Shame has significant theological and practical importance. It is no mere “side effect” of human weakness and failings. In fact, Paul spends the entire letter of 2 Timothy attempting to preclude Timothy’s own growing sense of shame. From my survey of commentaries, it’s peculiar how little emphasis scholars give to this detail. Yet, this thread ties together much of the letter.
By examining Paul’s approach, we will be better equipped to strengthen others and overcome any fear and shame that lingers within our hearts.
Fear Leads to Shame
How does Paul address Timothy’s sense of shame? Paul uses 6 lines of argument, which make better sense after understanding the potential causes of Timothy’s being ashamed.
Paul in 2 Tim 1:7–8 writes,
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 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,
Fear leads to feelings of being ashamed. How so?
To understand this fear, we should discern why Timothy might feel ashamed. The immediate passage offers the most apparent reason. Like any normal person, Timothy does not want to suffer. Also, being associated with someone who suffers as a criminal will bring social shame upon oneself. As we’ll see, we can discern another cause of shame in the near context, a fear that such suffering might be for naught.
Paul’s Personal and Theological Appeals
The “therefore” in 1:8 indicates that Paul explains why Timothy should “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of [Paul] his prisoner.” In context, Paul gives 6 reasons Timothy should not be afraid, which fuels potential shame.
First, he reminds Timothy of who he is –– a man of sincere faith like those whom he loves and respects from his family line.
As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (1:4–7)
Second, Paul reminds Timothy of God’s grace and Christ’s work.
…share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. (1:8–12)
The assurance of God’s unilateral grace and of Christ’s ultimate victory (already foreseen in the resurrection) serve as a strong buttress against fear. With God as one’s Patron and Christ as King, no room exists for shame.
The gospel leads the third approach. Paul speaks to the hope he has that God will “guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (1:12). To what does Paul refer? The most likely options are either the gospel or Paul’s life. In fact, the two are entwined.
Either way, the basic thrust remains for our purposes. God is faithful and able to accomplish his purposes. Therefore, a person need not fear that one has wasted his life. God’s people will not be ashamed that God’s promises did not come true. (This line of thinking is akin to the frequent use of shame in the OT prophets.)
Fourth, he contrasts those who turned away from Paul with the example of Onesiphorus, highlighting the impact Onesiphorus had on Paul.
You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. (1:15–18)
This contrast ought to inspire Timothy to have courage. Likewise, he should scorn the fickleness of Phygelus and Hermogenes.
These four responses form a sandwich. Ideas #1, #4 are personalized appeals. Between them, #2, #3 are packed with dense theological truth. Interestingly, v. 18 also seems to echo #3 (“may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus”).
In 2 Timothy, shame is contrasted with suffering. Shame keeps one from suffering, which is the inevitable result of faithfulness to Christ. Whether my theology or testimony, Paul exalts the faithfulness of others to encourage Timothy to set his fear aside. By so doing, he will not be ashamed.
Chapter 2 gives us two more insights about to combat fear and shame in others and ourselves. They are as clever as they are significant. I’ll wait to explain those until the next post.