When we are weak then we are strong
We will not be strong because of our own sense of righteousness, morality and good behaviour.
by Geoff Thomas
What a constant theme is Christian weakness in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. How alien a message it is to the prevailing Christian ethos of the 21st century. For example, those churches which claim to have benefited from renewal are hardly characterised by a sense of weakness. They are confident, assertive congregations who will tell you of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their midst and what indescribable blessings they are receiving from God. For them it would be a sign of failure to acknowledge any weakness, but for a truly renew congregation, the more it grows in its understanding of God the greater is the consciousness of its helplessness. How poorly it is serving the Triune God. It is then that a congregation is strong!
Where is our strength? It is not in our natural birth. We shall not rely upon the fact that we belong to a certain race or nation. Our natural temperament can’t be the secret of our strength. Our natural position in life, or any powers that have been given to us, they don’t make us strong. We know that we cannot be strong through money or any wealth we have inherited. Our education and academic prowess or the college we went to can’t make us strong. Our post graduate research and the degrees we have gathered don’t make us strong men and women. All that is what Paul called ‘dung,’ a hindrance to true spiritual strength because it had once mastered and controlled him. We are not going to rely on any gifts like those which are referred to as a ‘strong personality’, or intelligence, or special talents. We will not be strong because of our own sense of righteousness, morality and good behaviour. We will not tap the strength of the life we have lived hitherto, or have been trying to live. There is no strength in those things at all. They are all to be regarded as dung. That is the challenge of Christian weakness. There is a complete deliverance from and absence of all that. You will remember Paul lists all those natural achievements which he shared with all his fellow countrymen, though he excelled them all. He tells us he regarded them as enemies to serving God and his fellow men.
Paul felt that in himself he was nothing and had nothing, and he had to look to God in utter submission and total dependence on the Lord and his grace. He was like Isaiah once he had seen the Lord; all his self-worth and self-reliance went. He was like John on the island of Patmos; when God drew near he emptied him of all his life and strength and he collapsed to the floor. How weak and small and insignificant we are. If I am going to live the life of God in this world of hot temptation and deceit then it must be by a strength that comes totally from outside the creation, from the Creator himself. I am strong, yet not I, Christ the mighty one is in me, and the life I am living is by faith in him who loved me and gave himself for me.
That was the strength that Paul could see in some of the Corinthian Christians, and that was also the weakness he knew was in himself. “We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong,” (v.9). The greatest help I could be to strengthening my congregation would be a growing realization of my own weakness. How do I really feel about myself as I think in terms of the living God and the presence of Christ? And as I live my life, and face the challenges of every day, what are the things I am praying about, what matters do I like to think of with regard to myself? What a poor thing it is, this boasting of the things that are accidental and for which I am not responsible, and that won’t help one other man or woman come to a knowledge of God, and that will count so little when we stand in the presence of God?
George Matheson was a distinguished 19th century Scottish preacher. His first book was entitled “Aids to the Study of German Theology.” He belonged to the Broad Church party in the Church of Scotland believing in the trendy theories of the Victorian period such as Higher Criticism and evolution. Then he passed through a great trial. He lost his sight, and he lost his sense of strength and his inbuilt confidence too. He came to disbelieve in the theories of Higher Criticism and evolution. He looked to the Saviour much more than ever before and lived the life that is hid with Christ in God. He wrote the hymn, “O Love that wilt not let me go” wherein he confessed he needed to rest his weary soul in Christ, and yield his flickering torch to the Saviour. He sighed, “I lay in dust life’s glory dead.” Then he wrote another hymn, “Make me a captive, Lord” and there he
“I sink in life’s alarms
When by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms
And strong shall be my hand.”
Matheson said that his will needed to resign its crown to reach the monarch’s throne:
“It only stands unbent,
Amid the clashing strife,
When on Thy bosom it has leant
And found in Thee its life.”
Spiritual weakness is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to assert one’s strengths. During the last month I have heard two African pastors addressing large conferences. Eloquent and earnest men, nevertheless both are failing as men and ministers by their assertiveness. No doubt they have picked this up from many of the white preachers they have heard, but also from the culture in which they have been nurtured whose view of the successful man is overwhelmingly macho. It seems that the churches in Africa as much as the people of God in the northern hemisphere are failing to teach their congregations an awareness of the Christian’s utter weakness, that this is the door to living according to the Sermon on the Mount, that it is the best of all the graces and the only means of attaining the power of the Spirit. Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as being aware of our own weakness. There may be enthusiastic and active practice of aspects of Christianity while an awareness of weakness is sadly lacking. We may find translators, professors, preachers and Christian workers who possess other gifts of the Spirit and who do help people in many spheres, but in these men the grace of being weak is rarely evidenced. It is a colossal loss. The Christian is a crucified man, not a bouncy bonny boy. The whole self-awareness of the Christian is to be imbued by the spirit of the sacrifice of Christ. He presents himself to God as one who has died with Christ and in Christ is alive again. His life will bear the two-fold
mark: its roots in the one crucified in weakness on Golgotha, death to sin and self; its head lifted up in resurrection power.
The way to become spiritually weak is to look at God. Look at what he expects from us; contemplate the time when we stand before him. View him as we see him in the gospels and in the book of Revelation. When the apostles did this they said, “Lord, increase our faith.” They felt they believed so little, the more hopeless they felt themselves to be. They looked to the Almighty Jesus: “I am weak, but Thou art mighty, Hold me in the powerful hand. Bread of heaven feed me now and evermore.” You cannot truly look at him without feeling your absolute weakness. Empty, naked, hopeless, vile. But he is the all-sufficient one: “Yea, all I need in Thee to find, O Lamb of God I come.” That is the posture of the renewed congregation.
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