Weakness is the way of the Christian life. In our might-makes-right world and in a culture where being loud is better than being true, we have an amazing opportunity to show the beauty of the gospel in our weakness.
A boast in ourselves
I am a pastor, so I run in a lot of pastor circles, have attended a ton of pastor’s meetings and conferences and have read a ton of pastoral ministry books and articles. Throughout my twelve years in vocational ministry, I have never once heard a pastor talk about his own weakness from the stage or in personal conversation with other ministers.
Most of the conversations between pastors become opportunities to couch our pride within a hollow boast of the Lord. We talk about numbers, about baptisms and about budgets. On the surface, this looks like we are giving glory to God, but underneath many times you can sense a desire for our own glory to be seen.
We are really boasting in ourselves.
Paul’s boast in the Lord
In reading through 2 Corinthians lately, I have been struck by what Paul chooses to use as fruit of his ministry to defend his faithfulness and show God’s glory. In chapters 11 and 12, as Paul takes the “false apostles” who have charged him with burdening and dividing the church to task, he talks about his own weakness as the defense of his authentic apostleship.
Paul doesn’t talk about how many churches he has planted. Paul doesn’t point to the number of people he has baptized. Paul doesn’t defend himself with the size of the offerings he has taken up to help needy churches.
Paul points to the moments of his greatest weakness to show God’s glory and strength at work in him.
In chapter 11, Paul boasts about the times he has “received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked.” And on he goes.
In chapter 12, Paul points us to the thorn in his flesh, which he has pleaded with God to be taken away three times. He could talk about the time he was taken into the presence of God. He could boast about all he has seen as the mighty works of the Spirit, but he doesn’t.
He boasts about a thorn in the flesh, a persistent suffering with which he has struggled over and over. He talks about his weakness because in his weakness the power and strength of God shine most clearly. In his weakness, the grace of God proves to be sufficient.
Paul boasts in the Lord, and the way he boasts in the Lord is by boasting in his weakness, in the moments where the sustaining grace of God is the only way he makes it through.
Much of our boasting is actually a way to boast about our own ability or dedication or gifting. We talk about our successes and try to tack God on at the end to cover our spiritual bases.
Paul talked about his lowest moments, not his highest, in the eyes of the world.
A call to weakness
Needless to say, there is not much room for this kind of boast in our modern church culture. Paul would not be invited to the conference stage or be asked to write a book on modern church leadership.
We try to hide our weakness when it is actually the way the Lord shows his glory and grace in our lives. We should boast in the Lord, which means we will boast in our weakness: “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
The Kingdom of God is led by the weak: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matthew 20:16). Jesus showed us the way of humility and sacrifice. Jesus showed us that earthly weakness is the way to spiritual power. Jesus left us an example to follow to show the world the glory of God.
We are called to serve, to sacrifice and to suffer in this world. We are called to be weak and to boast in our weakness.
Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas.