know how the New Testament begins, by a lengthy genealogy of names and then by telling us the Mary was a virgin when she conceived her son Jesus. Do you understand the audacious claims of Christianity? The Bible tells us that the God who made the world is a personal God, but that he is also triune. The Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God and yet these three persons are the one personal God. The Son of God with his Father and the Spirit, created the whole cosmos. He came to this world through Mary being ‘overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. In other words while continuing to be God, laying aside none of his divine attributes, he added to his deity all of human nature so that he became true man as well as true God in one indivisible person for ever. Then this God-man offered himself to God as a sacrifice in the place of all the people of God, taking our condemnation so that God could remain just and yet could declare all those redeemed by the death of Christ, pardoned and righteous because they were condemned as guilty in him. Jehovah Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and after forty days ascended to heaven where he has all authority in heaven and earth and reigns over his people and builds his church and fills the earth with the knowledge of his glory. One day he is coming again to make a new heavens and new earth, to judge all mankind and assign to everyone their eternal destinies in heaven with him, or in hell.
That is the gospel that is revealed to the world in the Bible and is believed by every true Christian. It was mocked and scorned and rejected by the world of Paul’s day. Pagans branded it as ‘atheism.’ The Jews hated it as licentiousness. The crucifixion of the incarnate God was the heart of its message, and yet an enormous stumbling block to Israel and it was foolishness to Greece. When Paul explained it to a monarch then the king disdained it telling the apostle that much learning had made him mad. So today when people ask us if we believe that Jesus walked on water, and that the hammer head floated, and if there is a real hell, and we tell them we believe in all those things then they scorn such a faith as having no entitlement to exist in the 21st century. Aren’t we under pressure to feel ashamed of Christianity? Of course not of watered down modernistic and liberal religion which removes the supernatural and the miraculous and teaches merely the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of the divine – there is nothing in that outlook of which their advocates feel ashamed, but it is simply not Christianity. It may use God-words but it bleeds them of their life and vitality. The liberal says, “Of course I believe Jesus rose from the dead, but I interpret it to mean he didn’t physically rise.” But concerning the historic Christian faith of the creeds and confessions such as the 39 Articles and the 1689 Confession – that kind of testimony to Jesus Christ – many religious people are ashamed of it. We believe it. We are unashamed of it or of testifying about our Lord. Let’s begin with the general question . . .
1. WHAT MAKES A PERSON FEEL ASHAMED?
Consider some examples that I got from John Piper.
i)Suppose a boy brags to his friends that he can outrun the skinny new kid in the neighborhood. So the gang set up a race – say, once around the block. Both boys walk the route and see where all the obstacles are and where the turns are made. Then they line up. The neighborhood kids are all out watching. Someone says, “On your marks. Get set. Go!” And the bragging boy is simply left in the dust. The skinny new guy finishes 40 or 50 yards ahead of the braggart. When that happens it is very likely that the braggart feels ashamed. He feels that he has made a fool of himself.
ii) Or suppose someone you don’t like at school has a dad who is in jail. And suppose that you make fun of him for this and call him names and point out to people that his dad is a crook. And you boast that your dad is a successful financial officer in a big firm. Then one day you go home to the terrible news that your dad has been arrested and charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of pounds. The next day you don’t even want to go to school because you are so ashamed – both of your father and yourself.
iii) Or suppose you put a lot of emphasis in how you look – having your hair just the way it is supposed to be and your clothes in perfect taste. You are invited to a party and you check with people (whom you think are reliable advisers) about what to wear and how to look. But when you get there you realize that you are totally wrong in the way you dressed. You stick out like a sore thumb; they are so casual and you are over-dressed. You are so embarrassed that you don’t want to go into the room.
iv) Finally, suppose you have a part in a play – just a small one perhaps; you are naturally nervous and not very good at acting. Maybe you have two lines at some juncture in the play. You memorize the lines. The play begins. Your heart is pounding in your chest. The audience is large. Everyone is doing beautifully and setting a high standard. Your moment is drawing near. And at that exact moment, you freeze. You try to say the two lines. Everybody is looking at you. But you can’t say them. Someone whispers to you your lines. To no avail. Somehow they get around you. You limp off the stage, and want to leave the planet, you feel so ashamed.
We all know what it is to be embarrassed – or to be ashamed. What would keep you from falling into situations like that? Well, one answer would be that stronger legs would have kept you from losing the race and being put to shame by the new skinny guy. And a more honest dad would not have embezzled, so you wouldn’t be ashamed of him. And with better counsel from your friend you wouldn’t have dressed all wrong for the party. And better nerves in front of a group would have let you remember your lines and speak them with excellence. In other words, you could avoid shame if you and your family and friends could always be honest and true and humble.
So what will keep you from being ashamed of the gospel? Two things. The fact that you know that it is true so that you don’t need to embellish it or distort it or deny it. You’re seeking to understand the Bible and to adore the God who inspired it, he who so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Then there is also this fact that this message, explained, understood, trusted, received and lived out day by day is divine power and salvation. It was received by a torturer and killer, Saul of Tarsus, and under God it transformed his life. He became a new creation. God’s grace made him humble and holy and kind and prayerful, living for others, the happiest and sweetest man in the world. “The fruit of the Spirit is joy” he told men, and that is why he was frequently rejoicing and urging other Christians to do so. The gospel had made him a contented man in every kind of condition. The power of God had done this to him and to millions of others. What our father Adam had lost by his rebellion against God Paul had had restored to him, and even vastly increased, all by the indwelling of Adam’s Maker. He’d gained far more blessings than his father had lost. So there was nothing for Timothy to be ashamed of in the gospel.
Paul had told Timothy what the gospel had done to the first three Europeans who became Christians, people from Philippi, Greeks like his own father, one, a slave girl possessed by an evil spirit, the second, a religious and intelligent business woman, an entrepreneur named Lydia, and the third was the Roman governor of the prison in Philippi, and all of them were transformed for the better by the message of Jesus Christ. They became better husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sweeter neighbours and workmates. Then the gospel spread throughout Greece, to Corinth and Athens and Thessalonica, and what changes were wrought, the lot of the newborn child and the unborn child was changed, the sex trade was weakened, slavery was steadily undermined, the lot of women pervasively improved. Education, hospitals, the protection of the young, more humane prisons and democracy, all these institutions given such a boost wherever the gospel put down its roots. Is it only one, or are there two countries out of the two dozen Muslim countries which are democracies? But where the gospel of Christ has gone true political and economic freedom has spread. What is the explanation? The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.
Who could be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Let the atheist name five women whose lives have been delivered from the sex industry by the power of atheism, we know of hundreds in the Philippines, and Singapore, and south Korea, and India whose lives have been transformed by the power of God through believing the gospel. What do we have to be ashamed of? Omnipotent redeeming grace . . . lifting up women, children and men . . . people whose lives were in despairing muddles . . . millions finding a purpose in life and a hope in death? I am a debtor to the gospel . . . I am ready to preach the gospel . . . I am not ashamed of the gospel.
2. WHAT IS IT TO TESTIFY ABOUT OUR LORD?
Paul says, “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord,” (v.8). What do we testify about him? The first thing is his resurrection. That is the foundation on which the New Testament is built. And the glory of that is that the resurrection of Christ doesn’t belong to the world of hypotheses or in an encyclopedia of realistic ideas or the sphere of dogma. It belongs to the sphere of facts; Paul lists the names of men who has encounters with him. He adds that there were 500 who met him in Galilee and many of them were still alive and they could describe the event to you. That encounter was not just one or two women on a cloudy night seeing a figure in the gloom, but above 500 people during a day spending hours with him there. They all knew that he’d been killed in some despicable way, but God raised him from the dead. God showed his superior power; God routed the powers of hell; God vindicated incarnate love, and the Son of God arose, and that is the great guarantee of our resurrection. It is the model of our resurrection, and so in moments of doubt we go back time and again to this fact, the empty tomb, to this eruption into history, at this point in time and space, of the power and goodness of God in the vindication of his Son. We testify to that.
The second thing to which we testify is our living relationship with God. We don’t simply live vicarious spiritual lives, through the lives of the people of God in the Bible. We don’t simply have past spiritual lives living in the after glow of particularly happy college years while members of a Christian Union, but we have an ongoing relationship in which we live with God and in which we have the assurance of his love to us, and that is based on our present experience of his goodness. We have the experience of answered prayer, of grace that helps us in times of need, of strength that came to us in periods of physical and mental weakness, of times when our fears were never realized, and of real blessings that God poured down on us. Isn’t that a formidable reality to which we bear witness, our living experience of the goodness of God? I have cried to God and God has answered, just as Elijah cried to him on Mount Carmel and God heard him. God is good to us. God blesses us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. If it is there in glory then it is here in my experience too because every member is joined to our Head. There is much in this world that I can doubt today – dark matter and black holes – but not the goodness of God, not the love of God, not the fact that God answer prayer. And so we testify in particular to the resurrection and to the grace of God.
And we are never to be ashamed of this reality but always ready to speak of these things. Most of us know times when we are ready to give a word for the Saviour, but we also know wasted opportunities when we were not close to God and so could not be close to men in spiritual language. We needed to take advantage of a moment and we failed. So how can we become un-ashamed always of the gospel? The New Testament tells us a number of things.
i] Firstly, do you remember how Peter tells us to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts (I Pet. 3:15). In other words the most fundamental principle in our mortifying cowardly shame is that we are in a right relationship with the Lord. We set him apart from any other enthusiasm or over every worthy and honourable ambition. Christ has a unique place in our lives. He is Lord of everything; he is Lord over every interest and concern. He reigns over us. He sits on the throne of our hearts and all is well between him and us. When we sin we confess it to him, the same familiar sins, we never stop saying, “Lord, there I go again, I have fallen again. I’m sorry.” And in the simplicity of that we know mercy and grace to help us to go on and on.
You see, we imagine that testifying about our Lord is a matter of the striking ploy, the dramatic words and activity, that it is a matter of technique, a matter of method, a matter of knowledge, experience and skill. But there is something that is immeasurably more fundamental, and it is this, are we right with God? Because if we aren’t then there is no possibility of being a fisher of men, of being an effective witness in that particular relationship, and the reason we know we are incompetent in our testimony is not that we don’t have some dramatic hook on which to hang our words, nor that we haven’t done a course in public speaking, or that we are not quick-wittted enough. The reason is that we’re not right with God, and the way to sort things out is to go back to the point where the relationship went wrong. Wordsworth once gave a famous definition of poetry. He said, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” That can be disputed of course, but there is no doubt that it points to something essential to Christian testimony, that it has to be the unrehearsed overflow of powerful affections. Testifying is something that arises out of what the Christian is, and what we need is not getting our methods right and ticking all the testifying boxes, but getting our relationship with God right. Then there is something more.
ii] Peter also tells us we must have a good conscience (I Pet. 3:15). Again, there is not a word about technique or method. You make sure that there is nothing that stands between you and God, any ongoing defiant sinning. You make sure that there is nothing in your relationship with your neighbor that makes it impossible for you to talk to him about God or to invite him or her to a meeting. You have to avoid a feeling of who are you to speak a word for God when you are wrong with God, and so you cannot testify to another person. So you must get your conscience right with God. Deal with your sin; ensure that your sin has been acknowledged to God and then you will find a new confidence to speak to others
iii] Grow in your grasp of the Christian faith. There is a proverb in Proverbs 15 and verse 28, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers.” Our words must have some prior thought behind them. We don’t just blurt out religious stuff. I went to an exhibition of the achievements of William Tyndale in the British Museum and I saw a woman I knew talking to one of the curators or guards of the exhibition. She was quite forcefully testifying to him about the gospel. But he was laid back and opposing her, and I heard her saying to him quite fiercely, “But it’s true because it’s true because it’s true.” And he could have answered her, “But it’s false because it’s false because it’s false.” Stalemate! Weigh your answers. In other words when you put on the armour of God, don’t neglect the ‘belt of truth.’ It is crucial, and wield the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Make time in your lives to be alone and read the Bible and read books about the Scriptures. Ponder them; imbibe them; lay its truths to your heart; immerse your soul in its arguments. Sit under the best ministry you can find. Know what you believe and why you believe it and grow in your ability to testify to people about Jesus.
iv] Become Spirit-dependent Christians. Learn to trust in the Lord and instinctively to invoke his help at every moment of crisis in our lives. The Lord has told us not to worry about what we are going to say, not to become tense and anxious, not to try to have prepared responses for every foreseeable situation, because a situation will arise when you find yourself in uncharted territory, when you have no prepared answers, no formulae, no ready set of words. Then you have to depend on God, that he will help you and guide you as to what you should say – or to be silent.
v] You testify about the Lord Jesus Christ in a spirit of holy fear and meekness. Fear: in other words there is seriousness about God and eternal things. You have some grasp of how great God is, and the value of an immortal soul, and the preciousness of truth. There is no place for flippancy, no room for lack of dignity and sweetness; no lack of gravity, because God is so great, and truth is so important and the soul is worth more than the whole world. Paul himself spoke in weakness and fear and much trembling. You may be nervous about bearing witness but that nervousness, that you feel you want to get rid of, is something that God is enjoining as an authentic part of Christian testimony. All Christian testimony should be reverential and informed by the holiness of God. Meekness: that means that we can never witness to someone if we feel superior to them. We are no better than they are; we are not more noble. Do I really believe what John Newton said, that there but for the grace of God go I. If we start to occupy a position of moral superiority, and our witnessing becomes condescending and paternalistic and we forget that we are sinners and deserve nothing and all we have is because of God’s grace then we are blunted and spoiled for addressing others. Now there is no need to be self-depreciating and self-disparaging. We simply need to know the truth about ourselves, that is, in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells no good thing.
3. WHY AREN’T WE TO BE ASHAMED OF OTHER CHRISTIANS?
One reason for the possibility of being ashamed of the words and lives of other Christians is that believing and preaching the gospel constantly put Paul in a bad light. It continually stirred up other people to feel ashamed of Paul. He gives us a list of ways that Paul was publicly shamed as he evangelized (in 2 Corinthians 11:23-26) compared to other safer church leaders: Paul was . . . in far more labours, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren . . .”
Believing and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ and this is what happens. Wouldn’t people looking on feel a sense of pity and shame and embarrassment for you, of all the negative things that have happened to you since you started following Christ? But Paul didn’t cease being a witness, in fact he tells us that he felt he was under obligation, as a real debtor both to the Greeks and even to barbarians, to the wise and even to the foolish to explain to them the Christian message. Do our unbelieving neighbours and colleagues and fellow students want you to give them the gospel? Not many of them. The Jews ached for signs and wonders; the Greeks’ priority was ‘wisdom’; but Paul spoke to them all about one subject the Jehovah Jesus Christ crucified. To the Jews the message was a stumbling block and to the Gentiles it was foolishness. But Paul kept telling them they were sinners who needed forgiveness and God had provided it in his Son Jesus Christ. He was not ashamed of the message even though the result of his speaking was persecution and stoning and whipping and prison and ultimately execution.
Paul was like Jesus. Jesus was abandoned by his friends, falsely accused of blasphemy, beaten with rods, ridiculed and taunted, stripped of his clothes, scourged with a whip, tortured in public, and made to look like a fool as people mocked him on the cross: “You who saved others, save yourself.” Let Timothy remember that. Let us all remember the attempts that were made to shame Christ, and let us remember what Jesus did with all this shame – this shaming behaviour of others? What would you do with it? Hebrews 12:2 tells us what Jesus did with it: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus despised the shame. What does that mean? It means that when shame began to threaten his heart and to tempt him to abandon a clear and obedient witness to God and to the gospel, he said to shame, “Shame, I despise you. I will not yield to you. I will not give to you any satisfaction. You may do with me whatever you please – in the short run – but I will not obey you or follow you or give in to you. I despise you, shame, and will not let you dictate to me how I am going to respond.”
How could he do that? What motivated him? Hebrews 12:2 says he did it “for the joy that was set before him.” Shame was stripping away every earthly support that Jesus had: his friends gave way in shaming abandonment; his reputation gave way in shaming slander; his decency gave way in shaming nakedness; his comfort gave way in shaming torture. So, if his present supports were all being stripped away in shaming persecution, why didn’t he capitulate to such shame? Hebrews 12:2 says, he set his heart not on the supports of the present, but on the joy of the future where very soon he would “sit down at the right hand of the throne of God.” No sitting on Golgotha; no chair on Calvary. There was a work to be done there, but soon he would be sitting in God’s presence his work of humiliation all over. Though he was being shamed for a brief moment, there lay before him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Jesus was not ashamed of that, of being again with his God and Father. Jesus was saved from shame because of God’s power to save him from death and give him all-satisfying joy at his right hand forever.
How then do you overcome feelings of shame when you are patronized and belittled for believing and sharing the gospel? Answer: ponder the power of the gospel. Do you know what it does? It brings forgiven sinners to final, everlasting joy. Nothing in the world can do this except the gospel of Jesus Christ. Judaism (that stops short of Jesus), Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam – they do not have a Saviour who can solve the problem of separation from a holy God through sin. They cannot offer sinners hope by grace through faith and not works. Only one message saves sinners, and brings them safely into the presence of God – the gospel of Jesus Christ. It alone is the power of God unto salvation. Do not be ashamed of those who believe and speak this message.
A.W. Tozer was sitting on a bus in Chicago one cold day, and an overweight Christian man got on board with a sticker or badge on his coat and a handful of tracts, and he moved through the crowded bus squeezing past this one and that one, treading on toes, apologizing, irritating them, smiling and offering everyone a tract. And finally it was Tozer’s stop and he got up to go and he pushed to the man and shook his hand telling him, “I’m one of those too.” That’s right; we see a stranger standing in Owain Glyndwr square holding aloft a verse from the Bible, and we think to ourselves, “I am one of those too.” Do not be ashamed of fellow Christians even though they are clumsy and insensitive in what they do.
4.JOIN WITH EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN IN SUFFERING FOR THE GOSPEL.
That is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy and to all of us. He says these words in our text, “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” Therefore, Paul would say – Jesus himself would say – the future contains suffering, yes. The future contains misunderstanding, yes. The future contains shame, yes. But don’t be intimidated and ashamed. You will be shamed, but you need not be ashamed. Because the future for us is glory in the presence of God in a new creation for evermore. That is the only triumphant, death-conquering and eternal message in the world today, and there will never be another message that can compare to it. Short-term pain. Long-term gain. For the joy (of salvation!) set before you, take up your cross, follow Jesus, be shamed, yes, but despise the shame.
How do people shame you today for believing and sharing the gospel? It’s not exactly the same as the way they did it when I began my ministry herein the ‘60s. Unbelievers would criticize us in the ‘60s because they didn’t believe that the gospel was true. Today they criticize us for claiming that there is such a reality as truth. In other words, today the shaming is not saying to us that we are wrong, but to say that we are arrogant if we think others are wrong. Not that we have muddled thinking, but that we have a bad attitude. The greatest weapon of shaming today in the world of religious claims is the accusation that we are intolerant and therefore mean-spirited and egotistical.
To that we must steadfastly respond: It is the most loving thing in the world to tell the truth about the way of salvation. If the Lord Jesus has said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6), then, for the sake of love, we must pay our debt to the world, and despise the shaming attitudes of the so-called ‘tolerant’ 21st century telling men, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The gospel of Christ alone is the power of God unto salvation, and then we have power also to suffer men’s hostility and hatred, who utterly reject the Name.
6th December 2015 GEOFF THOMAS.