Growing up in the church, I would hear Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 (“I am not ashamed of the gospel”) quite often. This verse at times was used as a sort of tool to guilt-trip congregants who didn’t prefer sharing their faith. It was a tactic that really worked (at least for me).
I have to admit that I still really don’t like sharing my faith. I am an introvert (I like keeping to myself) and I also overreact to hyper-evangelism by going in the opposite direction. But what humbles me is when I realize the context in which Paul first wrote these words “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
Paul wrote in a time when the symbol of the cross was a word not to be uttered in the public sphere; it was a dirty word. No one spoke about it at table or they might lose their lunch. And no one certainly sang about it. Imagine communally singing about the electric chair, or a noose. To sing about the cross would be even more strange. This all means that Paul had every reason to be ashamed of the cross.
The Galatian believers wanted to move away from the cross (thus Paul’s reason for writing Galatians), and can we really blame them? They lived in a time when “crucified Messiah” was an oxymoron.
This stands in high contrast to how the cross is viewed today. It has long become domesticated, sanitized, with any memory of its stigma wiped away. We pierce crosses into our ears, wear them around our necks, tattoo them onto our skin, build them into our sanctuaries, have them on our church logos. The cross is no longer a derogatory symbol even in secular society. Thus the shock-value of Paul’s words is totally lost on us.
Today in America it seems that we have a church around every corner; Christianity is not at all a minority group. We have Christian books, Christian music, Christian conventions, and more. It is not in such a context that Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel;” it is rather in a day when Christians were the persecuted minority, and when Christianity and its message was a complete laughingstock, given absolutely zero credence. Knowing this should humble any Christian in the West (where Christians are not persecuted) the next time we are ashamed of Jesus and his message.