“Three times I appealed to the Lord about [the thorn in my flesh that weakened me], that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9, NRSV)
We are not comfortable wearing our weaknesses on our sleeves for the world to see. In this dog-eat-dog world, where some people thrive on pointing out the perceived inadequacies in others, weakness is synonymous with shame. “Don’t show your vulnerability,” our friends tell us, “lest someone seize the opportunity to strike.” Strength is worshiped. Brokenness is despised. Instead of being open about our struggles and receiving support from others in our time of greatest need, we are more likely to minimize our pain and hide behind a façade of self-sufficiency. We suffer in silence.
In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul was defending his ministry against a rival group of missionaries carrying a divergent message from Paul’s to the Christians in Corinth. One commentary says these competing preachers were violent, arrogant, moralistic, and power-hungry. Theirs was a message of strength and domination. Paul could have used his success throughout Asia Minor as proof that the gospel he preached was superior to their gospel. If he did, the debate would escalate into a shouting match where each side would brag about their achievements until they were blue in the face. And then the crowd could decide which side won and follow the winner.
Instead, Paul chose a different path to confront those preaching a counterfeit gospel. Instead of appealing to his strength, he would argue that his weakness was proof that his message was from God. Wait a minute. That argument makes no sense. It will never make sense to those who think God is all about domination and winning people over to his side. But it will make sense to those of us who have been to the cross to see Jesus submitting to weakness and dying a shameful death for our sake.
If we’re all about strength, then we must always be strong. When our faith is in our power, it’s not in God. Paul argued that our strength always fades. We can only be strong for so long. At some point, our strength gives out. When we can no longer rely on our power and ability, it’s then that we realize we need help. We must be open to receiving God’s sustaining power to help us endure. Failing to recognize our need for God’s help forces us to live a lie, projecting a false sense of confidence that, when it collapses, comes crashing down on us and on those we love.
Paul says the ailment that weakened him taught him to rely on God. If he didn’t acknowledge his limitations, he would never know the fullness of the grace and sustaining presence of God. So, given a choice between strength and weakness, Paul chose weakness. And when he did, God showed up!
Join us Sunday when I teach how our vulnerability and brokenness can be an avenue that leads us closer to God. Invite a friend who may be struggling so they can receive hope!