Monday, August 06, 2007
For I am Not Ashamed...Wendy's Dad Goes Home
Wendy's father passed away on July 5, and our family life has been dominated by this event for the last three weeks. If you have experienced death before, you know how it brings issues of mortality to the forefront of our minds. It sweeps away the clutter surrounding death and the desensitization that we feel after watching death repeatedly on TV or in movies. Death is no longer something that simply happens on the screen, but it is real and painful and final and has consequences.
About a week before Steve died I had the opportunity to read scripture with him over the phone. He was dying of cancer, and our prayer was that Christ would sustain his faith through this process. My wife had flown out to be with him and her mother. I read to him from Philippians 1:20-21. “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This was our prayer and Steve’s eager expectation too. He did not want to look at his life and be ashamed. When I read this passage to him, I did so with the intent that his faith be sustained until the end so that Christ would be honored in his body—either in his life or in his death, and that he would not be ashamed by his own actions.
This passage in Philippians reminded me of Romans 1:16-17, which says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Now in light of our Christian commitment to take the gospel to our neighbors and co-workers and family and friends, it is imperative that we, along with Paul, not be ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ’s sinless life, his death, and his resurrection, opening a way that through faith we might live.
There is something very interesting connecting these two passages. They are connected because of the word “ashamed.” If I am a Christian who wants to share Christ with my neighbors and co-workers I can not be ashamed of the Gospel. Nor do I, at the end of my life, want to be ashamed by the way in which I had lived. Instead, I want to be like Paul and declare that it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that Christ will have been seen as glorious in my life. So there you have it. We should not be ashamed of the Gospel, so that when we are at the end of our life, we will not be ashamed of our conduct.
Do you notice the nuance of difference in the object of our shame in these two verses? In Romans, Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. In Philippians, he does not want to be ashamed of himself. There is a slightly different Greek word used in the Romans text from the word used in Philippians. The word used in Romans has a meaning of being ashamed of something outside yourself. Hence, Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is outside himself.
Jesus used this same word in Mark 8:38 when he said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” If we are ashamed of Jesus, who is outside us, he will also be ashamed – same word – of us when he comes in glory.
Here is an example from the life of Steve Geil. He lived a life that was NOT ashamed of the Gospel. Once, Steve and I stood in a fast-food line near a soldier recently returned from Iraq. Within moments Steve was talking Gospel to this man. Steve was not ashamed of the Gospel, even with total strangers in a public place. Here is another example. In the late seventies, early eighties, Steve ran a bus ministry for his church. On Saturdays, he would go to a neighborhood and start knocking on doors. He explained who he was and asked if he could take these people’s children to church the next day. If the people agreed, Steve would pick up their children the next morning in the church bus. Every Sunday he brought a gaggle of kids to church. All because Steve was not ashamed of the Gospel.
The second nuance of the word ashamed in Philippians has to do with being ashamed of something we are or something we do. Paul is sitting in jail and does not know whether he is going to live or die. He is writing to the Philippians and explaining to them in the first chapter how it is a good thing he is in prison because it is serving to advance the gospel. He does not really know whether he will make it out of prison alive. Paul writes, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Here Paul does not want to be ashamed by something he does or something he is. He is concerned that Christ might NOT be honored in his life. But notice what the object of Paul’s potential shame is: it is himself. He does not want to be ashamed of his own behavior in regard to honoring Christ. Instead, he both expects—eagerly—and hopes that Christ will be honored in both his life and his death.
Whereas in Romans, Paul is not ashamed of something external, the gospel, here he does not want to be ashamed of something internal, his behavior. The same Greek word used in Philippians is used by John in 1 John 1:28. “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” John is exhorting his church to abide in Christ, so that they won’t be ashamed for their behavior if they don’t abide in him. Do you see the difference in the object of shame?
Here is another example from the life of my father-in-law. He died in his bed, while his wife gently wiped his faith with a cool cloth. His last words in this life were, “That feels good. Thank you, Jesus.” And then he stopped breathing. His last words in this life honored Christ. His prayer, our prayer was answered in that whether in life or in death, Christ was honored in his body. But there is more. I don’t know how many people attended the funeral, maybe 250? During the time of reflection, when people stood up to say some last words, there was a recurring theme. “I am here because Steve Geil knocked on my door and took my kids to Sunday school.” “I am here because when I told Steve I couldn’t come to church because I had to roof my house, he got out of his car and helped me finish the job so that I would not have an excuse. I came to church.” “I am a Christian because Steve Geil was not ashamed of the gospel.” “I am here because Steve Geil told me about Jesus.”
I believe that when Steve crossed over from this life to the life to come, his eager expectation and hope became a reality. In both his life and his death he was not ashamed, because he had lived a life and died a death that brought glory to Jesus Christ.