I hate weakness. I don’t like being weak. And I have so many weaknesses as a husband, father, and pastor. I want to have it all together. I want to be a strong leader, a loving husband, a wise father. But I’m so weak. I fail so often. Why?
Why does God let us stay so weak at times? Why is it so hard to put sin to death? Why do we struggle and fail so much? Why are we so often weak in our faith?
The apostle Paul knew about weakness. And he didn’t like weakness in himself – at least not initially. Paul had some kind of “thorn given him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” that harassed him. Some believe the “thorn” was Jewish persecution; many believe it was a physical ailment or disease that affected his eyesight. They believe this since he dictated his letters, and he said it was because of a “bodily ailment” he had originally preached the gospel to the Galatians (GA 4.13). He also said the Galatians would have plucked out their eyes and given them to him (4:15). Also when he was rebuked for calling the high priest a “white-washed wall” Paul said he didn’t know he was the high priest. Yet Paul was a Pharisee who would certainly have recognized the high priest if he could see him.
Whatever his affliction, Paul struggled with it. He didn’t like being weak. He sought the Lord on three occasions about it and finally God gave him some insight into why he didn’t remove Paul’s weakness.
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. 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. 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 CO 12:7-10
As Paul sought the Lord about his “thorn” God showed him some things.
First, it was to keep Paul from conceit and pride, having received great revelations from God. Knowledge puffs up. When we have strong gifts or incredible talent it’s easy to become proud. When we have some serious success it’s easy to forget that all our gifts and success is from God. How many gifted teachers of God’s word have succumbed to pride and fallen into sin. How easy it is for us to judge others out of our strengths. How easy it is for parents whose children are doing well to look down on those whose children are struggling or rebelling. So weakness humbles us. Failure keeps us from becoming conceited. And since pride comes before a fall, weakness can keep us from stumbling.
The second reason God let Paul stay weak was to make Paul rely on Christ’s grace – “My grace is sufficient for you.” Pride leads us to rely on ourselves; weakness drives us to our knees to seek God’s grace. Strength can lead to self-sufficiency. Weakness makes us depend on Christ. Weakness sends us to the throne of grace for mercy and grace in time of need.
The third reason God kept Paul weak was to reveal Christ’s power through him – “my power is made perfect in weakness.” The more we realize our weakness, then when anything good happens through us, we know it is the power of Christ, not us. When we have tried again and again to conquer a sin, become aware of our own weakness in the battle, then finally conquer it, we know it was by Jesus’ grace and power. Then Jesus receives the glory. We won’t think we did it by our own willpower but by Jesus’ grace.
Paul got to the place where he was content with weakness! He could be content with insults, hardships and persecutions. And even with calamities! Because he knew that all these things would reveal how weak he was, and the power of Christ would shine through him.
To be content with weakness doesn’t mean we give up trying to put sin to death. It doesn’t mean we quit trying to bear fruit for God. But it means that when we fail, when we realize how weak we are, we won’t despair but turn to Christ and ask him to give us HIS power. HIS strength. HIS wisdom. HIS grace.
Do you feel weak? Confess your weakness to Jesus. (He won’t be surprised). Confess your sins. Confess your failures as mom or dad. Tell him how much you need his grace not to get angry. Tell him you need his grace to love that brother who it’s so hard to love. Ask him to give you the grace to rejoice in your pain and be content in your trial.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 PE 5:6-7