Boast gladly in your weaknesses
Series: Words For This Moment
2 Corinthians 12:9b: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses… This brings us to the big idea of our passage: Boast gladly in your weaknesses.All of this raises one very important question. Why? Why in the world does the Bible call us to boast, and not just boast but boast gladly, in our human limitations? Our passage provides us with three reasons: 1. The purpose of weakness 2. The power of weakness. 3. The plan of weakness.
New American Commentary on 2 Corinthians by David Garland
New International Greek Commentary on 2 Corinthians by Murray Harris (edited)
Until they went belly-up in 2008, Lehman Brothers was considered one of the most coveted Wall Street firms to work for. Ivy League students would stand in massive lines out in the snow outside their university career centers just to get a shot at getting an interview at Lehman Brothers. In order to ensure that they landed the very best applicants, Lehman Brothers developed an interviewing technique known as the stress interview. If you were invited to Lehman’s New York offices, your first interview might begin with the interviewer asking you to open the window to give everyone some fresh air. You were on the forty-third floor overlooking Wall Street. The window was sealed shut. That was, of course, the point. The interviewer just wanted to see whether your inability to comply with their request led you to yank, pull, and sweat until finally you melted into a puddle of foiled ambition. Or, as one sad applicant was rumored to have done, threw a chair through the window. The whole point of the stress interview was to discern how applicants respond when their weaknesses are exposed. This season of living under COVID-19 feels a bit like one long stress interview. To be sure, we’re not all experiencing COVID-19 the same way. We are in different boats, but we are all rowing in the same storm and this storm is revealing our weaknesses; our human limitations. The question that this storm raises is the same one Lehman Brothers was trying to answer through their stress interviews: how will you respond when your weaknesses and limitations are revealed? Now, I imagine that the elite students interviewing for jobs at Lehman’s did everything in their power to cover up or deny their weaknesses and limitations, but God calls us to and the Apostle Paul models for us a paradoxically different response to our weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9b: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses… This brings us to the big idea of our passage: Boast gladly in your weaknesses. Instead of being embarrassed, annoyed, or despondent, boast gladly in your weaknesses. A weakness is any human limitation. A weakness is any tangible reminder that you don’t have the resources in yourself to do what you’re supposed to do or be who you’re supposed to be. A weakness is any human limitation that makes you unable to do it all, fix it all, know it all, and be it all for everyone or yourself. Before we get too far, I want to ask you a personal question. Question: what weaknesses are being exposed in your life these days? What limitations are being revealed in this season that you’ve always had? What new limitations has this season brought into your life? No job? Bad health or risk of bad health? New temptations or old nagging ones? Temptations toward fear, anger, lust or impatience? Lack of relationships, money, sense of purpose, or certainty about the future? Perhaps you’re simply facing your inability to do it all, fix it all, know it all, and be it all for everyone? These are all weaknesses, human limitations, and the Bible says that when they are revealed, boast in them gladly. Remember our key phrase from 2 Corinthians 12:9b: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses… The word boast here is in other parts of the Bible translated rejoice or brag. Instead of complaining about your weaknesses, the Bible says, rejoice, even brag about them. Ok. All of this raises one very important question. Why? Why in the world does the Bible call us to boast, and not just boast but boast gladly, in our human limitations? Our passage provides us with three reasons: 1. The purpose of weakness 2. The power of weakness. 3. The plan of weakness.
THE PURPOSE OF WEAKNESS
The Apostle Paul suffered from all sorts of weaknesses and limitations, but here in verse seven he welcomes us into a particular weakness that nagged him for years. Paul calls it a thorn in the flesh. Paul isn’t concerned with revealing the precise identity of the thorn, rather, he’s intent on revealing the purpose for which God gave him the thorn. Notice that at the beginning and the end of verse seven, Paul repeats God’s purpose in giving Paul his thorn. 2 Corinthians 12:7: 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. The purpose of the weakness was to keep Paul from becoming conceited. Before Paul received his throne, he received great revelations. 2 Corinthians 12:1-6 tell us that God gave Paul a personal tour of heaven! But great revelations, privileges, and strengths also come with great temptations. Such things could have led Paul to feel superior to others less blessed by strengths and visions. God gave Paul a thorn to puncture his pride in order to keep him humbly dependent on Christ and humbly gentle with others. That’s the purpose of all of our thorns, weaknesses, and limitations; to make us humbly dependent on God and humbly gentle with others. The opposite of conceit is humility; dependence on God and gentleness with people. Like Paul, we can boast gladly in our weaknesses because God has one great purpose in every weakness that he gives to us: humble dependence on God and humble gentleness with others. To be sure, Satan has a purpose in our weaknesses too. Satan seeks to twist every thorn into his messenger to whisper the terrible lie in our ears: God doesn’t love you. Be done with him! But notice that it’s God’s purpose that’s repeated because God’s purpose is the one that will win out in the lives of his people. So, gladly and with great joy boast in and acknowledge your weakness because God gives every weakness for the same purpose: humble dependence on God and humble gentleness with people.
Let’s begin to take the purpose of weakness personally. Do you remember what weaknesses are being exposed in your life these days? Do you have them in mind? Question: What will it look like for you to gladly embrace God’s purpose in your weakness? Remember, God’s purpose is in your weakness is to make you humbly dependent on Him and humbly gentle with others. Whether your weaknesses are physical, financial, emotional, intellectual or spiritual, what will it look like for you to gladly embrace God’s purpose to make you humbly dependent on him and humbly gentle with others? Maybe a window into my weakness will help. I’ve been a hyper-disciplined, self-controlled person my entire life. It’s a gift from God. I have no problem waking up between 4am & 5am every day to work out and have an hour alone with the Lord before putting in a long, productive workday. It’s a strength and it’s from God, not me. As you can imagine, this strength comes with temptations. It’s a natural temptation for me to look down on and be harsh with people who struggle to get up early, who struggle to eat healthy, and struggle to put in the work. It’s a natural temptation for me to operate in functional independence from God and judgment over others. But then God gave me a thorn; depression. Citylight, I’ve never tried to hide my struggles with depression from you. Depression is a thorn, weakness, or limitation that I face and I can’t seem to muscle my way through or snap out of the downward spiral of self-condemning thoughts of despair. This thorn may feel like a prison, but it’s actually saving me from the prison of prayerless self-reliance and harsh condemnation of others. I have a long way to go, but God is using my thorn to teach me to pray, which is the language of dependence, and to teach me to be merciful toward the weaknesses of others. How about you? No matter your thorn, God’s purpose isn’t to harass you, but to make you humbly dependent on Him and humbly gentle toward others. What will it look like for you to gladly embrace his purpose in your limitations? So, the first reason why we boast gladly in our weaknesses is because of the purpose of weakness. The second reason why we boast gladly in our weaknesses is…
THE POWER OF WEAKNESS
2 Corinthians 12:8: Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [the thorn], that it should leave me. Whatever the thorn was, Paul did not immediately grasp the purpose or power of it and so he pleads with the Lord to take it away. Like the Lord Jesus pleaded with the Father three times that the cup of suffering on the cross might pass from him, so Paul pleads three times for the thorn to pass from him. Friends, it’s good and right to pray for weaknesses, limits, and temptations to be taken from you. But times come in our lives when we must learn to accept what is inescapable and then listen for what God is saying to us through it. A hero of mine named Ray Ortlund Jr. has helped me understand the way Paul thought about his weakness before God revealed the purpose and power of it. Paul thought he had one of two options: 1. Keep the thorn and have less to live for and less to offer God’s kingdom or 2. Lose the thorn and have more to live for and more to offer God’s kingdom. And God answered Paul’s prayer by revealing to Paul a third way entirely called Christianity, where our acknowledged weakness becomes the precise place where the power of Christ rests and is made perfect, that is, being made complete and more fully present. 2 Corinthians 12:9: 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. The power and presence of God that once rested in the Old Testament Temple and then dwelt on earth when Christ came, now rests in power in the precise place where Paul is weak. Paul boasts in his weakness because it’s in Paul’s acknowledged weakness and limitations that Christ’s power is most fully manifested to himself and others. Illusions of our own strength cause us to overlook divine power and results in rebelliousness against God. So, Paul will gladly boast in his weaknesses because he is most powerful when he is least reliant on his own resources. We boast in our weaknesses because they lead us to humbly depend on Christ who loves to manifest his power in our weakness.
Let’s begin to take the power of weakness personally. Do you remember what weaknesses are being exposed in your life these days? Do you have them in mind? Question: what will it look like for you to gladly embrace Christ’s power in your weakness? I think that the most general and obvious answer to this question is: acknowledge your weakness before God. 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us that Christ’s power doesn’t come down until we come clean. Are you tempted to be angry, anxious, or lustful in this season? Are you tempted to be God-forgetting and trouble-meditating? Are you tempted to hold grudges and refuse to extend forgiveness? Are you tempted to be self-oriented in your thoughts and actions? Are you sick, exhausted, or low on money? Whatever your weaknesses and limitations are, they are the exact places where Christ’s power will come down to you if you’ll come clean to him. It’s not enough to acknowledge our weaknesses, we have to acknowledge them in the right direction for Christ’s power to come down. It’s when we openly confess to Christ that we are weak in this area or that and open up the empty hands of faith that Christ power will rest on us. Come clean with your weaknesses, acknowledging them before Christ, ask for his help, and watch the power of Christ begin to rest upon and become complete in you. So, let’s say your particular weakness of impatience and anger has been revealed in this season. Instead of defending and justifying your anger, come clean by confessing it to Christ. Say to him, “I am playing God. I want the things around me to happen on my terms and according to my timeline. I’m angry and impatient with my co-workers, boss, parents, children, or spouse because my desires have become demands. Christ would you manifest your power in my weakness and make me powerful in patience as you are patient with me.” And then watch the power of Christ take up residence right in the middle of your weakness. Friends, as this season reveals your weaknesses, boast in them because not only does God have a purpose for your weakness, but Christ’s power is made complete in your weakness. Now, third and finally, boast in your weakness because of…
THE PLAN OF WEAKNESS
2 Corinthians 12:10: 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. God’s plan in our weakness is to make us content living for the sake of Christ and his glory rather than for the sake of ourselves and our comfort. We boast in our weakness because the power of Christ working in and through us is most clearly seen as coming from Christ when we are weak. God’s plan in our weakness is to free us from the prison of self-reliance so that we become delighted to endure all things for the sake of Christ. Yes, like Paul we long for our temporary immortality to be swallowed up by immortality, but we are happily content in our longing and endure our weaknesses for the sake of Christ. God’s plan in our weakness is to make us cheerfully content to live for the sake of Christ because when we are weak, then we are strong in the strength that he supplies.
We rejoice in the plan of weakness because this plan was patterned for us by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The power of God hidden in our weakness parallels Christ’s weakness and power demonstrated on the cross. The power of God was ultimately revealed in the weakness of the Lord Jesus Christ who took on flesh and lived as a mere man, was despised and rejected by men, was acquainted with sorrow and grief, was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin, and was ultimately crucified for the forgiveness and salvation of all who believe in him. It was through the weakness of Christ most ultimately and vividly seen in Christ’s crucifixion that God’s power to save was ultimately revealed. The gospel is the ultimate plan of power in weakness. If you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, Christ became weak so that God’s power to save could come to a rebellious sinner like you. Open your empty hands of faith and receive the forgiveness of sins that Christ purchased for you on the cross and follow Him as the King who was resurrected on your behalf. The gospel is the power of God to save through the weakness of Christ. So, look to Christ and boast gladly in your weakness so that the power of Christ will rest upon you.