Strength in Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What do you do when you are mostly misunderstood by someone; misjudged to be a weak person, your work to be unimportant, your contribution to be of minimal value in the community? Do you come out swinging or escape into the shadows?

In this last part of this second letter to the Corinthians it is clear that the Corinthians have considered Paul to be weak and of minimal value to them. Some have misjudged him, misunderstood him and miscalculated his value to Jesus’ new creation kingdom coming.

In so doing they show that they have missed God’s new creation. They have gone back to the old – judging everything on performance, strength, winning, beauty and power …

Paul does not come out swinging or escape to the shadows. He ‘boasts’ not of his great power or status, but of his weakness and God’s power, on three fronts.

  1. Paul is more connected to the God’s promises than all of them

22 Are they (his opponents) Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.

2.  Paul has worked harder and suffered more than all of them.

23 Are they servants of Christ? I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches … (2 Cor 10:16-29)

3.  Paul has experienced high and lofty spiritual moments with Jesus in the Holy Spirit that would put the even the most ‘spiritually gifted’ Corinthian in the shade.

“… I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. And I know that this man … was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Cor 12:1-4)

Then this strange little reference …

32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands. (2 Cor 10:30-33)

We will come back to the conquering of walls …

Whatever way you look at it, Paul is highly credentialled in this gospel mission. He is like a teacher with decades of experience entering the classroom of a first- year teacher. He is like a wily old farmer entering a conversation with the young blokes at the field day. He could use his experience as power, to look good, control the others and convince himself that he has ‘still got it’. Paul does not do that. He knows it would be a lie.

He tells them the truth of what is has been to live this life in the gospel of Jesus, but not to hold it over them in power. ‘boasts of his suffering, heritage and spiritual experience to give them the opportunity to enter those permanent things of life and blessing. He wants to help them know the permanent things of God known deeply in his heart, not merely the temporary things seen everyday with eyes.

12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. (2Cor 5:12)

Paul tells his story not to look good or maintain power over people but to encourage them. His goal is that people would be proud of his hard work and know his suffering and his great spiritual learning and experience to continue in the new creation life they already have in Jesus. He wants them to join him, praise God for the gospel, work with him, continue to work together in this good news life.

But this is so hard for them and us.

Back to that strange little reference to the night Paul went over the wall…

32 In Damascus …  33  … I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his (King Aretas’) hands. (2 Cor 10:32-33)

For the Corinthians, this would scream “weakness, cowardice, loser … !”

See, in their city courage and achievement and winning was the goal of life. One listed one’s life achievements in public view in stone or marble (in public places and permanent!).

If you were a civil engineer who worked for the water company for 20 years and helped design the city bridge, then that would be listed on your front wall for all to see and forever – etched in marble or stone.

If you were a local government official, this would be on the list with the dates of your public rule.

Even more, if you served in the military, then that would be especially marked: Rank, dates, battles …

And then the highest honour – like Ben Robert’s Smith – Victoria Cross, in the War Memorial in Canberra… was reserved for the military person who showed the most bravery in the most dangerous situation that meant the most in the victory of Rome in any siege battle – the first one over the city wall – This is the “Corona Muralis” – “the Crown of the Wall”.

Paul declares with pride that he did the opposite when under siege! He was not the great ‘first one over the wall’ but the first one to be let down the wall in retreat! He boasts of an upside-down Corona Muralis!

Paul is like the person applying for the job by listing all the reasons why he is not fit for the job – with a smile and confidence – not in himself, but in the one for whom he already works!

He is boasting of all the ‘wrong’ things to show them the God things.

He boasts of ‘weak’ human suffering because he knows that most of the time, we struggle trust that God’s grace is enough for us in our pain, doubts suffering, questions, hard times, illness and fear or future.

I still believe that I am enough. I spent a lot of time relying on my own sufficiency, performance, understanding and wisdom to get by day by day.

This leads to one of two things –

  1. Despair that I am actually not good enough and can never be no matter how hard I try; so I give up this new creation life and go back to the old.
  2. Or in frustration at the world, the church and God for not noticing my good efforts to be good enough for his goodness. I power on boasting to myself and everyone else that “I am good enough. God is the problem!”

And then in such great love comes – uncomfortable though it is, Jesus sends me (as he did for Paul) a thorn – to keep me honest, to render my goodness not good enough and his goodness completely enough; to render my weakness the ground in which he cultivates his new life in me.

So, whether you are fighting or flighting, despairing or boasting, sure you are a winner or feeling like a loser, Jesus sends you the thorn to show you his perfection, his complete undeserved presence and promises. He allows my weakness and sends me things that make we weak to show me and others that anything good I do or say is actually all his good doing and saying.

So, it is time for burning the spandex, friends!

If God had any model of what it is to be a superhero in his new creation kingdom it would not be someone in the spandex suit that Superman or Batman or any of the Marvel superheros wear.

If God has a superhero in his new creation kingdom to call us to be like it would not be spandex wearing Superman, but probably more like a Mr Bean. No spandex, no big body, no big voice, no big car, no big guns – just a teddy in a little suitcase and few words and a lot of mistakes!

Let’s burn the spandex at St Petri. Let’s not go for the Corona Muralis.

For we live by faith in the permanent, not by sight in the temporary (2Cor 5:7)

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as our servants for Jesus’ sake.  (2Cor 4:4-6)





Sunday 8:45am
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