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Posts Tagged ‘weakness’

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 and wiser, 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 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 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 4:10-13 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, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. 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 – “So 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.”  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, a physical disability. God’s answer to Paul’s request was “No.” In this instance God wanted Paul to be 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 . . ..”

A second example, 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.
  • He had bodily weaknesses in terms of his health. In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul speaks of stomach problems and also “frequent illnesses.”

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

  • Jesus became human and took on the weakness of the flesh; the weakness of human existence. 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. God doesn’t rescue us from all weaknesses, but –

God wants us to rely on his strength in our weakness

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

1. Accept God’s grace to help you. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you . . ..” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

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.

Our text shows us that God promises help to those who are weak when it says, “my grace is . . . for you.” And so we need to accept this help that God gives.

2. Know that God’s grace is sufficient for your need. “My grace is sufficient for you” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Here we emphasize the word sufficient. This is the promise of God to us  – God can take care of us no matter our weakness. Nothing is too difficult for God. If God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, God’s grace will be sufficient for you as well.

3. Know that when you are weak, you can be strong in the Lord. “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Here we focus especially on the last phrase. When we’re weak and we’re relying on God’s strength, then we are truly strong, for it’s God’s strength working through us, not the strength of our own flesh.

As Paul says in v. 10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 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 rely fully on the Lord; then we can be truly strong in the Lord.

4. Bring glory to God through your weakness. “My grace is sufficient for you” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

If we ask, “sufficient for what?” The answer is, to bring glory to God. When we are weak and yet we remain faithful to him; when we are weak and yet God does great things through us – this brings much glory to his name, which is what we were created to do.

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, easily shattered and full of weaknesses. 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.” In your times of weakness, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Whatever your circumstances might be, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

 

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Have you ever come to someone to share a weakness or a failure, to get some help only to have them be hard-hearted or even condemn you? A story from my life . . .. Notice in our Scripture today how Jesus is not like this.

15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

We all have weaknesses. We are human. And as Jesus said of us, “the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). This phrase, “the flesh is weak” refers to the frailty and weakness of being human; our fears and our desires which so often control us.

And so when we go through times of trial and suffering we are tempted to give in to our fears and our desires and to take the easy way out so that we fail, so that we sin – instead of doing God’s will. As James says, “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). This is what the writer is talking about when he speaks of “our weaknesses” – our frailty and our failures.

Well, Jesus was fully human. As Hebrews 2:17 says, “he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.” As a human, he knows all about human weakness and frailty.

And he went through trials and suffering as well, which tempted him in all the kinds of ways that we are tempted. As the author puts it in v. 15, “in every respect (Jesus) has been tempted as we are.”

  • Remember, just before he began his ministry – the devil tempted him in the wilderness three times.
  • Jesus himself characterized his whole time of ministry as a series of trials in Luke 22:28.
  • And at the end of his ministry, in the garden of Gethsemane, facing death, he was tempted not to go to the cross. The writer of Hebrews refers to this in chapter 5:7. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.”

Jesus knows all about human frailty and weakness.

And this is precisely why he can sympathize with us in our weakness. Hebrews 2:18 says, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

The word “sympathy” includes in its meaning the ideas of empathy and compassion. He can relate to our situation. And the word also can carry with it the sense of giving help (Hebrews 10:34). He is not waiting to condemn us. Rather he understands our struggle and wants to help all who desire to overcome.

You might say, “Well, yes Pastor, but Jesus was sinless. That makes him different than us.” This is true. But the difference doesn’t disqualify him from helping us, it is exactly what qualifies him to help us. It shows that he knows how to overcome in the midst of weakness and temptation – and so he can help us overcome as well.

Because all this is so, v. 16 exhorts us to act. “Let us then, with confidence draw near to the throne of grace . . ..” We can come with confidence – or courage or boldness, and draw near, that is, into the very presence of God, because we know that through what Jesus has done, we can find grace with God (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Indeed, God’s throne is called here “a throne of grace.” It is often associated with judgment, but because of Jesus it is a throne of grace for us.

16 tells us that we are to draw near to God so “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Mercy is mentioned first, and this certainly includes forgiveness for our failures.

But we also receive aid. It says, “that we may receive . . . grace to help in time of need.” Jesus gives us the mercy of his forgiveness, but he also wants to strengthen us in our weakness and to cause us to overcome in our times of testing and suffering, just as he did. This is an empowering grace; this is the strength that the Spirit gives. For thought the flesh is weak, the Spirit is willing (Mark 14:38), that is, willing to empower us to do God’s will even when it seems impossible.

Are you weak this morning? Are you struggling? Are you going through trials and temptations? Are you in a “time of need”? Have you failed? Come to Jesus in prayer; draw near with confidence “that you may find mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

 

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Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

Last time we asked, “What is humility?” To put it briefly it means that we lower ourselves before others to serve and sacrifice for their needs. Today our topic is – a little help as we seek to be humble.

And we begin with Romans 12:3, where Paul says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think . . .” This certainly teaches us to be humble. But I also want to be clear as we get started here that this isn’t about saying we have no value. Each one of us has immense value, even beyond our understanding. We are all made by God. We are all loved by God. God has given each of us gifts. And God has a plan and a purpose for each one of us.

So, when Paul says, “do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think,” he means have a right view of who you are, that is, use “sober judgment” as he goes on to say. Each of us needs to have a sense of our value before God, without needing then to lift ourselves up in pride over others. In fact, for some of us, our falling into pride may well be an evidence that we don’t have this inner confidence in our value before God, and we are trying to compensate for this lack by boasting or lifting ourselves up to be seen by others.

Whatever the case may be this isn’t about berating ourselves, it is about walking in the truth about ourselves which should lead each one of us to a place of humility. Here are five things to remember that should help us in this.

1. You too have failed

Sometimes we are tempted to think we’re pretty good. Especially when we compare ourselves to others. Right? You can always find someone that’s worse off than you, at least in your mind.

Well, the truth is stated well in Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Each one of us has missed the mark and still do. In this regard we should all be humble. We are only forgiven sinners.

So don’t put on airs or pretend this isn’t true. Take a good look in the mirror and see the whole picture of your life – not just the good parts. Remember, you too have failed both God and others.

2. You too have weaknesses

All of us have strengths, but also weaknesses – areas where we continue to struggle in our lives or where we don’t excel. And it is human nature is suppose, to see this more readily in others, but not in our own lives. Or we compare our strengths to the weaknesses of others.

Well, the great apostle Paul had weaknesses. He proclaimed the gospel but he was not considered to be a good public speaker. As his critics said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his speech is of no account.” The Spirit of God worked through him in power, but he was considered to be a person of weak presence. As his critics said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his bodily presence is weak.”

If this is true for Paul, it is certainly true for each of us. If we stop looking at others and are honest about ourselves we will acknowledge this freely. When you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember, you too have weaknesses.

3. Your obedience is both required and enabled by God

Do you ever think, ‘Hey I’m doing pretty good. I’m witnessing, serving and following God’s will, even when it’s hard. Hey look at me!”

Well, Jesus says this in Luke 17:7-10 – “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” If you have done what God wanted, guess what? You only did what you were supposed to do in the first place! This is no cause to celebrate in terms of being proud. You get no extra credit or brownie points.

And then consider also that it is only by grace that we are able to obey God – as the Spirit works within us to do this. Philippians 2:13 says, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” If we do what is right it is only because God enables us to do so.

So if you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember, you can’t boast about obeying God.

4. Any good thing in your life is from God

Maybe you have musical gifts and people applaud you and praise you. Maybe you have a spiritual gift that everyone admires – you are an encourager or a great Sunday school teacher. Should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”

Or, do you think that you are special or better than others because you have succeeded in life, in terms of finances? The world thinks this way. But should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As Deuteronomy 8:17-18 says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . ..”

Are you blessed in other ways? Maybe you have had a unique life journey. Maybe you have experienced things that most others haven’t. Should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights . . .”

Remember, every good thing you are or have is from God. No matter what it is, it is from God, not us. It is all grace, grace, grace. We have it because of God’s love.

5. Compare yourself to Jesus, not others.

Like I said, if we compare ourselves to others we can always find someone that we think is worse off than us and so we can exalt ourselves over them. But this misses the point entirely. Other people are not our standard. Jesus is our standard!

As the Father said of him on the mountain in Matthew 17:5 – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” He is the one who has pleased God. He is the one who is rightly exalted. Not me, not you, not anyone else who has ever lived. We have to get our focus right.

Remember the powerful effect Jesus had on people as the holy one of God? In Luke 5:8 Peter said “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The presence of Jesus points out clearly how unholy we are.

So listen to Jesus. Study his teaching and example. Spend more time in his presence and you won’t have to worry about pride. If you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember to compare yourself to Jesus and be forever humbled.

So just a bit of help from the Scriptures this morning for all of us on our journey to humility. So that we don’t clothe ourselves in pride, arrogance, haughtiness and conceit – lifting ourselves above others wanting to be served and to have others sacrifice for us. But rather that we clothe ourselves in humility, modesty, meekness and lowliness – lowering ourselves before others to serve and to sacrifice for them.

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According to the Scriptures there are two kinds of trials that we go through in our lives. 1) What we usually think of as a trial has to do with suffering some kind of lack – a lack of food, a lack of health, money, a job, or protection from say, persecution. And this lack puts us in a really difficult situation that tests whether we will remain faithful to God, or not.

2) But to have an abundance of something can also be a trial. Deuteronomy 8 talks about how we can be tested with an abundance of material blessings from God. This too can be a really difficult situation in that it can be a stumbling block to our faithfulness to God. It might make us forget the Lord, or act in ways that are wrong toward others.

Today, we are talking about a test in this second category; one that has to do with abundance – in this case of power or strength. This includes physical strength, economic power, and also what I am calling social power: the influence or sway we have over others. This might come from having a certain position or office in a group that gives you authority and power or it can be more informal – you might be well-liked or popular in a group. This is social power.

I believe that all of us have power in one way or another in our lives. In other words, it’s not that some are strong and some are weak, each of us are strong and weak in different areas and at different times in our lives. And so all of us face this test at some point in our lives.

The question in such a test is ‘How do you use the power you have?’ ‘How do you treat those weaker than you, people who are vulnerable to being dishonored and taken advantage of?’ My point today is that the answer to this question reveals what is in your heart; whether you are righteousness or unrighteous. It reveals the kind of moral character you have, or don’t have.

Scripture teaches us in many places and in different ways that 1. Those who use their strength for the weak, are righteous. In fact, this is a chief character trait of a godly person.

Ezekiel 18:7, says that a righteous person (v. 5) “does not oppress anyone (that is, doesn’t take advantage of the weak) but . . . gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment (that is, helps the weak in their need).”

The righteous use their power and strength, not just for themselves, but also for others. As we will see in a moment, they use it to help, to stand up for, and to honor the weak

On the other hand Scripture teaches us that 2. Those who use their strength against the weak, are unrighteous. This is a chief character trait of an ungodly person.

In parallel to what we saw before, Ezekiel 18:12 says that an unrighteous person “oppresses the poor and needy (that is, doesn’t’ help them, but exploits them).” The unrighteous use their power and strength for themselves, for their own self-interests, not others. As we will see, they use it to take advantage of, dominate and ridicule the weak.

Let’s look at some examples, some of which are cast in a positive light – do this, and other are cast in a negative light – don’t ever do this.

1. If you are a boss or business owner, how do you treat your employees? Do you verbally degrade them? Are you unfair? Do you pressure them to work too hard or in unsafe conditions?

James 5:4-5 speaks to bosses who take advantage of their employees financially. It says, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” This is pretty intense! Are you a righteous employer?

2. If you are a husband, how do you treat your wife? Through most of history wives have been socially weaker than their husbands, although not really in our culture today. But wives are almost always physically weaker. So we’re talking about domestic violence here – verbal and/or physical abuse.

Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Just as Jesus had power, but used it not for himself but for us, so husbands, use whatever power you do have to bless and build up your wife. Are you a righteous husband?

3. If you are a parent, how do you treat your children? They are both socially and physically weaker than you, at least when they are young. We are certainly not to mistreat them through verbal or physical abuse. And even if they are older we can hurt and wound them given our status.

Ephesians 6:4 speaking of younger children says, “do not provoke your children to anger,” that is, by mistreating them. We are to love and care for them and raise and nurture them to be godly people; being above all an example to them of this kind of life. Are you righteous in how you treat your children?

4. If you are of able-bodied, how do you treat the disabled? Whether it be a physical or mental/emotional disability, the disabled are more vulnerable to being taken advantage of and dishonored.

But listen to Deuteronomy 27:18. It says, “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road.” This teaches us in general not to take advantage of or dishonor such a person. Are you righteous in how you treat the disabled?

5. If you are young and strong, how do you treat the elderly? They can be physically and sometimes socially weaker than you.

Not only does Jesus warn against taking advantage of the elderly in Mark 7:10-13 here talking about one’s elderly parents,  we are to honor those older than us. Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man.” Culturally this is an expression of honor. Are you righteous in how you treat the elderly?

6. If you have what you need (and perhaps a whole lot more than you need), how do you treat the poor? We are talking about economic power here.

We have already seen in Ezekiel 18:7 that a righteous person “gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.” And there are many other passages that speak of lending at no interest, and giving food, clothing and shelter to help the poor get back on their feet again.

We are also to stand up for the poor – Proverbs 31:9 says, “open your mouth . . . defend the rights of the poor and needy.” And we are not to put down the poor. Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.” We insult God when we make fun of the poor.

Are you righteous in how you treat the poor?

7. If you are socially secure, how do you treat those on the margins of society?

For instance, widows and orphans who often fell through the social support networks in the ancient world. And so Exodus 22:22 says, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” But, nNot only are we not to mistreat them, we are to stand up for them. Isaiah 1:17 says, “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause”

Another example is immigrants who are vulnerable being in a different place without support systems. Leviticus 19:34 applies the second greatest commandment to them – “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.”

In a similar way, minority groups can be vulnerable to being taken advantage of by the majority because they have less power. In Acts 6:1 the Greek speaking widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of food in the church, in favor of the Hebrew speaking widows. There were different cultural and national differences between these groups. And this had to be dealt with.

Are you righteous in how you treat the marginalized?

There are many other examples that could be given.

  • Even if you’re not a boss, how do you use the power you have at work?
  • For those in middle or high school – are you a bully who uses physical strength and intimidation to put others down and take advantage of them? Or are you “popular,” a part of an in-group who uses social power to put down and exclude others?
  • How do we treat the not yet born, who are the weakest of all?

Scripturally this issue even extends beyond the human realm to how we treat animals, who are lower and weaker than us in many ways. If you have animals under your care professionally or as pets, how do you treat them? Proverbs 12:10 says,  “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” Are we merciful or cruel?

The principle in all this is straightforward: How you use power reveals your character. Those who use it to take advantage of, dominate and dishonor the weak are among the unrighteous. Those who use it to help, stand up for and honor the weak are among the righteous.

Examine yourself. How do you use the power you have? How do you treat those weaker than you? Where is God speaking to you this morning?

William Higgins

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