8th July 2018
2 Cor 12:2-10, - Power in Weakness
The passage for today from 2 Cor 12:2-10, contains the verse of the bible that had the greatest influence upon my Christian life. It is what I like to call one of the great paradoxes of the Bible. It is the last verse of our reading, v.10 which reads, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’
A paradox is ‘a statement that seems self-contradictory but contains a truth’. When I first read it as a new Christian, it certainly seemed to me to be self-contradictory. But on the evening of 21 August 1992, God revealed to me, in a wonderful way, the truth that this paradox contains - and it changed my life! I can honestly say that if God had not done that, then I would not be standing here today as your priest, and probably would no longer be married to Linda. Those who attended our witnessing course last year and heard my testimony will understand this.
But today we are to examine what the Apostle Paul had learnt about this concept of power in weakness. What led up to Paul making this statement, and what did he mean by it? To answer this question, we need to consider three points:
I. Power, as contained in the Christian gospel is mysteriously and wondrously perfected in everyday weakness.
Paul commences his letter by relating a mystical experience whereby someone ‘was caught up to the third heaven’ and received visions and revelations from God. Apparently false apostles had made claims such as this to validate their claimed power and authority.
There is some suggestion that Paul may have been obliquely referring to himself as the person who had this mystical experience. We know that he had received a vision at his conversion and claimed that he had not received the gospel from any man but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:12).
Regardless of whether he is referring to himself or not, Paul says that, unlike these false apostles, he will not boast in such an experience; rather he will boast in his weakness.
Paul had every right to boast about his experiences and the things that he had done. He was possibly the greatest missionary that has ever lived, had travelled throughout the known world preaching, teaching, healing the sick and planting new churches. He had been through many amazing adventures: he had been imprisoned, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked three times, and near death.
But Paul did not want to boast about his mystical experiences, or his abilities and achievements, because he recognised that the source of his abilities was not from himself; but, from God’s grace and power. He had learnt to rely on God’s grace and power because of a painful physical ailment that he had.
Paul had prayed to God to take away this ailment which he thought was inhibiting his ministry; but, God refused this request because God knew that this ailment forced Paul to rely, not upon his own abilities, but upon God.
God said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." (v.9)
So, Paul chose to accept his weakness and rejoice in his weakness, because through his ailment he had discovered that God’s power was able to be perfected through weakness.
Transition. Paul had discovered that power, as contained in the Christian gospel is somehow mysteriously and wondrously perfected in everyday weakness. Quite simply, this means that if we acknowledge our own weakness, and look to God for strength, then we receive the strength of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit can begin to work in us. Unfortunately, though, many people prefer to rely upon their own strength. But (and this is my second point) …
II. When we think that we are spiritually strong, we are weak.
We cannot achieve salvation in our own strength! Cleansing of sin comes only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that Jesus’ shed blood washes us free of sin. Rev 7:14 figuratively speaks of Christians in heaven who
have ‘washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ This is the only way that our sin can be forgiven so that we become acceptable to God. Why?
Well firstly, if we could achieve salvation in our own strength, through our own efforts, then Christ died for nothing. For what purpose did Jesus suffer and die on the cross if it was not for our justification? Gal 2:21 says it plainly and clearly, ‘… if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"
And secondly, we have already broken God’s law! Just one sin is enough to break God’s law. You might liken God’s law with a crystal vase. In itself it is a beautiful and precious thing; but, if you drop it just once then it will be broken. And it does not matter how hard you try not to drop it again, it is already shattered. The only way that the vase can be restored to new would be through a miracle. Similarly, the only way that we can be cleansed from our sin is through the miracle that occurred in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
If this were not so, not only would Jesus have died for nothing; but also, there would be two types of Christians! There would be those whose robes have been washed in the blood of the lamb and those who would respond, “My robes didn’t need washing” because I did it myself!
The outcome of people thinking that they can justify themselves with God in their own strength is firstly that they cease to look to God for strength. This leads to one of two things:
Either they reject God, because they think that they are strong enough in their knowledge, wisdom, and ability to live out their lives without God; or they think that they can win God’s approval through their own efforts – and put their faith in their own works for salvation.
Such people cease to trust God. Instead, they choose to trust in themselves. Prov 3:5 says something about this, ‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;’
As well as not being able to achieve salvation in our strength, there is another thing that we cannot achieve in our own strength, and that is, we cannot achieve sanctification in our own strength.
When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us a process of change called progressive sanctification commences. If we allow it, this process makes us more like Jesus as time goes on. But, we cannot change in our own strength.
Our character is set in the early years of our lives. Psychologists have suggested that our character is determined by the first seven to ten years of our lives. Our early child hood experiences shape our emotions and our reactions. I remember a training film that was shown on the Navy Staff Course called You are what you were at Ten.
We learn many things through our life experiences – some good things and some wrong things. Once we have gained this experiential learning, only Jesus can change it. Even though we may be able to control our reactions to some extent, we cannot change our emotional reactions to later trigger events.
Have you ever had the experience of flaring up over some innocuous statement, or look, or tone of voice and then later not knowing why you reacted as you did? Probably it was because a sensitive bruise deep within your psyche had been touched – a bruise that had been gained back in your early life.
Transition. So, we cannot achieve salvation or sanctification through our own strength. We can only do these things through God’s strength. And how can we receive God’s strength? Well, this brings us back to the point of Paul’s statement in v.10 of our reading when he said, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ The explanation of this is our third point:
III. When we acknowledge our weakness, we are strong
It is only when, like Paul, we realise that we cannot succeed through our own efforts and surrender ourselves totally to God, that we can receive God’s strength. And we receive God’s strength through the Holy Spirit, which in turn is received when we accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
When we surrender to God and receive Jesus as our saviour we receive His strength which defeated Satan and defeated death.
Indeed, Jesus on the cross is the ultimate model of this concept as we see him hanging in absolute weakness, while at the same time God works power through him to defeat Satan and the power of sin and death.
Through Jesus our Saviour, we can share in the victory over Satan and all of his temptation. And through Jesus our Saviour we can share in victory over death and receive eternal life.
But, as well as surrendering to Jesus as Saviour, we must also surrender to Jesus as Lord. This means allowing Jesus to take control of our lives. We must step out of the driver’s seat and let Him drive – i.e. to be the Lord of our lives. When we acknowledge our own weakness and give Jesus the control, then we remove the impediments to the Holy Spirit working in our lives, and we receive the strength of the Holy Spirit who can then begin to change our character from within.
Jesus does not force himself upon us. He can only help us in those areas of our life that we have invited him into and have given him control over. So, we must accept Jesus not only as our Saviour, but also as our Lord. And most importantly, we must allow him to be Lord over our entire lives.
You will remember that last week we had the illustration of the house with many rooms representing your life, and the necessity to hand over the keys to every room, i.e. every facet of our life. If we don’t do this then our Christian life will always be difficult with continual stumbles. It will lack authenticity, power, and blessing.
Paul had learnt these lessons and concluded that it doesn’t matter if he must struggle with inadequacies and put up with all sorts of difficulties, because, he recognised the truth in what might otherwise appear to be a paradox: ‘when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (v.10)
He became content in his weakness and the obstacles that he encountered, knowing that the challenges force him to rely upon Jesus. And the more that he acknowledges his own weakness and relies on the strength of our Trinitarian God then the more God’s power is able to be perfected through his own weakness.
It is the same for you and me. ‘(God's) grace is sufficient for you, for God’s power is made perfect in (your) weakness’ For, ‘when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
When we acknowledge our own weakness and surrender complete control to Jesus as Lord of every aspect of our life, then we remove the impediments to the Holy Spirit working in our lives. So, as we acknowledge our own weakness, we receive the strength of the Holy Spirit who can then begin to change our character from within and help us to walk the narrow path of the Christian life.
This must be a conscious decision on our part because Jesus does not force himself upon us. Many Christians have accepted Jesus as Saviour; but, still need to accept him as Lord.
And finally, this handing over of our life to Jesus as Lord must be a continual thing that we do – every day; because, sanctification is a lifelong process. We need to continually pray that God will reveal to us areas of our lives that we have not yet given Jesus control over; and then ask God to help us to let go and give over those areas to Jesus as our Lord.