Philippians 3:19, “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”
As I write this blog post in advance of April, March Madness is still ongoing, down to the last two teams. By the time you read it, you will know whether North Carolina or Gonzaga prevailed in the final!
I was recently pondering the nature of shame, particularly as I was reading Ed Welch’s “Shame Interrupted.” (I will put the usual statement here that his book does not agree with everything I—and my church—hold to theologically, but it is pretty awesome in its discussion of shame, which I was trying to understand.) Using some thoughts in the book as a starting point, let me ask a couple of questions.
Would you say that all fifteen of the Sweet Sixteen teams who did *not win the championship should be ashamed? Would you say they sinned because they did not emerge as the top team?
I hope you just answered “no.”
Yet that is one category of “shame” that is very common among people, even believers in Jesus. We feel ashamed when we are not the best in our bracket. We feel ashamed when we stumble and make mistakes and do not capture the championship in life.
In short, we feel ashamed because we are human and have human frailties.
That definition of shame tends to overshadow the real definition of shame. Like the verse above shows, shame is a good gift God gives us to help bring us to repentance for our sins, for the wrong things we actually choose to do against God’s commandments and His will in our lives.
This comes more easily for me than for many other people—I see my sin so clearly, and I rejoice that God gives me the gift of shame so I will repent early rather than late. Shame goes away after we repent because shame has then done its job.
But I have so many friends for whom shame is a constant companion. They are the ones for whom shame has stopped being attached to their own personal sin and has started to constantly overshadow their lives. Their shame has been replaced in its God-given role with other fake versions of shame which make fake claims of why they should be ashamed.
Some are ashamed for circumstances in their childhood that made them feel inferior to the other children around them.
Some are ashamed because they never felt love from those God intended to cherish and protect them.
Some are ashamed for sins that others did to them.
Some are ashamed, like the March Madness teams could be, merely because they are human and show weakness or don’t always win.
I urge you, my friends, if you find yourself stuck in any of the above states of fake shame for things that are not actually your personal sins, to seek God’s Word and good counsel about what shame actually is in your life and what it should do.
It is actually very freeing to get to the place where shame, when it occasionally arises, actually bids us into the presence of the Lord, to examine ourselves and see what we have done that needs repentance.
God is good to give us the good gift of appropriate shame.