By Tony Pan '24
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and
the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,
as it is my eager expectation and hope that
I will not be at all ashamed
(Philippians 1:15-18 NIV)
Rule #1: Do not talk about politics, money, and religion.
This rule has been deeply ingrained into my identity, trying to be the polite, perfect child at the dinner table with family and in the classroom with friends. It just made things simpler by avoiding these so-called controversial and touchy subjects. Yet, though we talk about politics in government class and money in economics, religion is still the odd one out. Ironically, no environment, except in the Church, seems like a place where it feels okay to mention the most important truth and foundation of my life.
But why? I ask myself this same question, after every moment that has felt like a missed opportunity to share Christ.
I had a late night conversation with friends about a Dungeons and Dragons quest, in which my friend was sent into the underworld to fetch his soul and also embarked on other bizarre adventures in the process. In the midst of our laughter, someone in my friend group blurted, “Does anyone believe in the afterlife, in Heaven or Hell?”
The environment for me immediately changed. I felt chills, sensing an uncomfortable conversation rising in the horizon. My lips wouldn’t move: somewhere Satan was saying, “shut up, just stay quiet.” And I obeyed that voice; I maybe murmured a “yup” and nodded my head to my friends, but what good was that?
The conversation continued and diverged away from religion. In a way, I felt relieved; but in another way, something was also pointing that this feeling of relief wasn’t right.
It struck me that I have been feeling ashamed of proclaiming the Word. Perhaps in a culture where freedom of religion is so heavily emphasized, this overt declaration of faith seems unnatural and overly imposing. Or I also don’t think I’m as qualified as a professional missionary or pastor to preach the Good News: “leave it to the pros,” as they say. Nevertheless, any justification is no excuse to be so ashamed of the cornerstone of my identity.
I’ve also realized that talking about the gospel strikes fear in my heart rather than joy, like a poison bound to make the conversation awkward if it continues deeper down the rabbit hole. Now that I’ve seen it manifested in a recent encounter, this fear seems so true and so sad: the greatest news in the world—God’s Son dying for the undeserving to give us eternal life—is too scary to share. Where is the joy in the gospel? Is this why I feel ashamed, because I never grasped how deep, how wide, how amazing His truth is to me?
Reflecting upon this, I prayed alone in my room one night, facing the window looking over the terrace and greens in front of my dorm where people were walking and talking, wondering why it was so difficult to mention God in a conversation to anyone out there. I prayed that God would show me how I could find joy in knowing Christ and serve Him with this life unashamed.
“...that I will NOT be at all ashamed” (Philippians 1:20).
It’s a difficult question, and God revealed the pieces of this puzzle to me through my friends at Brown Christian Fellowship (BCF).
I had a conversation with a fellow sister in Christ, Melissa. She’s a busy student, balancing her college work in the fall with her EMS commitments, and yet she is still always a volunteering spirit in Bible studies. We called each other recently about the importance of rejoicing in the gospel in the context of this verse in Philippians.
“It’s one thing to rejoice in His word when things are going well,” she started, “but it is another to rejoice in His word when struggles are mounting and things aren’t working out. It is in these situations where I either cling to my faith or begin to question God’s work in my life.”
“Do you have a struggle that comes to mind and it’s hard to rejoice in His word?” I asked.
“Well, in general when school isn’t going so hot, or when I’m fighting with parents, it’s actually easier to cling to faith. It’s those moments when my academics are looking good, or when I got a job--just those moments in my favor--that I find it hard to remember it was God’s work all along. Like when I got my EMT certification after 4 months of constant studying and hard work, it was difficult to realize it wasn’t my own achievement.”
“I think our true test of faith does not come when we struggle, but when we thrive,” she continued. “Philippians 1:19-20 emphasizes how important it is to trust God and praise him, no matter the situation, and that can be so hard to remember when everything is falling into place. It is in these moments where I momentarily forget that what I have is not due to my own doing, but God’s grace and influence in my life.”
“How can you rejoice knowing that after all of this work, the credit really isn’t yours?”
“If God was void in my life, I wouldn’t have ever been able to put in the hard work in the first place. My accomplishments without Him are nothing, so how can I not rejoice when all I do is possible because of Him?”
“Oftentimes, it’s emphasized that hard work brings results,” she added, “but as a child of God, I know that none of it is up to me and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I know I have a loving Father showering me with blessings despite my faults, and all my triumphs are thanks to His love.”
“This is why I rejoice,” she finished, “The gospel is a beautiful news.”
It was a deep conversation to digest. Later that night, I hopped on Zoom with another sister in Christ, Shirley. Like Melissa, she’s busy juggling remote school work in addition to her other commitments, yet she is still an active leader of the Brown Christian Fellowship. I brought up the same passage from Philippians and asked, “What does it mean to serve unashamed?”
“In an environment where I am often told to serve myself,” she begins, “I find that ‘to serve Christ unashamed’ at least partially means that ‘to serve others unashamed,’ for the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). Serving others does not imply being less than or below others (John 13:14-17). Rather, there is great honor in giving up one’s desires to serve another’s.”
Shirley explained how it was difficult to give up her own desires to serve someone else, and brought up the example of obeying her parents. When she was younger, she would do whatever she wanted, even if it went against her parents’ wishes; but as she got older and meditated upon the Bible, she realized that God’s command for her was to obey her parents. Even when she didn’t agree with her parents or simply didn’t feel like doing what they asked, she would still do it anyway to honor and serve them. Especially in small things like washing the dishes: while it’s something so simple, it’s a way of loving her parents as they are getting older. And in this, she was able to grow in love toward her parents, teaching her to empathize with and care about them more, and to make compromises to make sure she could be there for her parents when needed.
“So have these experiences with your parents changed how you view serving others to rejoice and be unashamed?” I followed.
“For many, it is brave to fight for what one wants,” she responded, “but is it not more courageous to give up one’s wants to serve those in need? Not only those in need, or the good and gentle, but even the unjust (1 Peter 2:13-23), the way that Jesus did in His life. Even when wives are called to serve their husbands (Ephesians 5:22), I know that if I were called to marriage, God would provide me with a husband worth serving and equip me with the means to serve for His glory. I can rest assured that this man would serve me as well, the way Christ and the church serve each other (Ephesians 5:23-30). If I were called to singleness, I can live the rest of my life serving the perfect person of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:34).
“This service would not come from a personal desire to satisfy others’ needs before my own,” she explained,“ but rather from the love that God provides to look beyond my immediate desires and follow His commands. In other words, growing in love, I felt more joy in serving Christ; these acts of serving aren’t compelled or forced because it now comes from an actual desire.
“I am not ashamed of God’s call to serve because He has opened my eyes to the beauty and honor in putting another’s, and ultimately God’s, desires and needs before me.”
“I ask for prayers to have a heart of service,” she concluded, “I am not ashamed of God’s call to serve others.”
I thank Melissa and Shirley for their insights. Yet, it’s difficult to synthesize everything together. While I know in theory that the gospel should be the most joyous news to ever be proclaimed and that is why I should always be unashamed to preach it, there is a disconnect between knowing it and living it. Deep inside, in the presence of so many older and more mature brothers and sisters in Christ, I would feel so unqualified to talk about the gospel, scared and embarrassed to come across as an amateur to Christianity. But that’s not how God sees His children, and I’m reminded of the experience I had as a shy eighth grader learning to share the gospel.
That summer, I stood in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall, equipped with a handful of pamphlets and a memorized script to talk about the gospel. I was part of the Evangelical Tract of a summer camp, walking around center city locations to talk about Christianity. But all around me, cars inched slowly in traffic while people flooded the sidewalks; the air was filled with shouts and car horn blasts—a world that seemed too busy to hear about Jesus.
There was a middle-aged man sitting underneath a statue, staring at the nonstop environment around him, eating a sandwich he had just bought from a street vendor. I went and sat next to him.
“Good afternoon, sir,” is how my script started, “would you have time to talk with me about God?” He was one of the few individuals that happily agreed.
I went through the five-minute routine I had practiced throughout the first few days of camp, and ended with a question: “Given God’s Love for humans, how do you now view Christianity?”
He answered, “It’s still hard for me to accept and understand this religion.”
“Because… how can a cross, one of the cruelest torture devices ever in history, be a symbol of Christianity… if God is Love? And how could He possibly send His Son to die? Is this what a loving Father would do? How could He condemn people to Hell if He is so loving?”
It was a great question, and it got our conversation flowing beyond the five minutes I prepared for. As a rising eighth grader, I knew I wasn’t the most qualified person to talk about Christianity to a stranger on the streets of Philadelphia. I felt the temptation to say, “Good question, why don’t you just go to church one Sunday to ask a pastor?” Or a simple “I don’t know” would have done the trick to end the conversation. But instead, our conversation actually went on for two hours; it ventured from how I personally believe God has impacted my life to how Christianity is symbolized in the Matrix, and everything in between.
It was a moment of joy. And it wasn’t awkward at all, because it really wasn’t me talking about Christ in those two hours. While I remember constantly feeling an urge to retreat away from a conversation that should have felt extremely uncomfortable, I also found it easy to talk and empathize with a total stranger—because it really wasn’t me and my own works. As Shirley reminded me, God’s love flowing through us gives us joy in serving with true desire.
Why should I be ashamed in that?
Illustration by Melanie Kim '23