This article first appeared in a post at The Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship.
We like to hide.
From playing peek-a-boo as an infant to hide-and-seek as a child. From that game the child learns there is a reward for being hidden. As adolescents and teenagers, more hiding ensues. If the teen is a male, he learns to hide and suppress his emotions — particularly his fears and sorrows. If the teen is a female, she will learn that there is reward for hiding desires and longings (particularly in relationships). As she moves into adulthood that practice is rewarded with the label of “mysterious” — and so she finds value in hiding her true character.
As an adult, we become skilled in hiding weaknesses and worries. Strength is seen in hiding or ignoring inner thoughts, desires, finances, and far more intimate truths from close friends and even spouses. And most (worst) of all, his sins are hidden from virtually everyone. The “harmless” food that gets eaten in secret, secret purchases made online, and inappropriate websites visited, to corrupt and perverse thoughts that he shares with no one. These are shameful actions and they are hidden from everyone but him.
If they are hidden, are these things so bad? If they are secret and involve no one else or if they are only in the mind of the man can’t they be indulged with impunity?
Yes, they are bad (evil, in fact). And yes, they do impugn him. He is guilty, whether anyone else sees it or not.
Paul’s Hidden Life of Shame
It is this secret life that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 4. In verse two he writes, “but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor 4:2).
After Paul’s conversion, Paul renounced his previously shameful life. He disowned, forbad, and repudiated the way he used to live (1 Tim 1:13). Those things that were a source of pride for Paul prior to his conversion (Phil 3:6) he saw as shameful after his conversion. Elsewhere Paul parallels this by talking about unbelieving enemies in virtually identical terms. These unbelievers delight in carnal desires, rejoice in shameful actions, and are worldly in their thinking. That is akin to the hidden and shameful life Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul rejected all that and had nothing to do with any such sins any longer. Christ was his Lord and Paul was captivated by Christ so shameful actions and lifestyles were of no interest to him.
But that’s not what some of his opponents in Corinth were thinking. Evidently there were whispers about Paul claiming that he had secret sins and that he was shaming the name of Christ. Those whispered accusations, like they always are, were difficult to answer and correct. Paul’s reputation was being damaged by the supposition of a hidden life of ungodliness.
Paul’s answer: “We have renounced the things hidden because of shame.” He is probably using “we” as an editorial “we” to refer to himself. And the repudiation of hidden, shameful vices was once and for all. He had been a blasphemer. No more. He had been an accuser of believers. No more. He had been a persecutor. No more. In fact, there was nothing anyone could find about Paul that would tarnish his reputation. He was what he said he was. He practiced the same standard that he called the churches under his charge to practice. He had been a hypocrite. But that changed when Christ saved and transformed him.
Paul’s life was upheld by the common morality of all men. Not only was his own conscience clear and did not condemn him of any sin, but no other man’s correct conscience could convict him either.
Now by this Paul does not mean he is sinless; Romans 7 is clear that he still wrestles with sin and at times fails to meet his godly desires (see vv. 14-25), and elsewhere he identifies himself as the foremost sinner (1 Tim 1:15). No, Paul is not claiming perfection. What he is claiming is that there is nothing hidden and nothing untoward and nothing reproachful. We can safely assert that when Paul sinned he quickly confessed it to the Lord and every affected party. When he sinned, he was quick to expose it himself and quick to confess it and quick to reconcile. And because he was quick to confess, there was no remaining sin that someone might accuse him of hiding. There was no hidden life.
The Counselor’s Hidden Life of Shame
Confession is pertinent to us as counselors and disciplers. From childhood we’ve been trained to hide. And worst of all, we’ve been trained to hide anything that might bring shame to us and damage our prideful assertions of our good character. From Paul’s example we learn to live our lives in the open. Scripture should transform our lives before we attempt to use it to change others. We should possess consistent lives of faithfulness to our Lord. And when we sin, we should be quick to confess and repent.
There are many attributes that make a good and godly counselor. Perhaps near the top of the list is this qualification: He has no hidden life of shame. His effectiveness is not measured in what he says or writes as much as by how he lives. He is true to his Lord. Any closet of his life (literal or figurative) can be opened and examined and nothing shameful will be found. Any spoken or written word can be revealed and his character will be exonerated. All his desires and longings could be revealed — and without shame. He is not hiding anything. He has nothing to cover up. Any facet of his life could be exposed and he would not fear or be ashamed. And best of all, the name of his Savior would not be shamed.
This is our test this day. As we evaluate our lives — our words, desires, and actions — is there anything shameful or has it all been repudiated? Are we walking in integrity in even the innermost and hidden parts of our beings? How we answer those questions will reveal our effectiveness as counselors.