“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.” - 2 Corinthians 12:10
It is an odd thing to hear, that in weakness is strength. That is very un-american. Its un-human. But why do we pretend to be so strong when in fact we are so weak? And why is it, that when we come up against painful experiences we often boast in ourselves, our own strength, and ability rather than resting in the all sufficient grace of God?
If we’ve tasted of the goodness of God, felt the freeing nature of salvation from the chains of sin, and we’re honest with ourselves we will confess that we are very weak people, running back to that sin over and over again. This is one of the most beautiful tenets of the Doctrines of Grace: a sobering acknowledgment of our own weakness and inability. We are in fact poor, frail, and transgressing human beings, unable to cease from sin for even one hour.
But here we see a man who is “content” with weakness. This literally means that he takes pleasure in, is pleased with, and approves of his weakness. Without trying to make a generalization, I find it hard to believe that if you were to tell someone in our culture today that weakness is something that you are pleased with that they would agree with you. Even many Christians wouldn’t share in this delight over being weak. Yet this is the character we see from the apostle Paul. He is not delusional; he is a man who is overwhelmed with the Gospel and someone who understands his identity in Christ.
The pain that Paul is experiencing has been brought to him by a messenger of Satan in order to harm him and discourage him from continuing his Gospel ministry. This messenger was sent to him to keep him from exalting himself because of the “surpassing greatness of the revelation” the Lord had given him. Yet in God’s love for Paul, he hid this pride from him by way of this thorn in his flesh; He prevented Satan from hindering him and, instead, caused this evil from Satan to be a great help. Conversely, when many of us experience pain we get angry with God thinking that as Christians we are now immune to pain, or that all that we pray for will be answered. This Gospel scene teaches us the exact opposite, however.
In the mind of Paul he imagines the death of Christ. He imagines how weak He appeared to the onlookers. He imagines how frail He seemed when He was whipped and beaten; how pathetic He looked to the crowds as He carried that wooden cross and then hung on it for all to see. To the world, our Lord looked like the weakest and most humiliated man that had ever lived. Yet Paul knows the truth. What the world saw as weakness was instead immovable love; undying devotion; steadfast faithfulness; and, indeed, the truest sense of power (2 Corinthians 13:4). Paul has a Gospel paradigm; his entire mind is consumed with the Gospel (Philippians 4:8) and this kind of thinking. He knows the passion of Christ. He is assured that when he is weak himself, then he is strong; because his identity, his calling, and his strength is in the Christ that appeared weak. His circumstances of pain and misery led him to boast in that weakness rather than attempt to muster his own strength because of his reliance on grace.
When we face different trials and pains do we look at them in this way? Do we recognize pain for what God may be intending it for? Indeed, if our weakness is something that we are able to boast of, then absolutely nothing can ultimately overtake us.
When faced with pain we must follow the actions of Paul:
Prayer: Paul prayed earnestly that this affliction would be taken from him. He immediately prayed, because “Prayer is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every malady; and when we are afflicted with thorns in the flesh we should give ourselves to prayer” (Matthew Henry). But we must also note that Paul’s prayer was not answered with the removal of his pain. Instead God answered by saying that His grace would be sufficient for him. Afflictions are sent to us for our spiritual benefit, and it is good that we pray they be removed, but we must be all the more prayerful that they benefit us how God intends. This moment in the letter is a reminder of how our Lord prayed three times also before his crucifixion, yet it was the Father’s will that he desired to fulfill, not his own.
We are weak people, but this is a good thing. Everyone is weak. Yet, we who are loved by God, have the grace and the strength of God with which we can boast gladly of our own weaknesses, failures, insults, and hardships we encounter, because of the Gospel that envelops our hearts and minds, and the God of all grace that is with us!