“God’s Strength and Our Weakness”

We all know that God has not promised freedom from trials and troubles in this life. Annie Johnson Flint said it this way:

“God hath not promised skies always blue,
   Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
   Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.”

Then she lists other things which God has not promised, and concludes with,

“BUT God hath promised strength for the day,
   Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
   Unfailing sympathy, undying love.”

In John 16:33, our Lord said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” As a child of God, you will certainly encounter adversities; Jesus says that you should not be surprised when they come. They go with the territory, as they say. Often I think of Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for THOU ART WITH ME.”

Last Spring, I attended the graduation ceremonies at my alma mater, Gordon College. The commencement speaker was Dr. David Winter, chancellor of Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He began by saying, “I’d love to be able to see you. I’d also love to be able to see a beautiful sunset, and the lovely face of my wife. But we cannot always have what we want.” Then he based his message on II Corinthians 12:7-10. “Six years ago as I went over some remarks for our commencement at Westmont, I noticed a black spot in my sight. Several days later I went to the UCLA Medical Center, and shortly after that my sight was gone.”

Dr. Winter learned the truth of God’s promise in II Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

The context of this divine promise is found in verses 1 - 8. The Apostle Paul learned that God sometimes withholds complete health for a purpose. Paul had received unusual visions and revelations from God. To keep Paul from being conceited at such great revelations, “there was given (him) a thorn in the flesh.” We do not know exactly what painful trial this was. Whatever it was, it affected the dignity of his appearance, as mentioned in Galatians 4:13, 14. The “thorn in the flesh” is unknown, so it can cover every kind of trial or affliction that we may have. We might not always know the purpose as Paul did, but God has a purpose in withholding complete health from us; our spiritual relationship with Him is more important than our physical wholeness.

The keynote and climax of the passage is found in II Corinthians 12:9, where God promised Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” God promised that the “thorn in the flesh” would never overcome Paul so that he wouldn’t be able to work for the Lord. It didn’t stop Paul from working, but it gave him continued pain. Verse 7 it “buffet me,” the RSV has “harass me.” It was not an isolated trial, but something he had to learn to live with.

Notice in verse 7, Paul calls it “the messenger of satan.” Satan is the cause of human sickness, as verified by Jesus in Luke 13:16. Yet, it was given to Paul by God. We have learned, I’m sure, that if we are in the center of God’s will, nothing can happen except what God allows! Pain, disease, and all other evils are “messengers of satan,” but God transforms them for our good & His glory. Romans 8:28. Paul’s “thorn” kept him utterly dependent upon God for strength to carry on. We do not give up hope because God strengthens us inwardly by His Spirit. J. Danson Smith wrote,

“Strange gift indeed! -- a thorn to prick,
   To pierce into the very quick;
To cause perpetual sense of pain;
   Strange gift! -- and yet, ‘twas given for gain.”

What was Paul’s response to God’s promise of strength? Contentment with his weakness! The conclusion of Verse 9, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.” And Verse 10, “Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am content with my weaknesses.” NLT. Have you caught Paul’s attitude toward human trials and limitations? Is it yours? Verse 10c “For when I am weak, then am I strong.” The less I have, the more I depend on Him! The primary qualification for success in God’s work is a sense of our own weakness. Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Humility makes us usable in God’s sight. If we go in our own strength and feel self-sufficient, we get in God’s way.

“When I am weak, then I am strong;
Grace is my shield, and Christ my song.”

Dr. Winter told the Gordon College graduates that God’s power shows up best in weak people. “When we try to do it on our own, we tend to mess things up. When we trust God, we have more strength in hard times.” The last thing Winter told the graduates they really need is a CONTINUAL SENSE THAT GOD IS WITH THEM.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Three different times I begged God to make me well again. Each time He said, ‘No, but I am with you; that is all you need.’” Living Bible. There is no promise in the Bible that God will keep us from trouble in life. But there is the promise that if we will be content and trust God in good times and bad, we will be blessed and have the strength we need in any situation.

As you read Verse 9, don’t stop at the word “infirmities,” Paul learned to glory in his infirmities, so “That the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Williams translates “rest” as “may overshadow me.” The Greek word for “rest” literally means to spread a tent over me! The image is of the Shechinah glory of God that hovered over the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle & Temple in the Old Testament. God’s presence & strength will rest upon you, and that’s all you need.

A. Theodore Ekholm, January 16, 2005

Lake Region Baptist