As followers of Jesus, we should never give people a reason to criticize us, but we shouldn’t compromise our commitment to Jesus in order to avoid criticism either. We should not be ashamed to be associated with Jesus.
Jesus told his first followers: “Whoever is ashamed of me and my message; I also will be ashamed of him.” (Luke 9)
Today, I was reading Paul’s second letter to Timothy where he pleads with Timothy to not be ashamed of the negative stigma that may come with being loyal to Jesus. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:8:
"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God."
Now, we have to put ourselves into this scene and in this story to really understand what Paul is saying here because the context is so different from what we have grown up experiencing here in our own country where following Jesus is not viewed as an offensive insult to the president or an unpatriotic act of defiance.
So here’s the scene: Paul is once again in prison for proclaiming the message of Jesus. But for Paul, being criticized, persecuted and even put in prison has just always been part of the deal. For Paul, suffering for proclaiming the message of Jesus is just normal and expected. And so that’s what he’s reminding Timothy — that suffering shouldn’t shock him.
In Paul’s mind this kind of suffering is closely connected to Jesus’ own suffering. In Paul’s mind, if Jesus experienced the shame, humiliation and execution of the cross then his followers shouldn’t be afraid or surprised if they experience similar suffering for the sake of Jesus and his message.
Now, again, this is hard for many of us to understand because this is just not our experience (and how thankful should we be that it’s not!?). But we can relate to what he’s telling Timothy here about not being ashamed.
Paul points out that there is obviously a negative stigma in Roman society to being associated with Jesus. And the same thing is true for us today in our society and even in this game. You’re not going to be persecuted or put in prison for it here, but people are going to put a negative label on you the more you associate yourself with Jesus or being a “chapel guy”.
And so Paul’s words here to Timothy are just as true for us today. He tells Timothy to not avoid the unwarranted humiliation that comes from being associated with Jesus. He tells Timothy to endure all the humiliation and to share in suffering for the sake of Jesus and his message to the world. And again, he reminds Timothy of the power of God that is available to him and that is able to help him embrace this life of loyalty to Jesus.
Paul is pleading with Timothy to not compromise his loyalty to Jesus by trying to avoid the negative label that might come with being a follower of Jesus.
And this is a temptation that we still face today.
Many people try to say that their faith is personal or a private thing and that they don’t want to be pushy with their beliefs or something like that. It sounds humble and comes across as respectful, but lets just be honest, many of us keep our faith in Jesus to ourselves because we don’t want to get labeled with any of the negative labels that people put on Christians.
Jesus was willing to be crucified for us, but many of us are not even willing to be criticized for him.
Paul reminds Timothy that God has given him the gift of his Spirit that now dwells within him, and it is a Spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-discipline.
We have this same Spirit dwelling within us. It is God’s Spirit that leads us into becoming more and more like Jesus himself. And Jesus was not a man of fear nor was he ashamed of his life and his message.
And so lets remember what Jesus has done for us and reciprocate that kind of love with a loyalty to him that is willing to be criticized and mocked and even persecuted if that’s what it comes to.