The Apostle Paul was one of the greatest (if not the greatest) of all of the apostles. He is responsible for writing the theology for a huge chunk of the New Testament that we all embrace today. He was considered a "pharisee of pharisees" in his time. He sat at the feet of one of the greatest religious leaders of his day when he was trained as a youngster. He was indeed one of the 'super apostles' of his day for sure.
In the verses just prior to this week's Scripture passage, Paul tells about the amazing things that he saw when he was caught up to the third heaven and what happened afterwards. Let’s read the verses surrounding this week’s focused verse.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of 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 becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 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. 10 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. (ESV)
If there was ever someone who could boast in his own abilities, it would probably be Paul. He was better educated, better disciplined, and probably more zealous than most of his contemporaries. Yet in all of his natural abilities and spiritual gifts, it appears that he had something yet to learn. And that was the principle of weakness. You see, Paul thought as many of us do, that in order to be strong, we need to be able to demonstrate our own strength. Yet as we read in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, he was about to learn that the very opposite of this is true.
Because of his struggle with something that he could not overcome in his own natural abilities, this ‘thorn in the flesh’ as he called it, he asked God to remove it. He actually asked God on 3 different occasions to be delivered from whatever it was that was harassing him. It was after his third request that Jesus appeared to him and said words that absolutely turned Paul's theology upside down... "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
It was at that moment, that Paul got a revelation of the principle of weakness. It was when he was empty of his own ability to be strong, then the omniscient, omnipotent power of Christ living in him could be strong on his behalf! At that time, Paul had an 'aha moment' and realized that his own strength was actually getting in the way of the strength that comes from God.
That is when he decided to not boast in his own strength any longer, but on the contrary, he began to boast in his own weaknesses. I kind of think that his idea of false strength must have been rooted pretty deep in his own abilities because it took a face to face encounter with Jesus to dislodge it!
There are many other Scriptures where Paul refers to this foundational value of finding strength in the midst of our weakness. In light of this truth, Paul writes in Romans 8:37 that we are ‘more than conquerors through Him who loved us’ even while experiencing trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and even perils of being killed.
While we all love to quote Philippians 4:13… “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, do we understand the context of this declaration? Sure it is the power of Christ in us that enables us to accomplish great feats in His name. However, when Paul wrote these words, he wasn't referring to great accomplishments but the ability to be content in every situation.
It was the power of the risen Christ who strengthened him in times of over-the-top abundance and in times of desert-like lack. In good times and in bad, it was the very life of Jesus that sustained him through thick and thin ...not his own natural abilities.
I believe the more that we see that there are many benefits of living a transparent life in the midst of all our weaknesses, the less we will fear the opinion of those around us. The reality is that a son who is loved by God is not afraid to be weak. He knows that his value to his Father is not based upon his natural abilities but on the goodness and kindness of the One who is love itself. The more that we know we are loved, the less we have to prove it to anybody else, especially ourselves.
The best example of a transparent, dependent life that we see in the Bible is demonstrated in the life of Jesus Himself. In John 5:19-20, He told His disciples that the Son could do NOTHING apart from His Father. In John 14:8-11, Jesus also said that it was actually the Father doing the work through Him. Jesus also reminded His friends in John 15:5 that apart from Him, they could do nothing either. They were simply empty branches that were connected to the real source of life and power that was found only in the vine (Jesus).
I believe that if we continue to try and be independently strong, we will actually hinder the true strength of Christ that is just waiting to be revealed through a surrendered life. That is why Jesus told us in Matthew 18 that the greatest in the Kingdom would be those with a childlike heart.
Little children are weak. Plain and simple. They can’t do anything on their own. They need to be provided for, protected, taught, etc. Theirs is a life of transparent vulnerability and a beautiful dependence upon their parents. We have recently been able to appreciate this more in our own lives as Ann and I have observed our little granddaughter’s dependence on her parents. While adults may resist such dependence, I believe that it is this beautiful, childlike dependence that actually qualifies us to enjoy the Kingdom of our Papa. (Luke 18:15-17)
Because we live in an orphan-hearted world system, the ideologies and opinions of a mindset of strength can dominate our thinking. You would hope that the church would have a different perspective of false strength, but oftentimes we don’t. In an orphan world system, the first shall be first and the last will be least. The wealthy, the powerful, the beautiful, the educated are all considered the cream of the crop, while those who are lesser in any of these areas are considered to be inferior.
I think it is safe to say that while this mindset might have some limited application in our broken world system, it does not reflect that values of our God and Father. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-30, Paul tells us that it is the weak, the poor and the foolish that our Father has chosen in order to confound those considered who are considered at the top of the food chain in the world’s eyes.
Now when I talk about an orphan mindset, I am simply referring to a belief system that is not rooted in the truth that we are children of God and that He is a Father to us in every way. If we are not yet convinced of this foundational pillar of Christianity, we will try to live a life where we have to manage all of the challenges that come our way in our own strength.
My prayer today is that our God and Father would give us the same revelation that He gave to Paul two thousand years ago... That when we are weak, then we are truly strong, because the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for us in every circumstance.
May each one of us be filled with a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit today (Ephesians 5:18) as we embrace our own human weakness. May we all learn to truly live an impossible life because when we are simply empty vessels (just like little kids), we are positioned to be filled with the fullness of God through the power of Christ that is at work within us!
2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (NIV)