One of the most popular scripture verses is the second part of 2 Corinthians 12:10b, which states the following: “…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” This is one of those passages that finds its way onto plaques, frames, index cards, chapter headings, church sluglines and much much more. How many of us really understand what the apostle Paul meant by the words, “for when I am weak, then I am strong?” I lift up verses from their context every now and again, so that I have quick, memorable sound bites of scripture. Pastors do it, parents do it, and young believers, and those who would not be caught dead in church on a Sunday morning. Once again, this begs the question of truly understanding what Paul meant by the words, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
John Piper remains one of the most thought-provoking pastor-theologians in our day. He writes clearly and passionately on many tough subjects, which quite a few shy away from to the detriment of their witness. The link to this current post of mine is a piece that Piper published on his Desiring God blog for New Year’s Day titled “Don’t Waste Your Weaknesses.” In the piece, Piper tackles Paul’s classic text of strength in weakness. What does it mean for you and me and us, as God’s people, to boast in our weaknesses, and to experience God’s power in our weaknesses? I can use the words, “for when I am weak, then I am strong,” as a mantra or a catch-all slogan to rouse me up in my time of weakness. Is that what Paul intended, or even better, the Holy Spirit? Piper says no to that question, but he goes even deeper than that question.
In fact, my own questions posed in this post are shallow expressions of the real issue. I live in a world, a country, that views weakness as sin or an impediment to genuine progress. To be strong is to avoid weakness and to refuse to admit weakness; however, such a view tends to lose ground to another Pauline text in his first letter to the Corinthians in the very first chapter: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor. 1:27-28, ESV). In 2 Tim 3, the apostle Paul writes under divine inspiration by the Holy Spirit that all scripture is God-breathed. If I view the Bible as containing the very words of God, then the passage in 1 Cor 1:27-28 reveals God’s truth about the people that he chose for himself.
Let me explain what I mean. God chooses what types of people to be his? According to the text in first Corinthians, the Lord chooses those who are foolish, weak, low, despised, and are not or nothing to become his people. When I see weakness in me or in us, then shock or surprise has no place in the church or me. In fact, I should expect to see weak and foolish and despised people in God’s kingdom because that is exactly who he chose to be in his kingdom. Look at the lives of the apostles…who were they in the eyes of the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes? Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ faced rejection from his hometown of Nazareth because they saw him merely as the son of a carpenter. The prophet Isaiah wrote thousands of years ago that the Messiah had nothing about his appearance or character, which would commend him to others as excellent, refined, or sophisticated.
Back to Piper and his piece on Paul…it’s clear and hard-hitting. After reading it, you might even say that Piper was way off or too negative. All I want to say to that is to remember the perception of the apostles, the early church, and our Lord Jesus in the eyes of the world. Should you and I expect to be treated any differently? The hope of all this is even more mind-blowing as Jesus uses the dim-witted apostles to advance his message and the kingdom. He uses the early church, and especially the ministry of Paul to bring the gospel to the nations. Today, the Lord desires to use his church, which includes you and me, to advance his kingdom. We must acknowledge our weaknesses in his presence in order to be empowered in the midst of them. If this sounds topsy-turvy, then join the club. Isaiah quoted the Lord saying that his ways are not our ways, nor are his thoughts our thoughts. Coming to the Lord and his word means reckoning with the truth that he presents to us.