The Wonder of Weakness
2 Corinthians 12v1-10
I wake up every morning…and I ache. My joints ache, …my back aches. It hurts to swing my legs out of bed, and I've been on medication for as long as I can remember.
My family is hard work. My children are hard work. I get to the end of every day and I'm exhausted, …and my parents are getting more and more needy. I feel trapped.
I've feel like I've been battling the same sin for years. I have been battling the same sin for years. There have been times when I thought I was doing better, …but then something happens, and I'm right back where I started. It's so humiliating, so embarrassing.
I wonder if any of those feelings sound familiar to you?
We hate feeling weak, don't we?
We hate feeling un-able, to do what we want to do, or what we used to do, or what we see others doing. We hate having to rely on others.
No one likes feeling weak, do they.
Yet on p819, in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 10, Paul says this…
"…for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak, then I am strong."
What could he possibly mean?
Paul was on his way to see the Christians in Corinth, when he wrote them this letter.
And one of the reasons he wrote, was that he'd heard that many of them were being tempted to leave the church that he had started, and the gospel that he had taught them, to follow new teachers who preached a different gospel.
Those teachers claimed to be apostles just like Paul, but look at 11 v13.
Paul says, that actually they
"…are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ."
These guys were bad news. The problem was…they looked good. Or at least they sounded good.
These false apostles arrived in Corinth with great boasts about who they were and what they knew.
They sounded good. So throughout this letter Paul has been giving the Corinthian Christians reasons why they shouldn't abandon him and his message.
And last week, at the end of chapter 11, even though he really didn't want to, Paul did a little boasting of his own.
But unlike the false apostles who boasted about how strong and successful and impressive their careers were, Paul boasted about his sufferings and his weaknesses!?
And now in 12 v 1 he says here was another area in which the false apostles loved to boast. They loved to tell people about the amazing spiritual experiences they'd had, and the incredible things that had been revealed to them.
And so now, in turn, Paul tells them a story about a guy he knows. Look at v2-4
In the ancient world the first heaven was the sky, the second heaven was space, and the third heaven was where God lived. And this man, Paul says, was taken up to the third heaven.
Do you remember what Jesus said to the thief on the cross?
"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
Well, that's where this man had been, to heaven itself! And a man like that, he says in v5, someone who had had that kind of experience, he has something to boast about, doesn't he?
Who is that man? Well if you haven't guessed already, look at v7, Paul says…
"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations…"
Paul had been talking about himself! If the false apostles want to boast about visions and revelations, well Paul could out-boast them all. But look at verse 5-6
Paul could have boasted about his visions and revelations, but he chose not to.
The only thing he'll boast about is his weaknesses.
Because weakness can be wonderful…
1. In our Leaders, v1-6
I wonder if you've ever had to fill out an application form for a job or something, where they ask you the question, 'What are your strengths and weaknesses?'
How does that question make you feel?
Well, the apostle Paul had no interest in boasting about his strengths, he's only interested in reminding them of his weaknesses.
"…so no-one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say." - v6
The false apostles were saying to the Christians in Corinth, 'Why do you follow Paul?' He's weak and unimpressive.
Sure, he writes a good letter, but in person… he's got no style or flair or charisma. His talks are long, his sermons are kind of dull. And he never has anything new to say, …it's always the same old, out-of-date message.
Why listen to what Paul has to say?
A. Because it's true.
Last week I was at a conference with 1300 other church leaders. Over 3 days we heard lots of talks from some great preachers from all over the world. And on the final day, late in the afternoon, there was one last session.
The speaker stood up. He was frail, his voice was shaky, he's got bad teeth and a funny kind of voice, his glasses are the kind that only grandparents wear, which is understandable, because he's 91. His clothes haven't changed much since the 1950s when he started his ministry, and I suspect they weren't even fashionable back then!
In this enormous conference centre, in the middle of London, 1300 church leaders hung on every word that little old man said.
Because for more than 60 years he's been opening up the Bible and teaching the truth.
Do you see how wonderful weakness can be in our Church leaders?
Paul could have drawn a crowd in the same way the false apostles did. He could have boasted about all sorts of experiences he'd had and things he'd seen. But he never did. He could have employed speech writers and special effects guys. But he wasn't interested in any of that.
He didn't want people to follow him or to be his disciples, he wanted people to follow Jesus and be his disciples.
He didn't want people to become Christians because it's cool, or trendy, or impressive, he wanted them to become Christians because it's true.
Weakness can be wonderful in our leaders.
But that's not all.
Secondly Paul Shows us That Weakness can be Wonderful
2) In ourselves, v7-10
If you read through the book of Acts, and the other letters that Paul wrote, you'll see that Paul actually had a number of amazing revelations from God.
But the one that we know most about, happened when he was travelling to a city called Damascus. Whilst he was on the road Jesus himself came and spoke with him!
Now, can you imagine how tempting it must have been for Paul, after all these revelations, to think to himself 'Well, I must really be something special. Jesus himself came and spoke with me. God took me up to heaven to show me paradise! How important must I be?!'
It must have been tempting, mustn't it? Not only for other people to think too highly of Paul, but for Paul to think too highly of himself! So we read in v7
Now Paul doesn't tell us exactly what he means here by "a thorn in my flesh…" Some people think he was talking about some physical illness that he suffered from, others think it refers to a particularly difficult relationship he had, or some severe persecution that he faced. We don't know, we're not told.
What we do know is that whatever it was, it was painful, like having a thorn caught under your skin. And it seemed to be achieving the devil's plans, hampering his ministry, distracting him, disturbing him. And it was ongoing, it 'tormented' him.
But notice as well, in v7, that Paul says this 'thorn in his flesh', was given to him. It was, he had come to realise, a 'gift' from God. But look at v8
This thorn was terrible. So terrible that Paul begged God to take it away. But He didn't.
Instead, God said to him, v9
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Paul was given this amazing ministry, and these amazing revelations, and yet something was hampering his ministry and holding him back. Some 'weakness', some 'thorn' was tormenting him, so Paul begged God to take it away.
And God said, 'No', but my grace is sufficient for you. 'No', he said, I won't take it away, but I will be with you, and will enable you, by my strength, to live with it and endure it.
Do you see? What did Paul's weakness force him to do? It forced him to come back to God again and again and again. Whatever this 'thorn' was, Paul could only endure it, by relying on God's strength, and trusting in God's grace every day.
It hampered Paul, it frustrated Paul, it stopped him doing things, it slowed him down, it crippled him, and yet he had come to realise, it was a gift from God.
Because it kept him on his knees, utterly depending on God. It kept him from becoming conceited, from being self-reliant, and from thinking too much of himself. It kept him humble.
Dear friends, what are your weaknesses?
What are the hardships that you're enduring?
What physical pain, or difficult circumstances, or struggles with sin, or hard relationships, make you cry out to God?
What are the things in your life that you wish He would take away?
That you've pleaded with him to change?
Could it be that they are a gift from God? Could it be that the kindest, wisest, most loving answer to your prayers that God could give, is not to take them away, to keep you trusting in Him, and depending on Him, and relying on His grace to get you through every day?
And could it be…if you began to understand your weaknesses in that way, that you could even begin to see the weaknesses in your life, as wonderful?
Perhaps, you've prayed about that thing, that 'thorn', a hundred times?
A thousand times?
But have you ever prayed, to thank God for it?
Look at Paul in v9b-10
Paul boasts in his weakness!
He delights in his weakness!
Because he knows that when he is on his knees before God in weakness…then he is strong.
Do you know, again and again and again in the Bible,
…God chooses weak people, and frail people and unlikely people to serve Him.
He loves to use weak people, because it means that He gets the glory.
Do you remember Gideon?
Gideon had an army of 30,000 men. Which sounds a lot until you read that his enemies were so vast they couldn't be numbered! But God said to Gideon, 'Your army is too big.' If I save you from your enemies now, you'll think you did it in your own strength. So Gideon sent 20,000 of them home.
And God said, 'Your army is still too big!' So Gideon sent 19,700 of them home. And God used just 300 men to defeat the entire army of their enemies.
"For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Perhaps, when you wake up in the morning you ache, your back aches, your joints ache, It hurts to swing your legs out of bed, and you've been on medication for as long as you can remember. You feel weak, and you hate it.
Perhaps your family is hard work, your children are hard work, your parents need more and more support, you feel trapped and weak and you hate it.
Perhaps you've battled the same sin for years, and every time you think you've beaten it and moved on, temptation comes and you fall right back into it, and it's humiliating and embarrassing, because you feel weak and you hate it.
We hate feeling weak, don't we?
But has it ever occurred to you that your weakness might be a gift from God? Have you ever thought that in a way, your weakness is wonderful, because it keeps you on your knees before God, trusting in Him, relying on His grace?
Has it ever occurred to you, that your weakness isn't stopping you from serving God, but is the very thing that God has given you so that he can use you for His glory?
Because that's how God works, isn't it? Through weakness.
And never was that clearer than on the cross. When Jesus hung there crucified, he looked weak, and frail, and helpless. And yet as he hung there, in all his weakness, he was destroying the power of sin and the fear of death, and winning our salvation.
Do you feel weak? Are you painfully aware of your weakness?
Well then, by all means, pray for God to take it away. But if he does not, then praise Him for His gift of weakness, boast in your weakness, delight in your weakness,
For when you are weak, then you are strong.