When I Am Weak

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

1. Weakness is Necessary

The strength of God on our behalf requires our own weakness. God's strength must be preceded by man's weakness.

my strength is made perfect in weakness.

therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

for when I am weak, then am I strong.

The phrase "on our behalf" is a very purposeful one. I am not saying that God's power and might is somehow limited by man. God will be who He will be - I AM that I AM - and his nature and attributes do not change. Our God is a God of limitless strength, power, and might - and He will be that way for all eternity.

I do say though that "The strength of God on our behalf requires our weakness". Pharaoh was stiff-necked and proud against the Lord of Hosts, and God displayed His strength, but it wasn't on Pharaoh’s behalf. Strong king Nebuchadnezzar got to experience the power of God, and it caused him to eat grass like cows and become like an animal. In every case this Biblical maxim remains true:

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

In either case - pride or humility, strength or weakness - the strength of God is demonstrated.

What is Weakness?

When we talk about "weakness" or "infirmities", what are we talking about? It seems that the passage goes out of its way to be broad in its scope. In the preceding verses, Paul talks about a "thorn in the flesh". Then in verse 9 he uses "weakness" and "infirmities". In verse 10, Paul goes even further, and adds reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses to the list. These are all forms of physical, mental, and practical weakness.

  • Infirmity - astheneia: feebleness (of mind or body), sickness, weakness, want of strength

These are not sin issues, these are practical situations where strength is lacking. The father of a large family, always struggling to make ends meet on his single income, even with multiple jobs. The woman suffering from persistent auto-immune disease and chronic fatigue. The child who is slowly dying from Lukemia. The parents who are spending all their time, energies, and money taking care of the child dying from Lukemia. The couple who just had their 5th miscarriage, and are giving up the hope of ever bearing children. The young man battling clinical depression

God Will Not Share His Glory

Why is weakness required to access the power of God? Why does God say that "My strength is made perfect in weakness"? Why does God only give grace to the humble?

The answer is simple this: God will not share his glory with another.

I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
Isaiah 42:8

Consider this key attribute of God's nature - His praise, his fame, his worth, his beauty, his... Glory. God is glorious. And in light of God's glory, He is the only one deserving of the word.

No one would deny that the earth has a glory to it. We've all seen the pictures taken from space of beautiful planet earth. It glows in a green-blue, with white clouds swirling around in constantly changing patterns. Hanging in the darkness of space like a lantern, it is indeed glorious.

But what is that glory compared to the glory of the sun, who constantly gives its light and heat to the solar system? If the earth is radiant, the sun ten billion times so. If the earth is powerful, the sun ten trillion times more. If the earth is large, the sun many times larger. And beyond all that, the glory of earth is not really her own - it's just a reflection. The true power and glory belongs to the sun.

In this way the glory of man is not our glory at all. Our breath is given by God, our minds are given by God, our energies are given by God... What do we have that has not been given to us by the Glorious One?

The Foolish Things

God goes so far as to purposely choose foolish and weak things in man's sight in order to display his power and glory. Look for the reason why God does this:

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29

There are countless examples in Scripture of God's strength being preceded by weakness: Paul, Joseph, Jesus, the characters in Hebrews chapter 11, just to name a few. But the story of Gideon and his army is an especially good example of this point.

Let's recap the story from Judges 1:1-7. Midianites: 135,000 trained soldiers. Israel starts out with an army of 32,000. That's a force less than 25% the size of the enemy. Common sense would say, those are bad odds. But God is not satisfied.

The number of Israelites gets whittled down to 10,000. That's around 7% of the enemy forces. But God's still not satisfied.

Then the number of Isarelites gets slashed down to 300. That's 0.2% of what the Midianites have. Finally, God says "Now that's weakness I can work with".

And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.
Judges 7:2 KJV

2. Weakness is to be Embraced

Beloved, do you want to know the power of God on your behalf? Do you desire his power to be moving and coursing through your life? Do you crave to be used by Him to be a blessings to others? I have first shown how in order to have the power of God, weakness is necessary. Now I will show how weakness is not only necessary, but is to be greeted with joy. Weakness is to be embraced.

Consider the example of Paul:

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities...

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities...

Paul is nothing if not logical. If weakness is necessary for the power of God to be seen, then by all means, Paul says, bring it on! I "take pleasure" in them.

This radical, backwards, counter-cultural attitude was only possible because Paul knew the the truth about how the Kingdom of God works.

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities.... that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

You will only embrace weakness if you know the truth about how it ushers in the power of Christ. Only then will you give up striving in your strength, and take pleasure in the opportunity to lean upon God.

Paul was a man with many responsibilities and weights. The entire Gentile church rested upon his shoulders! He ministered to thousands upon thousands personally, and knew that his letters and disciples would reach thousands more - for generations. He knew that God had specially called him to be a "wise master builder", and for his work and life to be a foundation for the church in years to come.

And yet Paul, mighty Paul, knew the secret to God's power. He knew that he would be more effective in his ministry if he embraced the weakness before him. The power of Christ resting upon him was not merely to help Paul endure his sufferings by the skin of his teeth, but also to make his work in the kingdom of God more powerful.

Weakness Forces Humility

Why embrace weakness? Because weakness forces humility, and humility leads to grace from God.

Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.
Proverbs 3:34

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
James 4:10

Who is the humble man? The one who knows that he is weak. He doesn't pretend that he is weak, or make a religious show of being weak in order to attract the praise of fellow saints. He simply knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is weak, and is in desperate need of God for everything. He is a dependent man, living on God daily for his bread.

It is good for us to remember that as mere men and women, we are weak - whether we feel that we are in a season of weakness or not. Even at his strongest physical and emotional state, mankind is utterly weak compared to God. Consider two ants - one sick, and one healthy. The sick ant feels weak and ineffective compared to the strong healthy ant, but neither creature is any closer to picking up Mount Everest and casting it into the ocean. For tasks as big as that, ant-strength is not of any consequence. Access to a higher power is required.

Weakness Encourages Faith

Again I say, why embrace weakness? Because weakness encourages faith, and faith leads to overcoming power.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
1 John 5:4-5

Who is the faith-filled woman? The one who knows that she is weak. Faith is relying wholeheartedly on the person and work of Jesus Christ. She expects God to move on her behalf, because he has promised to do so, and she remains in that position of faith because she has nowhere else to turn. Peter said "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Peter recognized that he and the other disciples were weak. They didn't have the words of life. Jesus was the only one who did!

Let us peruse the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews chapter 11, and observe how their faith was preceded by weakness.

  • Abraham: Too old
  • Jacob: Brother is plotting to assassinate him
  • Joseph: Sold into slavery, cast into jail
  • Moses: Can't do public speaking, choosing rather to suffer affliction

3. The Grace of God is Always Sufficient

We have seen how the strength of God on our behalf requires our weakness. And we further reason that because of this fact, weakness is to be embraced. If we stopped here, some of us would be encouraged, but many of us would feel a weight of doom and gloom hanging over us. I am obliged then to end with this final head: The grace of God is always sufficient.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee

  • Grace: God's favor towards us, and power in us.

The grace of God is as a well that never runs dry. Even in the hour of your greatest need, even in the times of drought and parched lips, even when the well appears to be just a dusty hole - crank up that water bucket in faith, and you will find it all that you need. No matter the situation, no matter the scenario, no matter how pressed against he wall that you feel... God's grace is enough. To the degree of the difficulty is the degree of the grace. He will not forsake those who trust in Him!

Oh to join the saints throughout the ages who have known by personal experience that "God is enough"!

Why Is It Always Sufficient?

How can I say with such certainty that God's grace is always sufficient? Because my faith rests upon God, and He has promised, He is good, and He is not limited.

He Has Promised

Our God is a God who cannot lie. When he says something, it's as good as done. When he says that grace is available to us, we can safely stake our lives upon it.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

If God has promised, what more do we need?

He Is Good

Secondly, let us look at the nature and character of God, and find in it deep comfort. One of the foundations of who Yahweh is that hes is good.

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Luke 11:13

Our Heavenly Father is willing and desirous to give of His very own self to his children. He does not play games, He does not pretend, He does not forget or ignore. He is near to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18), and a comforter like no other (2 Cor 1:3).

He Is Not Limited

If I made you a promise, you might believe me and trust me. And I hope that you would be encouraged by a past track record of me being good and faithful (Lord willing). But I am finite and weak, and even my best intentions can be easily overruled by circumstances outside of my control like sickness, weather, emergencies, etc. But consider the sufficiency of God's grace in light of this fact: God is not limited. Whenever He purposes to do something, nothing can stand in His way.

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
Isaiah 40:12-15

To quote C.H. Spurgeon:

I have often read in Scripture of the holy laughter of Abraham, when he fell upon his face and laughed. But I do not know that I ever experienced that laughter till a few evenings ago, when this text came home to me with such sacred power as literally to cause me to laugh! I had been looking it through—looking at its original meaning and trying to fathom it, till at last I got hold of it this way—"My Grace," says Jesus, "is sufficient for you," and it looked almost as if it were meant to ridicule my unbelief For surely the Grace of such a One as my Lord Jesus is, indeed, sufficient for so insignificant a being as I am!
It seemed to me as if some tiny fish, being very thirsty, was troubled with fear of drinking the river dry, and Father Thames said to him, "Poor little fish, my stream is sufficient for you." I should think it is, and inconceivably more! My Lord seemed to say to me, "Poor little creature that you are, remember what Grace there is in Me and believe that it is all yours. Surely it is sufficient for you." I replied, "Ah, my Lord, it is, indeed."

Conclusion & Application

We have seen that weakness is necessary, weakness is to be embraced, and that the grace of God is always sufficient.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Some of you are walking through debilitating and persistent disease or physical weakness. You want to serve and be used by God, but you feel like you are always the one who needs to be helped and served. You feel like a drain, not an addition. To you I say, "When you are weak, then you are strong". Look to the Lord, and let him use you in ways that you weren't expecting. Give your two mites of strength - in God's eyes it is more than the greatest gift given out of abundance. Give to the Lord your fishes and loaves, and God will multiply and use as he wills.

Some of you struggle with a mental weakness. Perhaps you are prone to bouts of depression and melancholy. Perhaps you have a learning disability. Perhaps you have just been diagnosed with the beginning stages of Alzheimer's or dementia. To you I say, "when you are weak, then you are strong". Do not pretend that the weakness doesn't exist, but instead look to the Lord to be your strength! You are privileged, and have an opportunity to know the power of God in a unique and special way. When you cannot think clearly, pray. When you struggle to pray, sing. When truth feels far away, declare what you do know. Exert and give 100% of what you have to give in service and love to others.

Whatever the weakness, trial, or thorn, God can use it for His greater glory... If we are willing.

Are you willing to be weak?

When I Am Weak
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