A Paradox: Strength in Weakness – July 8, 2018

2 Cor. 12: 2-10

In our text today, Paul says, “I am strong, when I am weak.”  Strength in weakness?  Power in weakness?  This is a count-cultural message, isn’t it? Power and strength are worshipped by most people, and weakness is despised above all things.  It goes against everything we’ve been taught.   I don’t think either Kim Jung Un or Trump can say something like this: “We are made perfect in our weakness.   For whenever we are weak then we are strong.”  How about you?  Can you say ‘I am strong, when I am weak?’

This is the paradox of the Christian faith: When we give of ourselves and lift others up, we are lifted; When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we experience resurrection, the eternal life in the midst of death; When Jesus empted himself, He fulfilled God’s will; When we are last, we are first; When we are weak, we are strong.   

The road to spiritual wholeness is not traveled by exercising our own human powers, but rather by acknowledging our human weaknesses, and then, in that weakness, allowing God to exercise his/her power in us.

I have been serving 5 local churches so far. Among them, 3 churches host AA Group.  I still remember the day when I realized the members of Alcoholics Anonymous probably understand this paradox better than us.   After their meeting, I went into the room to get something and I saw their 12 step chart.

Here are the first three of the twelve steps of the AA program:

1) We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.  2) We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  3) We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

They teach and confess that the key to turning their lives around is admitting

their weakness, admitting that they were, are, and always will be powerless, powerless over alcohol.  It sounds like a vision statement of a religious organization or a church, doesn’t it?  What we have here is 1) An acknowledgement of weakness, of need.   2) A belief that God, and only God, can help and 3) the willingness to turn the whole matter, indeed one’s whole life, over to God and let God take control of the problem.

As it is with Alcohol, so it is with all the rest of life.  Until we admit our weakness, until we stop being afraid of it, until we stop denying it, we can’t find the help we need.

The Apostle Paul, like all of us, knew weakness.  He had what he called a thorn in the flesh –  some believe that he had severe migraine headaches, and three times, as he tells us, he prayed that this weakness, this affliction might be removed, that he might be cured.  On the third occasion when Paul prayed God answered him and said, “My grace is sufficient for you – for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul’s response to this statement is a most beautiful one.  He said “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses that Christ’s power may rest on me.   For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties.   For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

To the world this is nonsense.  The world teaches us to conceal our vulnerability, and to hide our weakness.  The world teaches us to disguise our inadequacies with self-confidence, self reliance and self assurance.  The world teaches us that we can help ourselves, that we can do what we need to do on our own, and that all the answers we need we can find in ourselves.

My friends, I won’t say this is wrong or untrue all the way.  It could be a good advice, especially someone who has no self-esteem.  But, this is insufficient.  This is not good enough.  They missed one important point.  They do not know that we are created as spiritual-beings.  The spiritual life begins when we admit that we need help… we need help from bigger than us… we need help from God.

My friends – our weaknesses, our hardships, and our tribulations are not of

themselves a blessing,  they are real problems for us, and they can create

problems for how we get along with others.  But, when we acknowledge our weaknesses and our needs, and turn to God and ask for God’s help, instead of relying on our own skill and strength to save us, then something profound happens.  We discover that God’s grace is sufficient for us, and that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, and almost always in ways we do not expect.  When we are in pain we can feel defeated, bitter and isolated.  It is most difficult to imagine any good coming out of the bad times. Yet, I believe that one’s suffering can turn into significant blessings not only for us, but for others as well.

Our weakness may remain, as Paul’s thorn remained, but God’s power inhabits it and turns it to strength for us; strength for us to do what we as human beings (spiritual beings) and as followers of Christ are meant to do and in fact need to do, if we are to inherit the joy, the love, and indeed the very life, that God wants to bestow upon us.

Paul knew he was weak and that all humanity was just as mortal as he was.  But Paul also knew something even more important.  He knew that God helps the weak.  That is the kind of God, the Almighty is.  God cares for those who are in need.  This is because God loves.  And that love impels God to help the weak.  After all it is the weak who ask for and accept God’s help.

This led Paul to make some rather odd statements.  It led him to boast of his weakness instead of his strength.  He knew that it was because of his weakness that God worked in him.  His weakness was the basis of God’s aid.  He said, “I gladly boast of my own weakness that the power of Christ might rest on me.”  He also said that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  How can weakness perfect God’s power?  It is only when we acknowledge our weakness that God’s power can work through us.  Only when we say, “Lord, I am weak and need you,” can God help us.  That is when we are ready to accept God’s help.

Paul summed up everything nicely when he said; “I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me” (2 Cor 12:9).  And also in Philippians, he said “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (4:13). 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is my prayer that we, especially those who are in pain, in suffering, and in difficult situation, can say that, too. 

May God’s grace enable us to say, “If it be your will, O God, let there be healing, and recovery, let your grace provide a miracle – but if not, God, then let your grace provide comfort and keep me going.  I can see this through not by my own power, but by the strength that God gives me.”

May God turn the darkness of your suffering into light, today!  Amen.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

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