From the Shame of Vainglory to Christ’s Glory

From the Shame of Vainglory to Christ’s Glory April 17, 2019

This is the second post in a series by guest contributer Mikko Sivonen. When researching for my upcoming book Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes, I stumbled upon a fantastic dissertation by Mikko Sivonen titled “The Doxa Motif in Paul: A Narrative Approach to the Vindication of the Glory of God through Christ.” He serves with the IMB in Finland. His ThD in New Testament is from the University of Helsinki. He teaches and trains pastors and church planters in biblical studies at Agricola Theological Institute (www.ati.fi). He and his wife have 4 children.


Credit: Public Domain

My previous post highlighted the importance of the glory motif in Paul’s narrative. The Last Adam, Israel’s Messiah, accurately displays God’s glory. His perfect representation of God and man vindicates God’s glory. As a result, Christ calls his followers to forsake their own shame and obtain his glory.

In the following, I briefly explore a few ways that believers are called to glorify God through Christ in Paul’s narrative.

From the Glory of Self to the Glory of Christ

Paul calls believers not to do anything “from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3; cf. Gal. 5:26).

“Conceit” comes from the Greek word meaning “empty glory” (keno doxia). The old Adamic way of life, where one is occupied with exalting oneself at the expense of others, is the fruit of idolatry and fallenness. Christ redeems people from idolatry. His humiliation, obedience, death, and exaltation vindicate God’s glory and places him in a position worthy of worship (Phil 2:6-10; cf. Isa 45:22-25).

Paul not only calls believers to honor Christ over themselves; they are to honor others over themselves.

Seeking one’s own glory is a distinctive of the first-century Mediterranean world, wherein people sought “honor as a preeminently public commodity.”[1] For example, emperor worship reflects this vainglorious mindset. Yet, Paul calls his followers to honor Christ over Caesar.

Additionally, Paul uses glory and shame to contrast the destiny of Christ-believers with that of his opponents (Phil 3:17-21). While the destiny of Paul and his followers is participation in God’s glory, his opponent’s destiny is a shame. Rejecting Christ brings his opponents everlasting shame. By contrast, to obtain Christ’s glory, one must be humble, giving up one’s own rights in light of Christ.

This is what it means to be glorified: to be transformed into the likeness of his body of glory. Not to lose material humanness but to gain Christ’s character of humility and glory.

From Sexual Shame to Marital Honor

Glory shapes Paul’s restored sexual ethics. His vision seems to reflect the notion of sexuality in Genesis 1-3 (cf. Rom 1:21-28; 1 Cor 6:12-20; 11:3-11).

For Paul, sexual activity between members of the same sex is a consequence of idolatry. He argues from the Genesis narrative, claiming that such behavior does not glorify God (Rom 1:21-28). Paul also warns believers not to practice porneia because sexual engagement is patterned after the creational narrative. Furthermore, it reflects the unity of Christ and the church for the sake of God’s glory.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul engages the issue of sexuality in relation to doxa [glory]. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul applies the creational sexual ethic to his contemporary culture. He appeals to the glory of God to motivate his audience to have appropriate sexual relationships. So, the phrase “glorify God in your body”, in context, primarily concerns your sex life.

Later in 1 Corinthians 11, we again see Paul’s rhetoric of shame and honor. He emphasizes the importance of defining and portraying oneself as husband and woman in public worship. Just as uncovered hair brings shames on a woman’s head (1 Cor 11:5), so too is it shameful to shave her head (1 Cor 11:6). When a man covers his head, he too brings shameful on his head (1 Cor 11:4). Paul asks rhetorically: does not nature itself teach that long hair is dishonoring (1 Cor 11:14)?

Avoiding the appearance of shame in light of the social convention is important to Paul. However, honor and shame before God and Christ ultimately govern this passage. The lack of head covering shames a woman’s husband in the public worship setting because it is sexually suggestive, even if unintentional. What makes hairstyle a serious issue is not sexuality. Rather, Paul leads the readers to a more fundamental consideration:

what attire ultimately honors Christ?

Paul wants the physical attire of believers to reflect the creational order; namely, the doxa of maleness and femaleness inherent to being made in God’s image. For Paul, equality does not negate a distinction between the sexes, which are rooted in creation (1 Cor 11:11-12). This difference is foundational for Paul’s ethical teaching concerning corporate worship in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Indeed, allowing gender distinctions to remain unclear goes against the creative order whereby humankind reflects the doxa of God. Therefore, Paul highlights the importance of “gender differentiation” in Corinthians’ worship setting.

From a Focus on Self to Being Faithful in Service

In Romans 1:17, Paul famously states, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone believes.” In 2 Corinthians, he calls Titus and his company “the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 8:23). They are pagan-background messengers sent from churches that bring a love offering to Jerusalem believers.

They are called the doxa of Christ because of their Christ-like character and attitude. Their faithful labor alongside Paul reveals their transformation such that they now reflect Christ’s glory. This delegation displays the attitude of Christ and offers an example to other believers. Their offering highlights the importance of unity between Jews and Gentile believers, for it demonstrates the glory of God.

The message of Christ’s glory has shaped their lives.

From Current Suffering to Future Glory

Paul invokes Christ-believers to conform to the image and doxa of Christ in their present lives. This conformity takes place through suffering. Identification with Christ’s glory is also identification with his suffering, and thus functions as a motivation in the midst of persecution.

“Provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17). Of course, the suffering of Christ’s followers is not substitutionary; rather, believers’ suffering is transformative and preparatory for the ultimate glorification.

Summary

The vindication of God’s glory through Christ has significant implications for Christ’s followers. In this post, I have briefly explored four of them.

First, Paul calls Christ-followers away from self-exaltation and the worship of cultural icons to glorify Christ. This requires humility.

Second, Christ-believers honor the Lord when their sexual activity remains within marriage, the faithful male-female covenant relationship established at creation.

Third, when the message of Christ’s glory thoroughly shapes the believers’ lives, they are called “the glory of Christ.” This transformation moves them away from passive self-focus. Instead, they become a missional, other-centered, and service-oriented community of believers.

Finally, present suffering prepares and transforms believers into future glory.


[1] Joseph Hellermann, Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Cristi as Cursus (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2005), 35.

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