Where You Are Weak, You Are Strong

“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.” 
— 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Everyone enjoys a celebration.

If you were a visitor from another planet, you might be tempted to think humans simply transition from one party to another. As a species, we celebrate everything from important cultural events like the Olympics and presidential inaugurations, to festivals and parades honoring individuals, people groups, and national milestones. We remember with reverence the historic successes of exploration and military conquest that color our past. Feats of athleticism, invention, and courage inspire us, and we even adorn our vehicles with bumper stickers celebrating our children's presence on the honor roll. The trend is obvious; we enjoy seeing others succeed.

But what about celebrating failure? You don’t see many bumper stickers that say, “my son is a drop-out!” and this seems natural to us—we don’t celebrate weakness. In fact, weakness is often a point of shame. It’s something we hide, downplay, and attempt to correct, which is why things like gyms, salons, and even life-coaches exist.

In 2nd Corinthians, the Apostle Paul has something to say about this. Pushing back against our intuitions, Paul teaches not only that we can celebrate our weaknesses, but that we should.

Leaning on God
There are two things on which we as Christians must agree. The first is that God is good. In fact, God is the definition of goodness. Therefore, the more of Him we experience, the better off we are. The second is that truly strong and independent people do not exist. Because of the fall, imperfection and weakness have plagued humanity for all of post-Eden history. And although weaknesses come in various shapes and sizes, they all force us to depend on someone or something else. If you’re a Christian, that someone is God, and this is where our two points meet. Because our weaknesses cause us to lean on our good and loving God, our weaknesses are, in a sense, good!
It’s like having a friend you deeply enjoy, who also happens to be a superb mathematician. When you’re struggling with your homework, you’re forced to lean on your friend for help. Your weakness actually means getting to spend time with someone you love and can learn a lot from, and that is great news! Similarly, we can celebrate with joy how our weaknesses expose us to God’s goodness as well. How neat is that?

Something we often hear others ask for in prayer is wisdom. Christians are always asking God for more of it, a request that flows from an understanding of our lack—our weakness. Part of experiencing God’s power is having the humility to admit that we need it‌. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, Paul could have ignored his weakness and attempted to tough it out alone, but that would have been a missed opportunity. Because everyone has weaknesses, we can either pretend we’re strong, or turn to the One who is. For Paul, it was a simple decision; if he was to be weak, then he was going to rest in the strength of the Lord.

Much of our growth as Christians involves seeing simultaneously the depths of our weakness and the heights of God’s power. It’s tough to be prideful in light of our neediness for God, and that’s the point. The more we understand our inability, the more we cling to Christ.

In the quoted passage, Paul says that he is glad for his weakness because in it Christ’s power rests upon him. Being so weak that we need Christ’s power is not a mark of shame, but a mark of blessing and a cause for celebration.

God’s Glory
In John 3:30, John the Baptist says of Christ, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” This statement serves to summarize the Christian life. As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, we are to do everything for God’s glory, not our own (1 Cor. 10:31). We exist to humble ourselves in worship, making much of God and less of ourselves. In fact, all the world exists for this purpose (Ro. 11:36). So whatever shifts the limelight off of us and onto Him is ultimately very good.

But this can be challenging to accept. As humans, we are enormously prideful beings who thirst for glory. Even when God does all the work, sin tempts us to keep the glory for ourselves. In this way, weaknesses can be a good reminder to trust God, knowing that our weakness provides a special opportunity to personally experience His strength.

Consider these heroes of the faith: Moses, David, and Abraham. Did you know ‌the Bible says Moses, who spoke boldly against Pharaoh, was “slow of tongue” (Ex. 4:10)? The man God used to rescue His people from Egyptian slavery suffered from a speech impediment! Similarly, King David, with all his mighty deeds, being called, “a man after God’s own heart,” struggled with lust to such a degree that he conspired to have a man killed just so he could steal his wife. And last, Abraham, a man noted for his faithfulness and allegiance to God, once told a lie that nearly cost him his wife. And yet, God used these men to make His mark on the world for His glory alone.

It would have been amazing if, instead of Paul, God had called on one of Jesus’s original disciples to write half of the New Testament and take the gospel to the world. But how much more amazing is it that God used a man who had hated and persecuted His people? That’s called contrast. Think about your family’s vehicle. Though a car’s headlights do not increase in brightness, consider how much brighter they look at night. In the same way, God’s power never changes, yet it is more visible when it shines out against the backdrop of human inability. When God’s power shows up in human weakness, it’s magnified.

This is what the Lord is driving at when he tells Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” When our weakness forces us to lean on God, it’s His glory that radiates, not ours. So we can celebrate, not because we’re strong, but because we are weak and God is strong.

As Paul closes in verse 10, he says, “For the sake of Christ, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul saw that his weaknesses were really strengths because of how they forced him to lean on God. This is what it means to “boast” in our weakness, it’s a recognition and celebration of God’s power working through us. And that’s the gospel. Jesus didn’t come to help perfect, self-sufficient people. He came to rescue the sick and the needy. The first step in trusting Christ is admitting that that’s us, we are weak—we need God.

In closing, we acknowledge that the topic of weakness can be a sensitive one. The world is full of voices reminding us we don’t measure up, that we’re weak. But to quote the great Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, "If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be." Meaning, we are far weaker than the world can even begin to fathom. But, as children of God, this is not our shame. We can say along with Paul, “I will boast in my weakness, for when I am weak, I am strong.” For in our weaknesses we are compelled to trust in the One whose hands cannot be bound, and whose voice cannot be silenced.
“For whom have I in heaven but You, o Lord? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. Though my flesh and my heart may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Amen”  — Psalm 73:25-26.

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