When We Are Weak, Then We Are Strong
In 2 Corinthians 11:24-29, we read a list of things that Paul suffered while serving as an Apostle building the early church. It is no minor list of items. He was imprisoned and beaten so many times that he lost count and almost died. Five times, he received 39 lashes. He was stoned and left for dead. Three times, he was shipwrecked and adrift in the sea. He was threatened by thieves and his own former friends. He knew what it was to be hungry and thirsty, without sleep and in the cold. On top of that, he writes about his inner anxiety for the churches that he founded and cared for. Paul was a remarkable person who managed to stay faithful in the face of such adversity. But Paul didn’t list these items for sympathy; it wasn’t his style to make people feel bad for him. And he didn’t make the list to brag or boast. His point was that he was actually a weak person and his weakness allowed God to do great things through him. “If I must boast”, he said, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
Wow. How many of us boast about our weaknesses? Have you ever had this question in a job interview: “Describe one of your weaknesses?” That’s a hard question to answer. Because if you answer it really truthfully, you know you won’t ever be hired by anyone. But if your answer isn’t realistic enough, people will think you are trying to cover up and that you aren’t being truthful. Pastors, of course, get the same question in their interviews. We usually make it sound spiritual, like “My greatest weakness is that I just can’t find more than 3 hours a day to pray.” Who can argue with that?
The point is we don’t like to talk about or even admit to weaknesses. We often lack the real words to even have a discussion about them. We view them as negatives and work to avoid them as much as possible. But Paul’s perspective is different: “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.” (2 Corinthians 11:9b-10)
This is one of the paradoxes of living in the Kingdom of God: when we are weak, then we are strong – then the power of Christ can rest on us. If we are full of our own goodness and strength, we have no need for Jesus. If we boast in our own abilities, intelligence and accomplishments, then what role does our Savior play? But when we recognize our weaknesses and our brokenness, and give them to him, then he can enter in. Then we are strong – not in ourselves, but in Christ. The world needs more people like this – people who know they are weak and are willing to admit it; people on whom the power of Christ may rest.