Monday, August 5, 2013

1 Timothy 3: Shame


1 Timothy 3:3

What has come before...

Violent people, smiters, find it a pleasure to pound flat into the ground anyone who might challenge their personal privileges of superiority.

"Insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers" taught whatever "truth" might profit them. Perverting or contradicting the foundational teachings of Christ, they effectively persuaded others to abandon faith, trading it for legalistic, traditional religion.

Moving on...

The definition of "sordid gain" includes the notion of "shame", vividly described by Paul in his letter to Titus.

"He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach." Titus 1:9-11 (ESV)

The people contradicting the truth of Christ, and greedy for the money paid for them to teach error, ought to have felt shame. But obviously, they did not.

What is "shame", and why didn't these leaders feel it?

The root of "shame" means disfigurement or disgrace. A child born with a cleft, or any "unnormal" condition, may not feel shame, but their parents most likely will.

"I felt that no one understood; most people seemed curious, and a few even malicious. Some people made light of my problems and were impatient and bored with my constant concerns. I feared that they might look upon my baby with repulsion, that they might discriminate in favor of more typical-looking children." (Joanne Subtelny, mother of a child born with cleft lip and palate.)

Shame is the fearful emotion that results when someone expects to suffer rejection or scorn or punishment from those whom they respect or admire. If the mother of a child born with a cleft were surrounded with friends who also had children with similar conditions, she would not feel shame.

When Joanne Subtelny changed her opinion of other people, she found her fearful shame greatly reduced.

"It took a while for me to realize that their reactions were their own business and that all I could do was be prepared with straightforward answers to their questions. I had to learn that the only attitude I could control was my own...all too frequently our egos are vitally involved. We may worry more about how we can explain the condition to other people, and what they may be thinking, than we do about how we can help our children thrive...Just remember that you are not alone, that you are not the first or the last to face this challenge. Many other parents are dealing with the same situation this very day, and there are people and resources available to help you."

This mother's experience is a good example of the source of shame. The people whom we admire most, the people with whom we long for friendship and enjoyment, can become our feared enemies: people who could ostracize, criticize, manipulate and punish us.

That fear is called shame.

Why did the sordid leaders in Ephesus feel no shame? Their teaching pleased the people they most admired. The leaders had little respect or friendship with Paul. The crowd of people surrounding these leaders were more than able to supply all that they wanted: money, influence and popularity.

Shame is not dependent upon what a person believes is right or wrong...shame is entirely dependent upon what others think is right or wrong.

A manager caught embezzling funds from his employer felt his world crumbling:

"The manager said to himself, What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg."Luke 16:3 (ESV)

Why the shame? There must have been many beggars in the city. Why not join them and become like them, enjoying their fellowship and admiration as he rose in the ranks of professional begging?

Most likely, the manager's circle of influence, his friends, the people he admired, regarded beggars as weak, dirty and disgusting. To become a beggar, the manager would have to lose all the support and enjoyment he had once possessed in his friends. Rejecting him, they would scorn him, perhaps beat him.

Worse, they might pity him.

Interestingly, the manager turned his shame into surprising success. He contacted a few important clients and discounted their obligations, most likely using the profits earned by investing his boss's money on the side. He used the money to do favors for people he admired in order to maintain their friendship and support.

The manager's boss was impressed by the man's smarts.

"The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness." Luke 16:8 (ESV)

The implication here is that the manager paid back to his boss all that he had stolen and used what was left over to make friends with important people.

Who told this story? Jesus! Jesus offered the story of the dishonest manager as an encouraging example of faithfulness.

"I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?" Luke 16:9-12 (ESV)

In what sense was the dishonest manager faithful?

The manager got one thing right, and it happened to be one of the most important things of all: it is best to use things and love people. He realized that his act of embezzlement was a sin of selfishness, stealing from others to benefit only himself. It was an act of faith in that he trusted in something he could not see with his eyes. How others react to our love for them is not something that we often can see ahead of time. To treat others with love requires that we have faith that love works good for others.

When a criminal is exposed, fearful shame is a realistic expectation. The dishonest manager was right to expect rejection, scorn and punishment. However, he turned that shame to success by using the money for which it was intended: to do something good for other people.

When the man acted faithfully, using money for the purpose with which it was intended, he was rewarded by friendship and support from those whom he admired most.

Shame sloughs away and turns into surprising success when a person's words and actions create a strong circle of friendship and support from others.

The leadership in the church of Ephesus ought to have felt shame. They were teaching falsely and leading unjustly. However, they were rewarded for their false teaching. Their words and actions pleased a sufficient number of people, who then gave the leaders money, influence and support.


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