Have you ever had the dream where you were up in front of a crowd giving a speech, only to realize at some point that you were totally naked? It’s difficult to think of something more embarrassing than this. Many people won’t even be caught dead wearing a bathing suit in public! Fewer still are comfortable being totally naked, even with their spouse. Even models don’t like it when photos are released of them without first having been touched up. We’re not comfortable in our own skin.
Now contrast this with these words from Genesis 2: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed,” (Gen 2:25). Could you even imagine what it would be like to be naked and not ashamed? To be naked is to be entirely vulnerable. When you’re exposed, there’s nothing to hide. We’re not comfortable in our own skin. Ashamed of our physical appearance—among other things—we are constantly trying to cover stuff up.
This shame is a result of the fall into sin: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths,” (Gen 3:7). Genesis shows us some startling before and after photos of Adam and Eve. In the before photo, Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. After the Fall, they were filled with shame to the point of trying to cover themselves up with fig leaves!
From this point forward, the Old Adam has become obsessed with covering things up and keeping secrets. Adam and Eve were no longer comfortable being completely exposed to and vulnerable with one another. Consequently, their marriage suffered, as did every other relationship they had. Somewhere along the line, Adam failed to catechize Cain in the importance of a commandment as basic as, “you shall not murder.” God’s Word remained buried deep somewhere within Adam’s heart.
Cain’s question to Yahweh reveals the extent to which sin damages our relationships: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This question betrays a very wrong assumption: that we are not our brother’s keeper. Instead, like Cain, we are too busy trying to cover up our sin—sin that causes harm to our neighbor—to attend to their needs.
But it’s not only your relationship with friends and family that suffer from your sin. Most of all, your relationship with God suffers. As David confessed in Psalm 51 after his adultery with Bathsheba, “Against you, you only, have I sinned,” (v. 4). You might think Uriah’s family might beg to differ. How can David say, “Against you [God] only have I sinned”, when his sin involved the murder of one of his soldiers? Because it was God’s Law that he broke. God says, “you shall not murder,” (Exodus 20:13). Every sin is first and foremost committed against God. Every sin results in personal shame and damages your relationship with God and those around you.
Consider David’s words in Psalm 32: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away,” (Psalm 32:3). To keep guilt hidden will cause a of form of spiritual osteoporosis. To conceal guilt will eat away at you. It damages every relationship you have.
Let’s say you break the eighth commandment, “you shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” One very common way to break this commandment is by speaking badly about a person to someone else. Imagine somebody said or did something to upset you (it shouldn’t be that hard). But instead of doing the godly thing and trying to understand their words or actions in the “kindest possible way” (Small Catechism, 8th commandment), we get angry. Rather than do what Jesus says and confront our neighbor with the problem and try to work it out one on one first (Matt 18), we go around and gossip about it with others. We hide our anger from the people we should reveal it to, and reveal it to those from whom it ought to be kept hidden.
According to the 8th commandment, gossip is saying or doing anything that could hurt your neighbor’s reputation. This means gossip isn’t just about spreading rumors. Probably most of the time, the gossip involves statements of fact. Suppose somebody you know stole something from you. To share that information with anybody but that person (and possibly the appropriate law enforcement agencies) is gossip. If someone else were to get wind of your misfortune and ask you about it, the Christ-like thing to do would be to try to play it down as a misunderstanding, even if you’re convinced that it’s not. Gossip includes anything that damages your neighbor’s reputation.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle sin that’s been committed against you. To discuss it with other people is the wrong way. The right way is to confront the person (where possible), and if that doesn’t work, telling the appropriate authorities. But confrontation is never fun or easy, and we’d much rather keep things covered up, like Adam and Eve, or like David, before his confession (Psalm 51 & 32). But to lovingly confront sin, including the things people have done to hurt you or make you angry, is what every Christian is obligated to do according to the 8th commandment. To let anger go unresolved is to withhold forgiveness from your neighbor and to deny them the opportunity to forgive you, even if they “started it.” Christians are never permitted to gossip or hold grudges. Those who belong to Christ are obligated to do everything in their power to reconcile. How many times should you forgive? Not once less than Christ would forgive you.
To keep sin bottled up will, in the words of Psalm 32, eat away at your bones (Psalm 32:3), whether it’s your own sin or someone else’s sin against you. Though confession goes against every instinct of the Old Adam, it is necessary. Reconciliation is impossible without confession. It might be you confessing your own sin, or it might be confessing how someone else’s words or actions have hurt you. In either case, relationships can only suffer where sin goes unresolved. Since you are your brother’s keeper, and since Christ is your Lord, you have an obligation to, as Romans 12:18 says, “live peaceably with all, so far as it depends on you.”
To hold grudges is the opposite of walking in the paths of righteousness (Psa 23:5). In Matthew 5 Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matt 5:16). To hold on to anger is to drag God’s name through the mud; it’s to live in darkness. It brings shame to God. As a Christian, you are to bear Christ’s love to the world. To live with unresolved conflict is to deny others the very forgiveness for which Christ died.
You have brought shame to your Lord, but Jesus doesn’t leave you in your shame. The shame that began with the nakedness of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 was carried to the cross by Jesus, who had nothing to hide or be ashamed of. His nakedness is what makes it possible for God to take your shame away. Hear how shamefully He was treated:
“And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him,” (Mark 15:16—20).
After beating Him, they stripped Him of the purple cloak. They left it on just long enough for the blood of His open wounds to dry on the fabric. Then they tore it off, re-opening the wounds and exposing His nakedness. They put His own clothes back on him for a time, again giving the blood a chance to soak in to the fabric and to dry. And again, they stripped Him naked and cast lots to see who would get what garment (Mark 15:24). And then, beaten, bloody, and naked, they crucified Him.
All of this your Lord did for you that you might be joined with Him through Baptism into His death and resurrection, that your shame might be covered up with the royal robe of His blood (LSB #438, verse 4). In Christ, you have nothing to be ashamed of, for in Holy Baptism, you have been clothed in Christ (Gal 3:27; Rev 7:14).
Since then you belong to Him, you must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). In the words of “Jesus, I Will Ponder Now” (LSB, 440): “Grant that I Your passion view with repentant grieving. Let me not bring shame to You by unholy living. How could I refuse to shun every sinful pleasure, since for me God’s only Son suffered without measure?”
Soli Deo Gloria
+ Rev. Eric Andersen
Wednesday of Oculi, 2013
Visit our website at http://faithjohnstown.com/
Find us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/faithjohnstown