The Strength of Weakness

by Wayne Barber

Weakness in our spiritual culture today is evidently politically incorrect. We do not tolerate weakness. We have adopted the secular culture's lie that somehow we can accomplish anything if we just suck it up and try harder. On the walls in most college sports facilities is a sign that reads "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." "You can do it, you can do it" is the silent cheer of our flesh in it's endeavor to survive in this stress-filled world. Sadly, the message of "Jesus be Jesus in me; No longer me but Thee; resurrection power, fill me this hour; Jesus be Jesus in me" is lost in the voices of those who have no clue about the Christian life.

But, as we will see in the next several articles, God has His own way of bringing us to the end of ourselves. One of the ways is through persecution. You see, it's quite a wake-up call when the believer discovers that not everyone is going to be in favor of his living a yielded life to Christ. In fact, there is a lot of pain from the "enemies of the cross" when we choose to allow Jesus to be Jesus in and through us. If we would but consider the life of the Apostle Paul and the pain he had to endure because of Christ living in him, we would begin to better understand.

What we have to go through pales in comparison to what he endured. It reminds me of the story about a man who survived the Johnstown Flood, and when he died he went to heaven. He kept pestering Simon Peter for the opportunity to give his testimony. Simon Peter finally gave in and said "Okay, it will be Saturday night at 7:00." The man could hardly wait to share how God had delivered him from that great flood-until Simon Peter added, "you might want to know that Noah will be sitting on the second row!"

In the next few articles we will learn from Paul how to appreciate weakness in our Christian life.

The context is found in 2nd Corinthians 11, where Paul says that false teachers have one motive-to deceive their listeners, and one method-pretending to be servants of righteousness, while in fact their master is the devil himself. In view of this, Paul has to resort to what makes him most uncomfortable: He is going to sound like he is commending himself. Thus he says in verse 16: "Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little."

The Greek word for "foolish" is aphro\n. It identifies a person who has lost the correct measure of himself and of the world around him. It comes from a-without; and phren-understanding. Paul is saying it is possible that someone might think that he has lost touch because he is about to once again boast of himself. Since the false teachers are evidently playing on the sympathy of the Corinthians by speaking of how they have been wrongly treated, Paul feels that he must respond to them: "What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also" (vv. 17-18).

The problem is that the Corinthians were listening to and tolerating the false teachers, who were taking them for all they were worth: "For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly" (v. 19). Anecho\ is the Greek word translated "tolerate." It expresses the thought that "You're listening to them. You bear with what they have to say." The irony is that the Corinthians thought themselves to be so wise! But they showed how foolish they really were by not only humoring the fakes that were calling themselves apostles; but doing it gladly! They were even paying large sums of money to hear their false message.

The Corinthians had thus put themselves back under bondage: "For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face" (v. 20). Besides "devouring" the Corinthians' finances, this bondage included the false teachers exalting themselves at their expense and even harming them physically. And the Corinthians were so blinded that they put up with the false teachers' immoral and illicit behavior gladly.

Paul says in effect "Wow! We should have been a lot tougher than we were, since you are willing to tolerate that sort of thing!"-"To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison" (v. 21). Then, in a tone of righteous indignation at their foolish behavior, Paul goes on to say: "But in whatever respect anyone else is bold, I speak in foolishness, I am just as bold myself."

This begins to set the stage for our discovering the strength of weakness. Let me ask: Are you too strong for God to use? I look forward to our next article that will open this subject up further.

Wayne Barber is senior pastor of Hoffmantown Church in Albaquerque, New Mexico

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