Can Shame be a Good Thing?

Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

I have always liked this verse. It reminds us that no one will be saved except by the grace of God, and that if God is willing to forgive those who repent, surely we also should be willing to forgive each other. Grace is a wonderful topic, and one that I enjoy talking about.

Shame on the other hand… not so much. Is shame even something that we need to talk about? Did Jesus not do away with the concept of shame once and for all when He died on the cross for us?

Apparently not, because twice in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul rebuked those who would hear his letter and followed his rebuke with the words: “I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 6:5, 15:34). The “God’s Word” translation says, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” The NIV says “I say this to shame you.”

This week while I listened to a well-known and loved gospel preacher, he used a similar phrase: “Shame, shame, shame, God knows your name,” in order to shame those who were guilty of a certain sin that he was speaking about.

It is important to notice that Paul, and luckily the preacher that I was hearing as well, were not shaming people about things that they had done in the distant past and had already repented of. Instead, we see this concept of “shame on you” appearing in scripture when people need to come to their senses about a sin that they are currently engaged in. It is as if Paul is saying “You are better than this! You should be ashamed of this behavior, and because of this I am trying to wake you up to the shamefulness of what you are doing, so that you will repent.”

Yes, God’s grace covers our sins. Yes, he paid it all on Calvary. But that does not give us permission to become like the sinners in Jeremiah 6:15, “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush.” We must not make peace with our sin, or cease to realize how shameful it is to be called a child of God and yet to live in sin.

If you are not living the way you should, shame on you. Not the kind of shame that is meant to make you feel terrible about yourself, but the kind of shame that calls you to live in the holy way that God will help you to live if you will only follow. Not the kind of shame that leads to despair or self-loathing, but the kind of shame that reminds us to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.”
(Ephesians 4:1)

Not the kind of shame that strangers or even loved ones might continue to heap on us for our mistakes long after we have repented and moved on.

Rather, the kind of shame that can cause you to wake up to the reality of your current situation and motivate you to make it right.

Life is Not Fair

My fifth grade teacher used to tell us all that time, “the only person who gets to decide your future is YOU,” and “YOU are the one who determines whether or not you are happy and successful in life.”

Even at that age, something just did not seem exactly right about what she was saying. I knew enough about my own life and the lives of those around me to know that life is not at all fair, and a lot of the things that can hurt us deeply may not be under our control.

The Bible acknowledges this, too. Was it fair, when in 2 Samuel 11, Uriah’s death was secretly orchestrated by King David, who had his eye on Uriah’s wife? What about in Genesis 37-40 when Joseph was thrown into a pit, or sold into slavery, or framed for rape, or forgotten about to waste away in prison? What about in Joshua 7 when thirty-six men lost there lives at Ai because of a sin that Achan had committed in the previous battle at Jericho?

Yet in the midst of all of the unfairness, the Bible offers hope, and not despair.

Romans 12:19 quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 in reminding us that God is aware of everything that goes on, and He will settle all accounts in the end, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Exodus 22:21-23 reminds us that he sees and cares about mistreatment, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry.”

Psalm 68:5-6 assures us that he cares for the downtrodden: “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”

Not only does the Bible assure us that God sees that which is unfair in our world; it also reminds us to stop using our misfortune as an excuse, but rather to get back up and take responsibility for those things that we are able to control.

In Joshua 7:7-9, Joshua was in great despair because all of Israel was suffering and he did not know why. “Alas, O Lord God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

God’s response was powerful: “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?” He then gave Joshua specific instructions on how to take charge and be proactive about the situation, rather than whining.

Maybe that was what my teacher was trying to tell us. No, life is not at all fair. No, we cannot control what other people do. Just as people mistreated Jesus, they will mistreat us. But we can still take responsibility for our own actions, and we can go out in the strength of the LORD to do good in His name.