We think of weakness and strength as opposites. To be strong is good and means to be without weakness. To be weak is bad and means to be without strength. Most of us want to be thought of as strong. We are concerned that people won’t think highly enough of us if we show our weakness.
Paul was seemingly a strong man with a fruitful ministry. His ineffable visions of heaven strengthened him to endure much hardship and motivated his extraordinary labor for the gospel. He had seen the glories of where he was headed and could say, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). But Paul did not boast in the details of his visions. He refused to boast in his strength, but boasted only in his weakness. Paul wanted people to think highly of Christ alone—to see his power.
Paul embraced suffering. His inability to rid himself of the “thorn” (whatever it was) or avoid difficult circumstances showcased God’s power working in and through him. Paul preached the gospel, but God was doing the work of saving sinners and building churches. It was God who was strong.
Jesus’ crucifixion was the ultimate display of strength through weakness. The weakness of Jesus, being abused, mocked, and reviled, required great strength. The Son of God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). It would have been a small thing to destroy his enemies. Jesus was strong enough to become weak for our sake, submitting to his Father, even to death on a cross. That weakness satisfied the wrath of God, brought the glory of the resurrection, orchestrated the salvation of a multitude of sinners, and resulted in ultimate power over sin and death.
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Jesus shows his power through weak sinners. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:20) works within us through “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities,” to make us content for the sake of Christ (2 Cor. 12:10) and to conform us to his likeness (Rom. 8:29). God graciously send thorns of adversity to chisel away our hope in the worldly things in which we find our satisfaction, comfort, and security, and to cause us to hope in him alone. Jesus is the lover of our souls who will satisfy our deepest longings. His immense power to satisfy and purify sinners is exalted when we are content in our weakness.
As Christians, one day Paul’s ineffable vision will be our life. We will rejoice as the strong, gentle hand of our Savior removes every thorn and wipes every tear away. For today, be strong by contenting yourself with weakness for the sake of Christ. Weakness and strength are not opposites but two sides of the same coin. When we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10).