The Honor of Dishonor

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.- Acts 5:41-42

I was tickled by the verses above, when I got to them in my morning Bible reading time earlier this month.  If you're not familiar with the book of Acts, let me set the scene.  Jesus, before ascending, tells His followers that they will speak of Him all throughout the city, into the outlying suburbs, and to all the nations.  It turns out this doesn't yet mean they will go to all those places, but rather than all those people will come to them: at Pentecost, Jews from many nations are in town to celebrate, the Holy Spirit falls upon them, Peter speaks of Jesus, many believe, and God adds to this community daily.  Jesus' original followers develop a huge following themselves, and the religious leaders of the day, jealous and fearful, throw them into jail, only to have them miraculous freed from the jail.  Hauled back in to the authorities, they are sternly warned not to speak of Jesus, to which they joyously reply they prefer to take their orders from God and not man.

At this point, they are released, and that's when we get to the verses above.  I'm intrigued at their source of happiness.  It is not, "Thank God we're free."  It is not even "Thank God we've had so much success in our preaching and teaching" or even "Thank God we can preach and teach some more."  It is "Thank God we are considered worthy to suffer shame."

Shame is something we inherently seek to avoid.  For many of us, it is a defining, even debilitating presence.  Who among us is not afraid of shame, let alone thankful to God for it?  And yet shame is the source of Jesus' followers' rejoicing.

Paradoxically, there is honor in dishonor.  If, for His Name, we are dishonored by man, it is to be considered that we are honored by God.  And to be honored by God is cause for rejoicing.  The bad feeling of being dishonored by man is swallowed up by the joy of being honored by God.

Of course, Jesus Himself is Exhibit A of this profound logic.  He was greatly dishonored by man - wrongly accused, betrayed, abandoned, condemned, spat on, and executed in the most shameful and grotesque way possible.  He was greatly honored by God - given a place at the right hand of the throne of God, given the Name that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess as Lord.

Importantly, the dishonor isn't unrelated to the honor.  It's not like "you were dishonored, so as compensation you will be honored" or "you survived dishonoring, so you're rewarding with honoring."  No, it's "the honoring is in the dishonoring." The rejoicing of Jesus' followers comes from a realization that they are considered worthy to be a little like the One they are following.  And so they are not fazed by the shame of man.  It is not the necessary evil they must gut through to get to the good stuff.  Rather, it is the very thing they are most thankful for, more than being freed from jail and more than experiencing success in ministry. 

It is not hard to feel shame as a Christian in modern times.  Much of it is justified, for we have a horrible track record when it comes to representing our Lord and Savior, and many accusations of hatred and arrogance and hypocrisy are all too true.  Yet our bad behavior does not negate the loveliness and relevance of the One we seek to represent in this world.  If we actively affiliate with Him, we may very well experience the shame of many, who are cynical or dismissive or angry towards Christians and Christ.  If we do, may we also rejoice, like Jesus' followers did, for the same reasons they did, and may we also be like them in continuing to teach and preach Jesus. 

PS Photo credit to Learning in Los Angeles, who also blogged about these verses, concluding with "No one rejoices after flogging. You try to not bleed to death after being flogged. OMG disciples, how do you do it?"  Indeed.

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