We have been considering fear, guilt, and shame, and we have come to treat the topic of shame separately.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 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” (Heb. 12:1–2).
Summary of the Text
The Old Testament saints in the previous chapter were witnesses in their lives to the faithfulness of God. But there is something in this expression which indicates that they are now, in some fashion, witnessing us. They have run their race, and they are now sitting in the stands, a great cloud of them, as we run the race that God has assigned to us. We are compassed around with a great cloud of witnesses. We need to stretch out, take off any encumbrances, which would include any entangling sin, and then run patiently. The expression patiently indicates that it is a long distance run, not a dash. As we do, we look to the finish line. That finish line is Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. He was the first one to run the entire race, and He did it with His eye on the finish line, which was the joy set before Him. The joy and glory He has obtained was what made it possible for Him to hold the shame He had to endure in contempt. He despised the shame, considering it a trifle in the light of the joy that was coming.
Shame in the Sins of Others
Shame is not the same thing as guilt. It often accompanies guilt, but it is not the same thing. In addition, there are times when the sin of one person causes shame in another. This was the case with Tamar when her brother raped her (2 Sam. 13:13). This is the kind of emotion experienced by children who have been abused and violated, for example. This kind of shame occurs when you are sinned against. Another example would be when a lazy son causes his father shame (Prov. 10:5). Another kind of shame happens when you are despised by others because of a righteous stand you have taken. “Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: Let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel. Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; Shame hath covered my face” (Ps. 69:6–7). And in other situations, shame accompanies sins a person has committed himself. This would particularly be the case when the sin is generally despised, and is roundly condemned. A wicked man is loathsome and comes to shame (Prov. 13:5).
Shame in the Hand of God
“Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: Let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me” (Ps. 35:26). “But thou hast saved us from our enemies, And hast put them to shame that hated us” (Ps. 44:7).
God may bring them to destruction in this way, or He may bring His enemies to destruction by making them His friends. “Fill their faces with shame; That they may seek thy name, O Lord. Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; Yea, let them be put to shame, and perish” (Ps. 83:16–17).
Jesus Christ was not ashamed as He enacted the gospel in and through His passion. That which Christ was not ashamed to go through, we must not be ashamed to be associated with. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 10:11).
This attitude is necessary because this is where the world is always going to push back. “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8).
Glory and Shame
The antidote to shame is glory. True shame requires real glory. Spurious shame is going to be answered by a spurious glory, but of course it has to be a flawed answer. There is a tight connect in Scripture between the two categories of glory and shame. The sons of men are rebuked for turning God’s glory into shame (Ps. 4:2). God disciplines sinners by changing their glory into shame (Hos. 4:7). A debauched lifestyle uses shame for glory (Hab. 2:16). Paul rebukes false teachers, whose glory is their shame (Phil. 3:19).
This is what gives the cool shame its authority. The cool shame represents worldliness, which in its turn is a rival system of glory. When the devil tempted the Lord, one of the things He showed Him was all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
But Scripture gives us a striking contrast between the wise man and the fool. “The wise shall inherit glory: But shame shall be the promotion of fools” (Prov. 3:35).
There are two rival kingdoms in this world, and they have inverted systems of shame and glory. What they consider the ultimate disgrace we may embrace, and why? Because our understanding of glory is not theirs. Our understanding of glory has to do with a suffering servant exalted to the place that is above every name. Ours comes to the cross, and then to the crown. This is why, when the apostles were flogged, they were able to rejoice in it. “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). It is an honor to be dishonored. It is a grace to be disgraced. And all this is only possible in and through the cross.