Walking in Strength/Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

July 4th & 5th, 2009


            Today we begin our summer sermon series on walking.  For the next several weeks each message will address walking in some form.  Why walking?  For one, an aspect of walking is in each scriptural text.  Two, there is an everyday/normal sense to walking and so to the messages are to be very practical and not something beyond what we are able to do.    Third, we walk without thinking, it is simply a natural extension of who we are.    Have you noticed though, that each of us have distinctive walks?  For example, you can see someone you know from a distance and recognize them because of the way they walk    Today we hear that it is good to walk, to live everyday life not only in strength, but also to be strong in the midst of our weaknesses.  This sounds strange to us because we usually do not see our weaknesses as something to be brought out to the world    For example, on this fourth of July weekend we as a country focus on the strong parts of our nation, and not our collective weak points.  In other words we will probably not hear a lot about the history of slavery or the positives of the Vietnam war over the 4th of July, but what we may hear stories of the American Revolution , WW 2, and our unique constitution.  We hold up our strengths, and not our weaknesses, and yet the apostle Paul does just the opposite.  He says when we are weak, then we are strong. 

            Our walk as Christians, is not a solo event.   Early in Jesus ministry Jesus called his apostles with the words “Follow me”.  In John 10 he says “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”   In this walk, we as his people are called not to walk in front, and not even beside Jesus, but to joyfully walk behind him, listening to his voice and following his direction.  We are also not walking behind Jesus by ourselves, he has other sheep, other believers who walk with us.  So our lives are shaped by the shepherd, other sheep, and those who are outside the sheepfold.    Since the fall, our natural way to do things is to walk to fast and go in front of Jesus or to think we can bring Jesus back with us.  In each of these situation we have some measure of control.  When we are in front, we can be in charge, we can decide between good and evil,  and you know we just might get a little more honor and a little more credit from the other followers if they see  you and me up front.

            Some of these walking beside Jesus or even a bit in front of Jesus were what Paul referred to as “Super Apostles”.    These were influencers and leaders who came into the Corinthian congregation after Paul had left, and  said that what Paul was telling them about Jesus, and how they could remain with him wasn’t quite enough.   They would still talk about Jesus, but they started to put whole lot of stipulations, and regulations in the way of getting close to Jesus.  These regulations, whether food laws or circumcision  really assured them that they would remain close to Jesus while everyone else would be walking behind them.  They got the attention, and Jesus was not really in the picture, oh he was mentioned on occasion, but he was no longer in front.     These so called super apostles “were impressive” in their presence, and by Paul’s own admission he was not.   They were better speakers than Paul, and by his own admission he was timid.  Paul’s letters were quite forceful, but many would say that when you see him he is not all that impressive.  They were trained in rhetoric and speech and were very persuasive and Paul was not.  They  charged for their services, which implied that the message they brought was worth something.  Paul, didn’t charge a thing.   These “super apostles” by their lives and the visual effect on peoples lives in the congregation seemed to show that Paul’s message concerning the Jesus who loved them without charge, and forgave repentant sinners completely whether they were Jew or Gentile, big or Small sinner,s was not enough.   Jesus was now back in the pack, back behind the super  apostles, no longer giving his grace and mercy, but simply barking out new commands, new ways of religion.  Grace, and mercy no longer predominated.

            This infuriated Paul, and it should infuriate us, when Jesus is portrayed as something he is not.   He knew that these apostles were in fact boasting of their abilities,  their knowledge, of their being out in front, and he knew that this wasn’t helpful to anyone.   So he takes their argument, Paul is a weak apostle, and says in fact that is a strength.   Remember that old song, “Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong”.  He turns their argument on its head, and claims that he to can boast of great “spiritual insight”, but that in the end this is not as helpful as something else.   He talks in our lesson about an “out of body” experience that he had.   In this experience he was brought to the heavenly realms.    In many “religions” this is the ultimate, an experience with the divine.  I have spoken with people who sincerely  have had “out of body experiences”.   I have spoken one on one with a person who spoke of a miraculous healing and warmth that pulsated through his hand, as he as a child experienced death defying cold.   We’ve all seen or of  such miraculous proofs, and while doubting some of it, some of it may be true.  Paul also had Jesus  speak directly to him on at least three occasions.  At his conversion, before journeying to Macedonia, and here.    He has been to the pinnacle, but he doesn’t want to emphasize this, he doesn’t want to boast in this.  Why, he knows that this isn’t nearly as helpful to others or as real and true as something else.   You see the world looks for proofs in experiences, in what we can see, but Christianity comes alive in the middle of weakness, suffering, persecution and when our inabilities shine through.   Why?   Human weakness provides the opportunity for the display of God’s power.

            So next Paul describes a very “real” physical weakness.  It was chronic condition, something he didn’t have before.  We don’t know what it was, but it was a “messenger of Satan”.  As with any sickness or illness it did not have divine origin.   What is your weakness? What makes you and me less then we should be?   What is it that has humbled you, maybe even brought you to your knees?  Something you have no control over, but you wish it would go away.  Paul prayed three times for the Lord to take it away.  Just like Jesus prayed at Gethsemane for the Lord to take this cup from him.    Jesus answered his prayer, but not as he desired  ‘MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU, FOR MY POWER IS MADE PERFECT IN WEAKNESS”.   You have heard it said “God won’t give you more than you can bear.  This is not bad though not exactly what the bible says “God won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but will provide a way out” (1 Cor. 10:13).  I think, in my humble opinion the phrae “My Grace is sufficient for you,  is even better.  Why, it is a reminder that it is Christ’s grace, that is unmerited mercy, which will sustain us.   Even if we did something to cause or partially have a role in our weak condition, his grace which flows from Calvary is there for you and me.   In our weakness, Jesus picks up the slack.  Jesus is out in front on the walking path, and we are on the receiving end of his goodness.   Paul then says he delights in weaknesses and hardships, persecutions, because no longer can people rely on him, no longer can he rely on himself, but rather on the one who loved him and gave himself or him.  “For when I am weak then I am strong”.


            C.S. Lewis once said , pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.   From this text we know what else God is saying through that megaphone, “My grace is sufficient for you.”   When chronic conditions, and the other unpleasantries of life in this fallen world rear their ugly head in our lives, remember someone else came in the middle of it all and he promises to bring us through it too.   That person out in front, leading us, guiding, us calling and gathering us together under him in his kingdom, is the lord Jesus Christ.  Let us joyfully walk behind him even I our weaknesses, because when we are weak, we are strong. Amen.