“Nakakahiya” (“I feel ashamed”). Filipinos say that when trying to borrow money from someone to whom they have no close relationship; when caught doing “shameful” acts like stealing or adultery; when falling short of people’s expectations in school or at work; when someone speaks something humiliating against them in public, whether the charge was true or not.
We are in a shame-based culture, meaning, the concept of hiya or shame has a large influencing factor on what we do and how we react to situations. We care about our name – our own and our family’s reputation. Some cover their sins because of shame. Many become careful of what they do because their reputation is at stake. Parents hurt their children in anger when they bring dishonor to the family.
The psalmist in Psalm 119 also cares about his reputation – but not primarily before other people, but before God. That is why he said in verse 6:
Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
“Then” indicates the result of being firm in obeying the Word of God. What is the result? “Then I shall not be put to shame.” It is true that those who live upright lives, those who are obedient to the commands of God, are spoken well of in our society. But that is not always true. Some people may look down on us for being faithful to God. Some may ridicule us. Some may speak bad against us. Because we are committed Christians, because we are faithful to the words of The Book.
Even so, it must not deter us from having an undivided allegiance to God’s Word. We must obey God rather than men, as Peter and John told human authorities who persecute them. There is nothing to be ashamed of for those who do what God wants them to do. We must not be afraid of what people will say.
Our priority must be to honor Christ before other people (Phil. 1:20). We must fear what Christ will say of us before the Father (Mark 8:38), not what people will say to us even if it results in public humiliation. Our shame-based culture must not distract us from our ultimate allegiance – the Word of God.
The ground of his “no shame” attitude is because his eyes are fixed on all of God’s commandments. God’s commands infers that God has authority, absolute authority over our lives. He has all the right to tell us what to do and what not to do. This must not be seen as limiting on our part, but as God’s way of preserving us, and in making us happy in fellowship with him, as the first section of this psalm teaches us.
We will slip or fall if we do not look straight or if we lose our focus on the words of Christ. This is the essence of true discipleship, that we learn to obey everything Christ commanded us (Matt. 28:19). Notice the word “all.” God wants us to be faithful in all his commands. Not just some or most but all. This is what it means to be “blameless” (v. 1); to seek God with our “whole heart” (v. 2); to “do no wrong” (v. 3); to “fully obey” God’s commands (v. 4, NIV); to be “steadfast” in keeping God’s commands (v. 5).
The call for us Christians is not to be selective in our approach to God’s commands. If one command will be comfortable and convenient and the other will bring shame and sacrifice, then we are not choose what to obey or not. We choose both. Because both are commands of God.
When we obey, we may be shamed before other people; but before God, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Our honor, glory and reputation are in his hands and in his own time. If we are concerned about our own reputation (true integrity before God, not before man) and our own happiness (here and in the life after), then we must labor with all our might, by the grace of God, to do everything God said to us in his Word – nothing more, nothing less.