Oh no! Not another religious, mystic, mumbo jumbo statement! Not another seeming contradiction, not another senseless combination of words, you might as well say: ‘when I am fat, then I am thin’ or ‘when I am black’, then I am white’ or juxtapose any two opposites and pass it off as ‘wisdom’.
At the very least the above highlights the dangers of quoting a passage of the Bible out of context. So let’s just get some…
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he writes:
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12 v 7 – 10
Now, in case you didn’t know Paul was a man of God like none other – he wrote a good third of the New Testament, after his conversion he devoted his whole life to the furthering of God’s kingdom and in general he kicked several types of theological ass. If the Christian life was a race he’d be the Usain Bolt.
But Paul was only a man and he writes here about a ‘thorn in the flesh’ that tormented him. We’re not told what this thorn was, whether it was an illness or temptation we don’t know but the point is we don’t need to know. We all have thorns in the flesh, we all have torments in our lives, we all have hardships, persecutions, difficulties, sorrows, insults and pain. These things are part and parcel of living in an imperfect, fallen and sinful world.
And as Paul writes these sorrows keep us from becoming conceited and turn us to God. Like Paul we plead that these troubles would be taken from us. We pray for relief and for our difficulties to be taken away from us. From the depths of our soul we cry to God, in our agony we turn to him, in our brokenness and helplessness we reach out and how does the Lord respond?
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’
This is a mind boggling statement – when we are at our most wretches God’s power is made perfect.
How can this be? How does this work? What strange logic is this?
It is when we come before God fully realizing that we can offer him nothing, that we are hopelessly weak and cannot do anything in our own strength that God’s power is most clearly shown.
Anyone can make a strong man lift a rock but getting a child to? That’s what God does. He looks upon us in our weakness and in his love gives us the strength to do his will. His grace is sufficient for us. Always.
“The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God”
Exodus 15 v 2
In our own strength we can do nothing. But if God is our strength and song? Well, the possibilities are endless. For God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
We can comfort from this glorious truth but completely forget the next bit…
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Therefore, because of what I have just said, Paul writes, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness. When was the last time you heard a Christian boast in his weakness? When was the last time I boasted of my weakness? I hate boasting of my weakness, I’d rather you all thought I was strong and not weak. But if I boast in my strength I subtract from the glory of God. For God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
It is only when we acknowledge how weak we are that God’s power is most clearly shown. It is only when I say how often I malign God in my thoughts, mention the idols that so easily crop up in my heart, the self centeredness of my outlook, the pride in my character, the woeful ease in which I sin, the resentfulness when things don’t go my way, the anger against God when his will does not exactly match mine, my complete inability to write graciously and humbly and the length of this list if I was to keep going, it is only when I honestly admit to all these things that Christ’s power may rest on me.
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.”
Have you ever delighted in weakness? I can’t say I do. I usually tried to cover it up or deny it exists. But we should and here comes one of my favourite statements in the entire Bible:
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I am strong because my strength rests no longer in my feeble frame, my strength rests no longer in dust, no longer in myself but in God. In my weakness I know I need strength and I know that strength can only come from out with myself; I know it can only come from God.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73 v 26
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1 v 9
The most repeated command in the Bible is ‘fear not’ with many ‘Be strong’ thrown in for good measure. But what is interesting is that in the overwhelming majority of cases these commands are followed by some truth about God, about his power, his strength and his might. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In our pitiable weakness we must find strength in God. We must accept that loving invitation and come to him and find that his grace is sufficient and that his power is made perfect in weakness. And we must boast of our weakness and not of our strength: For when I am weak; then I am strong.
It is when I fully realize how broken I am, the sin still in my life, my inability to do so much, my lack of understanding, my lack of faith, my lack of love for God, the full and wretched extent of my weakness that I turn to God and whisper ‘your grace is sufficient for me and your power is made perfect in my weakness…for when I am weak, then I am strong.’
“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40 v 28 - 31