Recently, I heard the passage in 1 Timothy 2 v 11-12 being referred to as an ‘embarrassing passage’ by a Christian and I started to think more about this and if this was the reason why many people are either changing the meaning of it or ignoring it altogether. I started reflecting on the dread that I sometimes have in speaking about it myself. Was I embarrassed by God’s word too? Why is it embarrassing? Is the embarrassment we feel over certain passages of scripture showing us that we somehow need to override them with something more palatable, something that seems to fit more comfortably with our being and with the surrounding culture, or is the embarrassment misplaced/unnecessary?
Embarrassment over God’s word is not something new, I think, although it does seem that different things in it can become ‘difficult’ at different points throughout history. Embarrassment is something that brings shame or humiliation: the dictionary defines it as a ‘feeling of self-consciousness, shame or awkwardness’. God’s word can be awkward. Declaring something which is contrary or doesn’t fit easily into what we see happening around us. How easy it is, in general to say something that we know will get a crowd-pleasing response. But is this awkwardness regarding portions of scripture valid or is it because we are not yet fully surrendering ourselves to God and His ways, trusting in them and counting ourselves dead to the world?
Things in the bible can become embarrassing or awkward when up against a shifting and changing culture. Even the wonderful message of the gospel, can feel awkward when we are surrounded by unbelievers who have no concept of sin or their need of a saviour. A man dying over 2,000 years ago on a cross for the sins of the world can seem like foolish talk amidst a group of colleagues in the work place. It can feel so far removed from the daily grind of what we are ‘really up against’ or immersed in. Even Paul had to make a declaration that he was ‘not ashamed of the gospel’ despite it being a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, because he knew that ‘through the foolishness of the message preached’ it was ‘to save those who believe.’ (1 Corinthians 1:21)
Acknowledging the second coming of Christ might also feel embarrassing when we are with people who are planning out the next 30 years of their life with no expectation or thought that Jesus could return at any time. In fact, in certain situations it might even feel laughable to mention what the bible says on this subject. What will be the look on faces when we tell them we believe Jesus is returning to this earth? Or what about when we drop in a bit about the rapture? Will they think we’ve lost our marbles? One minute it might appear a sensible conversation is taking place, the next it might seem we’ve gone completely weird talking about an historical figure coming back to rule and to reign or believers being caught up to heaven. But the list doesn’t end there. The awkwardness goes on. The mention of sexual purity amidst friends at college who have no qualms about enjoying sex with their current boyfriend or girlfriend. The belief of homosexuality being an abomination in God’s eyes when laws in the country are being passed in favour of ‘gay’ marriage and the majority says with passionate and sincere hearts that everyone has the right to ‘marry’ whom they want. The message of forgiveness when someone tells you about the terrible way someone has treated them, relying on you to support and comfort them. The reality of hell being the place people go to if they reject Jesus, in a culture which lovingly declares, R.I.P to all that die, whether they have believed in God or not. The practice of a woman covering her head in prayer out of obedience to 1 Corinthians 11, in a climate where women have stopped covering because the church has decided it is no longer relevant after 100’s of years of practise because headship has been devalued by radical feminism. And along with all of these the message of women not teaching in the church – awkward – when the culture around you strongly advocates ‘equality’ where men are women are the same and there are no distinctions or differing roles anymore. Yes, so much of scripture, though lovingly taught and wisely used, can just simply feel…..well, out of place in our culture now.
The rubber hits the road for the believer when faced with shifting cultural values, because the basic problem is, the world is not seeking to please God or be obedient to His ways but to establish values that it thinks are important and which please humankind. Values in culture twist and turn this way and that, creating all kinds of newfangled ways of doing things; patterns that sometimes appear loving and sincere, fair and balanced, and even having a form of godliness, but usually the reality is, if we study more carefully, are in direct opposition to the word of God. The critical point is about lordship. Who is in charge and who are we following and honouring? For the sake of clarity, I am not talking about the following of rules and regulations in a religious and heartless kind of way but accepting God’s ways as perfect whilst reaching out lovingly and sincerely to believers and unbelievers alike.
The bible says that the world is at enmity with God and the devil is seeking in a myriad of ways, to overthrow or switch around God’s perfect ways; as he has been doing from the beginning of time: ‘did God really say?’. Spiritually, not much has really changed throughout history and culture except the continuing need to take courage as a follower of Christ; continue in faith, hope and love; love not your life unto death; and not be swayed by the ever changing patterns of the world. Hebrews chapter 11 v 32-40 reminds us of the tumultuous, hazardous and often harsh path that heroes of the faith have trodden before. However unfashionable God’s word might seem and however untrendy raising up His holy standard might appear, we pray for strength to do it because despite all we see happening around us we believe that God in His wisdom and knowledge has designed things in a way that He saw fit from the beginning of time. It most probably will clash head on with the standards society pushes, in its rebellion against God and His word. Praise God that by His Spirit, He can help us overcome our embarrassment and weakness towards His word which is ‘living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit’.
We can trust His divine wisdom and acknowledge that His ways are higher than ours in what he has set forth in His word. This will mean not overriding passages of scripture because of embarrassment and because they conflict with ever changing cultural standards, but pondering them in our heads and hearts and praying for understanding as to why God has set things the way He has in His word. As we wait upon God, He will bring revelation to His word and we will begin to see and understand the why. It will begin to make sense to us. God is not a follower after culture or trends, He is the leader, head over all creation; all knowing, all loving, all mysterious and all powerful, ruler of the entire universe, who acts with purpose and wisdom and who sets forth the way his creatures are to walk in for he has created them to walk thus. Therefore, let us follow in His wake without shame or fear, lest He be ashamed of us when we meet Him face to face. Let us not be blinkered by misleading connotations that society is seeking to enforce, but in prayer seek revelation as to why these biblical truths exist and live according to the revealed Word with courage to find the uniqueness of the higher paths.
Perhaps it is time for us to make a standing declaration of allegiance to God and His word, to speak into any area of our life where we have felt weak, embarrassed or awkward in the past, and say, in the strength of the Lord, ‘I am not ashamed………!’