A New Kind of Strength
Our two-year-old grandson likes to flex his biceps and boast to me of how strong he is. He is a picture of the desires we all have. We would like to be strong in every area. It is our weaknesses that scare us. We instinctively try to hide or at least cover our vulnerability.
The problem lies in the true definition of strength. For many it is more like bullying and intimidating. The room gets awfully noisy when everyone is boasting of their own strength.
Jesus offers a new model of strength. To those who didn’t get it, he looked like a victim, but he demonstrated what being strong is all about when he defeated death and ascended to rule over all.
Strength That’s Available to You
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth describing the new kind of strength found in the shared life of the resurrected Jesus. It is known as Second Corinthians. He uses five illustrations to get his point across. First, in the introduction he mentions that God has used the weaknesses of his servants as an opportunity to give them a kind of comfort that is beyond human capability.
“Who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)
Since we are his image bearers, we are privileged to reflect a level of strength that is only made evident when we are weak in ourselves. We must get comfortable identifying what looks like weakness as strength. When we are weak he is strong. This gives hope to others who are weak and helpless. They don’t need to see how strong we are in ourselves. That only discourages them since they aren’t us. They need to know of a strength (comfort) that is available to them.
Captive for Christ
Second, he describes us as captives who emit an aroma of victory.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” (2 Corinthians 2:14)
The picture is of a conquering general leading his army, and the captives of his victory, through the streets of his city. To mask the smell of war, the air is filled with pleasant smells of perfume. The captives become a part of the parade. Paul is saying that we have been captured by the Lord and have no rights to demand. But we are made into his sons and enlisted in his mission to spread the aroma of hope to the whole world. We must get accustomed to being his captive. It is how we rule.
Shining God’s Light
Third, he describes us as earthen vessels that contain the treasure of his life. When we are broken in the presence of a world of death and darkness, his glory gets out.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
We should not be surprised to learn that we are led into places of affliction and suffering. Just as it was with Jesus on earth, we live for the sole purpose of extending his influence. We do not lose heart, because we are not measuring things the way the temporal world does. Like Stephen, we might get stoned while some unsuspecting “Saul” is watching — and is later converted by the same light and life he saw on Stephen’s face.
Refusing to Bring Reproach on the Gospel
Fourth, he says that we are only limited in our freedom by the desire to promote a clear gospel to those around.
“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities.” (2 Corinthians 6:4)
Since we don’t live to please ourselves, we refuse to bring reproach on the gospel by anything we might do to distract others from the pure truth of God’s word.
Rejoicing in Weakness
Fifth, he declares that boasting on our part should be about our weaknesses rather than our strengths. This is after Paul had prayed that his thorn in the flesh would be removed. He knew God to be good, powerful and interested. So, he prayed for deliverance from some debilitating circumstance. God answered that his strength is magnified in Paul’s weakness.
“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:30)
God does deliver us from all kinds of trouble. Sometimes he transforms the trouble by supplying more grace than the trouble can supply pain. After all, it is his grace that we want magnified, not our personal ease.
There is peace through strength — when the strength comes from overwhelming grace. It is worth getting accustomed to. It is our calling. There is an entire eternity to enjoy the glory that shall be revealed. Comparing our afflictions and weaknesses to such glory is an eye opener. Afflictions are light and momentary. Glory is forever.