New International Version
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
In My Weakness, I am Strong
2 Cor 12:5-10
May 5th, 2020
We love a good show of physical strength. There is something entertaining and exciting watching people push their bodies to the absolute limit in an act of strength and ability. We celebrate physical strength as a society and reward it. If you don’t agree with me, think about that the next time you are watching sports, or the Olympics, or the next episode of one of those talent shows where the person auditioning is hanging from a trapeze bar by one hand 40 ft in the air while having their athletic partner holding on to them by their leg. Or how about the next time we see on TV those really strong guys competing for the ‘ultimate strong man’ championship, singlehandedly pulling a school bus. Or the next time we watch an ironman competition.
There is something entertaining about watching people push their physical bodies to the absolute limit, and in a sign of personal physical strength, accomplish something amazing. And we celebrate it!
What if life isn’t about what we can do, but what we can’t? What if it is actually okay to be weak?
I am coming more and more to the realization these days that I need to be okay being weak. This life, on its own, is hard. I won’t be able to figure out everything, beat everything, avoid everything, or manage everything on my own. At the end of the day, I am actually very weak. This is why I need someone to be strong for me.
God doesn’t need our strength – He needs our trust.
This morning, I want to share with you an instance in Scripture where embracing weakness actually produced greater strength. We will see how God doesn’t need our strength – He needs our trust.
Read 2 Corinthians 12:5-10
Verse five starts off as if it were a part of a larger conversation and context. If we were to read the preceding five verses, we would see Paul, talking in 3rd person about a vision that he had. It was a magnificent, astonishing and indescribable vision of something called the third heaven. All he can say is that it was astounding and beyond anything he could describe.
He goes on to say that he could boast about this experience. He could wear it as a personal badge of honour of what he experienced, and how God chose to reveal this to him. It would give him a platform to pat himself on the back, but he chooses not to boast as it would profit nothing. He did not want to cause people to give him undue credit and recognition beyond what they can plainly see in his life. He realized that His life wasn’t about all the things He saw or did, it was about how the message of Jesus changed him – and only that was boast worthy. Instead he is choosing to boast in his weakness.
He then talks about a thorn in the flesh that was permitted to bother him to keep him reminded of his weakness and keep him humble, rather then boasting about these visions that he saw. What was the thorn in the flesh? And where did it come from? There are some varying views on the definition. We don’t even fully know what it was. It is somewhat fascinating to look at the possibilities, what ever you may think:
- A figurative, spiritual / emotional thorn: As he talks about this thorn, a messenger of satan is mentioned. There is the thought that this could be an oppression that he was going through; possibly a discouragement, stress, rejection, or loneliness.
- A physical suffering
- It could appear that a literal physical body referred to: the word flesh = Sarx (in the original Greek)– it refers to the physical nature of man as subject to suffering; in other words, a physical body. The word Torment / harass/ buffet = kolaphizo (in the Greek)- which means to strike a physical item with the fist, to maltreat or treat with violence.
- Paul references health concerns elsewhere: In Gal 4:13-14 he is talking about being sick, so much so that the people could have been tempted to reject him. There is speculation (while not proven) among many scholars that he actually potentially had something called “chronic ophthalmia” which is a disease that affects the eye. More than that, it causes weakness, illness, and even physical disfiguring. We do not have hard proof, but some scholars believe this could have been the case. 2 Cor 10:10 talks about how his physical presence in person is physically weak, and in Gal 4:15 he references his eye problem and how the church would have given him their eyes if they could have.
- It is important to remember that this thorn was not a result of Paul being disobedient. There was no wrong doing on his part that resulted in this. We live in a broken world impacted by sin, and often, things we may face that are unpleasant and difficult come naturally because of the brokenness around us. Yet God chose to use this as an opportunity to change Paul’s perspective.
Whatever the actual thorn was, it leaves us with a picture and a reminder: Paul was just a mere man who was subject to the same trials and weaknesses we are. He prayed three times that God would take away his personal weakness, yet God declines. Instead, what God essentially says is (my paraphrase):
Stop pursuing what you think you need, and allow my grace to be all you need. Not until you choose to accept that you are weak and cant do it in your own strength can my strength be perfect for you.
Paul realizes pretty fast that God doesn’t need our strength – He needs our trust. This is why he could actually be content and push on, even though he had this ‘thorn’ in his flesh. Even though he was suffering heavily and would face difficulty the rest of his life, he could be content because he knew that his strength was not enough to sustain him, but God’s would be. And all the marvelous, powerful, and praiseworthy things he had seen and experienced in his life were not from himself or his strength, but from God. They were a gift from Him.
Paul had a perspective change – that God doesn’t need our strength – He needs our trust. It wasn’t about what Paul could do, or had done, or what He had experienced. It was okay for Paul to be weak, to be nothing. He didn’t have to boast in himself. It was about the goodness and power of God at work in and through his life that was worth celebrating.
God doesn’t need our strength – He needs our trust.
What are our weaknesses? Are we boasting in all the things we have done or think we will do? Is it all about us? Or is it all about what God can and will do through us if we get the ‘strength show’ out of the way? Are you okay to be weak, to not have all the answers, to not be all to everyone, to not be able to do all things? Are you okay to live in a place where you feel the heaviness of life? Where you feel completely inadequate?
It is in our place of inability and understanding that / coming to terms with it that we can embrace that God doesn’t need our strength – He needs our trust. And when we trust Him, and let Him do what He does, His strength becomes perfect in our lives, and we can move beyond the inability, the heaviness, the weakness of today and be who God is calling us to be. We have to be reliant on Him.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.