The Principle: Strength out of Weakness
In our culture weakness is not a condition esteemed nor welcomed. It is to be avoided at all costs. We have created all sorts of coverups to conceal or deny weakness.
Yet it is in the moments of weakness where God chooses to show his grace and power—not by great deeds done, works completed, education achieved, positions held, not buildings named in one’s honor, or books authored—but in times of weakness.
If it is in the moments of weakness where God chooses to show his grace and power, we should welcome weakness, for God is where weakness exists.
I began to watch a sermon last week on YouTube but closed out after 2 minutes. Why? The preacher spent the first several minutes talking about how much he has traveled recently, been invited to preach here and there — all obviously mentioned, and through his demeanor apparent, for one reason — to show how much in demand he is, how well his preaching ability is widely recognized, and, obviously, how fortunate his congregation is to have him as one of their ministers. Yuk!
It is in the moments of weakness, not in praise from others, where God chooses to show his grace and power.
Here’s another “Yuk!” example. A friend in a leadership position at a Christian university told me how irate the provost was because when a world famous leader was invited to address the students the provost had not been asked to introduce the speaker. So he did not attend the lecture. When photos were taken, he obviously was not in them. He was in his office sulking. He later angrily complained to my friend, “I want to be remembered for something when I die!” Sorry! No photos for posterity!
It is in the moments of weakness where God chooses to show his grace and power—not by great deeds done, works completed, education achieved, positions held, not buildings named in one’s honor, or books authored.
Moments of weakness occur in all our lives in many shapes and sizes:
- at the death of a child
- at the loss of a job
- when abandoned by a spouse
- when one’s business fails
- when passed over for a promotion
- when a young adult is subjected to the withering anger of a parent
- when a letter of rejection is received from a university
- when a bride-to-be breaks off her engagement
- when a 7th grade boy looks hopefully at the list of new team members posted by a coach, only to find his name not on the list
- when one is diagnosed with a terminal illness
- when one assumes the role of care-giver for a spouse with a terminal illness
It is in these types of life-experiences when God extends his grace and power.
The Apostle Paul’s Example
A biblical example of this is the account given by the Apostle Paul of a persistent weakness brought on by a recurring illness, described in his letter to the Corinthian Christians (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
The Corinthians, as Greeks, evaluated one’s worth on the basis of physical and/or philosophic prowess. Paul plays games with those false criteria. He wows them with the story of “a man” who was caught up into “the third heaven” (wherever that is). That got their attention. Not even Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle made a claim like that! He goes on. The man was “caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”
“Wow! This guy has impressive credentials,” they thought. Paul then proceeds cautiously to identify himself as “the man.” He is cautious “so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations.”
Then he lowers the boom. He reveals a principle from heaven that completely contradicts the typical Greek standards of evaluating worth. God allowed a “thorn in the flesh,” he says, “to keep me from becoming conceited,”
Evidently Paul was not aware of what God was doing in his life through this “thorn,” because three times he pleaded with God to remove it. This was not merely a normal prayer request. Paul “pleaded,” not once, but three times.
Whether the “thorn” was a lingering illness or a hostile opponent we cannot be certain, although in his letter to the Galatians he mentions an illness he had while in Galatia that required the Galatians’ care and attention. Some believe the illness was malaria contracted in the swamps around Perga and that Paul went to the higher elevations of Galatia to recuperate.
God’s response to Paul’s three pleadings was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
When Paul received that response, and realized that his weakness was an instrument in God’s hand to elevate grace over a mere cure, and God’s power made perfect in his life through suffering, he said, “If that’s the case, then I’m all in! I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Hmm. When I am weak, then I am strong?
As ALS has slowly made its way through my nervous system, shutting off communication from my brain to my muscles, one cell at a time, my prayer has been that God will shower me with grace, and that He would make His power perfect in my weakness.
Followers of this blog who knew me in previous years before ALS, when you see the wheelchair, the head and support system, and the nose bib connecting me to the ventilator, don’t feel sorry for me. These are not handicaps. They are reminders of God’s power made perfect in weakness.
When I am weak, then I am strong.
Photo above: Dmitri Popov at Unsplash.com. https://unsplash.com/newmodal=%7B”type” %3A”credit-badge”%2C”userId”%3A”3mOCH98GKdM”%7D&photo=whKwEh_X90Q
Paul’s illness while in Galatia
“. . . but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.”(Galatians 4:13-14)
Sources re malaria as the possible “thorn in the flesh:
- “Of course there have been many other attempts to determine what illness Paul had. Some say he had malaria; others suggest epilepsy.” (IVP New Testament Commentary, Galatians 4) https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Gal/Personal-Appeal
- “Malaria is another possibility, suggested in the 1800s by archaeologist William Ramsay. What happened, Ramsay guessed, is that Paul caught malaria while traveling through the coastal plains of Pamphylia (western Turkey) during his first missionary journey. This coast’s marshes bred malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The tendency for malaria to recur with alternating bouts of sweating and shivering seems to fit well with Paul’s choice of the word torment, which refers to something that continually or often battered him.” (Stephen Miller, “Bald? Blind? Single?,” Christianity Today) http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-47/bald-blind-single.html
- “On his first missionary journey Paul apparently either became seriously ill while in Galatia or else went there to recuperate. Some suggest that he contracted malaria while traveling through the low, swampy regions of Pamphylia and decided to go up into the higher and healthier area of Galatain and minster there for a while until he was better (see Acts 13:13-14). (John Macarthur, Commentary on Galatians, Moody Publishers 1987. Location 2980, Kindle Edition).