Study the Bible together using the “honor and shame” lens

What is a powerful relationship building activity
cross-cultural partners from the east and west?
Studying the Bible together using the lens of ‘honor and shame.’

When you explore the value of honor and shame in the Bible, you will see a prevalent cultural and theological theme. Words like … honor … glory … name … ashamed … exalted … rivalry … boasting … these words and the stories which relate to them—all relate to the ‘honor and shame’ worldview of the cultures of the Bible.

When I was in the Middle East in May 2009, I shared in a Bible study with a group of mostly first-generation believers from a Muslim background who were part of church deeply involved with Mission ONE’s cross-cultural ministry partner there. Our study was in the book of Philippians. It was a nourishing time in the Word of God together.

Arabs studying
Arab men in a small group studying the book of Philippians through the lens of ‘honor and shame.’ There is something very special about learning together that builds a cross-cultural partnership.

Here’s how we did this:

  1. We read and meditated beforehand. In the three-month period before going to the Middle East, I read through Philippians several times. In addition, I read through several other letters of Paul, and I underlined in my Bible the words and verses that relate to honor and shame. This practice was extremely helpful in helping me see the commonness of the theme in Paul’s writings.
  2. We agreed to a one-day study. Our ministry partner in the Middle East had asked me to lead a Bible-teaching event or seminar during my upcoming visit. I suggested that we do a study in the book of Philippians through the lens of honor and shame. He agreed. I also suggested to him that he share this with the church family and that they begin reading through Philippians on their own. Many did so.
  3. I asked the pastor to provide background teaching on the book of Philippians. The pastor accomplished this by asking one of the church members to do this. It was empowering to the church member (who was relatively young in the faith)—and provided the background teaching that helped everyone have a proper context for the book. To make sure this was done appropriately, I suggested a list of questions that should be answered dealing with history, geography and significance of the city of Philippi.
  4. I taught Philippians chapter 1 through the honor and shame lens. I began by teaching through Philippians 1 verse by verse. This showed to everyone the surprising but clear—sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit—honor and shame theme in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. You will observe that a major issue in chapter one is Paul’s imprisonment and the degree to which the shame of being in prison affected both his sense of identity as an apostle of Jesus Christ—and his relationship with his friends at Philippi.
  5. We broke into small groups for chapters 2, 3, and 4. We had each small group take about 30 to 45 minutes to consider the way that honor and shame is woven into Paul’s writings. Each group wrote their results on a big sheet of paper using markers. Then, a member of each group presented their results to the whole group, along with further discussion.

The results of this time of learning and studying together was profound for some of the individuals present.

  • One woman was able to face the shame she had experienced as a follower of Christ who had left the Muslim sect roots in which she was raised. She told me that she was set free to live with a new boldness.
  • A man in his mid-20s told me that this study was particularly significant to him because he himself had been imprisoned for his faith for more than two months some nine years prior. It was freeing to him to see that Paul also struggled with the shame of being in prison (Phil. 1:20).
  • We observed that the passage in Philippians 2:5–11 addresses the intense Muslim objection to Christ’s public humiliation/crucifixion; Muslims would say, “God would NEVER allow his son to be so totally humiliated and shamed—this is inconceivable!” Paul answers this objection by countering with great drama and revelation from God …

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)

This experience for me was an outstanding time of learning together—building a deeper bond—for a healthy cross-cultural partnership. I am so grateful for the oneness we have in Christ with friends around the world. To God be the glory.

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