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Posts Tagged ‘God’s grace in our weakness’

(Updated)

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 is a passage where Paul has some profound things to say about the theme of strength in weakness. And I want us to begin by reading this passage.

. . . to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m becoming more aware of my weaknesses. But also, I think, a part of this is just becoming more mature. (At least I hope I’m getting more mature.) When you’re young you think you can be anything and do anything. When you grow older, you can better evaluate yourself. You become more aware of your limitations.

There are many preachers today who present a gospel of strength. God doesn’t want you to be weak. In fact, God will take away all your weaknesses, that is, if you have enough of or the right kind of “faith.”

But this doesn’t match the Scriptures, which teach us that God does allow us to be weak and that God wants us to have his strength in the midst of our weaknesses.

First, let’s look at how –

God does often allow us to be weak

Weakness is a part of this fallen, broken world that we live in. And God hasn’t rescued us from it yet. That won’t happen until the resurrection when all things are made new. We hope for this, we long for this, but until then, we will continue to struggle with our weaknesses.

Here are three examples: 

God allowed Paul to be weak

  • Paul suffered much lowliness, going without, physical suffering, but also being shamed and publicly humiliated. In 1 Corinthians 4:10-11; 13 he says, “We are weak . . . we [are held in] disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless . . .. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the earth, the refuse of all things.”
  • Paul’s “thorn” was not taken away. This comes from our passage in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. Paul had many incredible spiritual experiences, visions and so forth. And so God allowed him to be humbled by this thorn. There’s lots of speculation about what this thorn is. It was probably a permanent physical disfigurement from persecution. Perhaps damage to his eyes (Galatians 4:15; 6:11)? But in any case, something that bothered and humbled him. God’s answer to Paul’s request to be free of this was “No.” And God said no three times. In this instance God allowed Paul to remain weak.
  • His personal presence wasn’t impressive. We like to glorify Paul, but he didn’t make that big of an impression on many in his day. His opponents said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his personal presence is unimpressive.” Paul agrees in 1 Corinthians 2:3 – “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.”
  • His public speaking wasn’t very good. His opponents said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his speech is contemptible.” He could write well, but apparently not speak well, at least not by Greek standards. Paul agrees in 1 Corinthians 2:4, when he says that when he visited them, “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom . . ..”

In all these ways we see that God allowed Paul to be weak. A second example comes from Paul’s ministry companion –

God allowed Timothy to be weak

  • He was apparently introverted. But God called him to a ministry that involved public speaking, and working with people. So Paul encourages him in 2 Timothy 1:6-7 not to give in to a spirit of fear, but to remember that God has given him a spirit of power, and love and self-control.
  • Also, his health wasn’t that goodIn 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul speaks of Timothy’s stomach problems and also his “frequent illnesses.”

Finally, lest any should doubt God allowed Jesus, his own son, to be weak

  • Jesus became human and took on the weakness of living as a frail human being on this earth. And we see Jesus struggling with this weakness in Gethsemane facing his death in Mark 14:38. As he said, “the Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
  • Jesus became a servant to others. Philippians 2:7 says that he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” This is a position of lowliness and weakness.
  • He was persecuted and shamefully killed. As 2 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Jesus was crucified in weakness.” Was there another way for Jesus? No. Weakness was God’s path for Jesus.

What we learn from these examples is that God allows us to be weak: to be persecuted, to have illnesses and bad health, to have physical disabilities, to have personality weaknesses, to be in lowly circumstances in life, to be poor, to be in difficult situations that we are not gifted to handle.

Please don’t get me wrong, God does answer prayer – healing our bodies, delivering us from difficult circumstances and providing for our needs. But, God doesn’t rescue us from all weakness. Rather –

God wants us to rely on his strength in our weakness

Rather than always delivering us he calls us to learn to depend on him. Let’s look at how this works:

1. Accept God’s grace to help you. 

It’s hard to rely on someone else when we’re weak, but this is what God calls us to do. We want to be independent; self-sufficient. Sometimes we have pride thinking that we can do all that we need, that we don’t need anyone else. But in times of weakness we have to accept help and especially from God.

As the Lord said to Paul in v. 9 – “My grace is . . . for you . . ..” Now the whole phrase is, “sufficient for you” but I want to emphasize that last phrase, “for you.” Just as God’s grace was “for Paul” so it is “for us.” When we’re weak God’s help is there for us to receive.

And so we need to set aside our pride and accept this support that God gives; we need to ask for it in prayer.

2. Recognize that God’s grace is more than enough for your weakness.

As the Lord said, again, to Paul in v. 9 – “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The word sufficient means that the help that God gives can take care of us no matter our weakness. It can get us through. If God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, God’s grace will be sufficient for us as well.

We have to hold on to this when we’re struggling. Sometime it doesn’t feel like it is sufficient. But by faith we have to know that God will get us through.

And so we keep receiving the help God gives – and we move forward. Day by day. We receive the help, encouragement and strength we need and move forward.

3. Be strong in the Lord. Here we focus especially on the last phrase of v. 9, when the Lord said to Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness”

When we accept our weakness, in that we know that God has chosen not to take it away, or at least not yet, then we can lean in and fully rely on the Lord.

And it’s when we’re relying on God’s strength that we’re truly strong,  for it’s God’s strength working through us, not the strength of our own flesh. Do you see the paradox here – we have to be weak to be truly strong?

As Paul says in v. 10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” And when we are weak, but God is strong in and through us, so that we remain faithful in our weakness and God even works through us in amazing ways – this brings glory to his name, because its clear that it’s not us, but God at work.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We are indeed clay vessels, with chips and cracks and we are easily broken. But within us is the Spirit, who works through us and does great things that are beyond our strength and so others know it’s not us – and give glory to God.

So this morning I am encouraging you to be strong in the Lord. In the words of Ephesians 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Go forth the week in God’s strength and let him bring glory to his name, through you – even through your weaknesses.

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