Could Paul Have Been Ashamed of the Gospel?

Could Paul Have Been Ashamed of the Gospel?

The Gospel is not something for us to be ashamed of, whatever shame the world may heap upon it, because by faith we can see God’s power at work in it to bring new birth and sanctification. Many today will try to dress up the Gospel in modern thinking to suit contemporary tastes. But we don’t need to exercise all our energy trying to create the right kind of context for the Gospel or trying to make the Gospel look a little better. What we need is confidence in the power of the Gospel itself and the God to whom it draws us.

At the beginning of his correspondence to the Roman church, in Romans 1:16, Paul says something that is surprising in its implications: “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

Paul the apostle, ashamed of the Gospel? It hardly seems possible! In fact, many preachers and commentators will say that what Paul means is “I’m passionately excited about the Gospel,” with the same understatement with which John Lennon might have been able to say, “I’ve written a song or two.” Could such a man as Paul really have faced the temptation of being ashamed of the Gospel?

But we shouldn’t treat Paul like an angel among men, free from the temptations that assail us. The reason Paul denied feeling ashamed of the Gospel is because shame was a real possibility he faced. And we face it too.

The Bold Apostle, a Timid Man

Paul knew what it was to be fearful. Indeed, he describes his entry into Corinth like this: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).

Paul probably didn’t get up in the morning, look at himself in the mirror, and say, “Corinth, here I come! I’m sure you can’t wait to see me and to hear from me.” No, his attitude might have been something closer to “I don’t know if I can do this.” He may have thought about his retreat from Damascus (Acts 9:23–25), or about his years of silence (Gal. 1:16–17), or his beatings and imprisonments and shipwrecks (2 Cor. 11:21–27). Paul had much to look back on with fear from a human perspective.

Alongside his own background was Paul’s keen awareness of what the Gospel was to outsiders: “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23), a dangerous superstition to be mocked and persecuted rather than a serious idea to consider. Whether to be ashamed of the Gospel was a real question because people really treated it as something shameful.

Yet in God’s eyes, things are different. Far from being shameful, the Gospel, Paul wrote elsewhere, is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

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