Several weeks ago, at the conclusion of a sermon I was listening to on-line, the pastor closed his prayer with a phrase “and let us not bring shame on the name of Christ.” Because the sermon was about the crucifixion – an experience that was all about shame and humiliation—he wasn’t trying to accuse his church members of something. I believe it was a way for him to make clear, if we’re not careful and attentive, how we conduct ourselves as Christ-followers has the potential for bringing shame on the name of Christ.
His words hit me hard. That phrase has continued to stick with me. Seldom has a day gone by when I don’t think of that phrase and wonder what it is that might bring shame on the name of Christ. How do we define that concept in such a way that we avoid legalism and uphold free will? How do we put parameters on the idea and still understand that culture can be a big influence when it comes to behavior, language, even thought patterns?
Is having a “cold one” with my neighbor on the back deck sowing seeds of shame? Is enjoying a not-so-family-rated movie shameful to the name? Is reading the wrong Bible translation, using “hell” to punctuate a sentence, or having dinner in the restaurant lounge and not the main dining area an issue? It may very well depend on who’s asking or who’s observing. Naturally, there is the issue of offending a brother or sister simply because what they see as “sin” and what I see as “sin” is different (Rom 14). I should respect that. But I believe there may be more to it than that.
Jesus is clear that it’s not what goes in to a person that defiles them, but what issues from the heart. In setting parameters for that he speaks of moral actions. When he speaks of money, he is clear that we cannot serve both the god of money and the God of the universe. He makes no bones about the fact that where are priorities are is indicative of where our heart is. For us to think otherwise is, perhaps, to bring shame on the name of Christ.
When Jesus speaks of religious behavior, he hesitates not one bit in helping people see it’s mercy that matters not “sacrifice.” We may be at church every time the doors are open, but if we aren’t showing mercy, love, forgiveness and interest in the needs of those not only around us but closest to us, then perhaps we bring shame on his name.
The quintessential description of how to live and avoid shaming the name of Christ is laid out in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In that teaching moment Jesus doesn’t use fancy words of theology or doxology, he sets the message in front of the hearers clearly and precisely. The emphasis, through the use of imperatives, is not a “try this and see what you think” it’s “do this and you will be blessed.” His teaching challenges the heart. He stretches the mind. His words are soaked in wisdom. He speaks as “one having authority.” As Scot McKnight puts it in his commentary on the Sermon, Jesus shows us how to live effectively in God’s world in God’s way.
There’s the rub my friend; living in God’s world in God’s way. To do otherwise is to bring shame on the name of our Lord. If we think it is not serious business, just read the words Jesus spoke as he closed the Sermon on the Mount:
Mat 7:24-27 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell–and great was its fall!”