Strength in Weakness
February 11, 2007
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
It stands to reason that if God
is on your side you will be able to avoid pain and want in your life.
After all, pain is bad. Poverty
is bad. We believe in a God
who has conquered sin. Why
should we not believe that he has conquered sickness and poverty as
well? If the fruit of sin
surrounds us how can we claim to be delivered from sin itself?
Did not Jesus heal the sick?
And doesn’t it stand to reason that the God who owns the whole
world would bless his children with at least their fair share of this
Yes, it stands to reason that
God would want us healthy and wealthy.
But what stands to reason cannot stand the test of the Holy
Scriptures. Faith trusts
God’s word. It does not
trust what stands to reason. If
what is reasonable to us must serve as the standard for what we believe
and teach then we’ll have to toss out every single divine mystery
revealed in the Holy Scriptures. Is
it reasonable to believe that God is Triune: three distinct persons yet
only one divine essence? Is
it reasonable to believe that the man Jesus who was born of a virgin and
died on a cross is the almighty and everlasting God, the Creator and
Sustainer of all that exists? Is
it reasonable to believe that a tiny little baby who cannot even talk is
born from above by the Holy Spirit in the washing of Holy Baptism and
receives and possesses the saving faith in the Triune God?
It is reasonable to believe that the bread and wine of the
Lord’s Supper are the body and blood by which we are redeemed from
sin, death, and hell? Is it
reasonable to believe that guilty sinners who have done nothing
righteous are pronounced to be righteous by God Himself when they
believe that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake?
The wonderful mysteries of our holy faith are far above the
ability of human reason to fathom.
We believe what God teaches us for His is a heavenly teaching
that defies judgment by the fallen reason of sinful man.
So we consider this truth.
While it may stand to reason that God wants us to be healthy and
wealthy, it just might be that God wants to bless us by making us suffer
pain and want.
St. Paul had what he called a
thorn in the flesh. He
doesn’t say what it was. We
don’t know. We do know that it caused Paul a great deal of suffering.
He called it a messenger of Satan to torment him.
You may recall how, in the book of Job, God permitted Satan to
torment Job. Satan had
claimed that Job was a faithful Christian because God had blessed him
with great wealth. Take
away his great wealth and he will curse you, Satan claimed.
God let Satan take away Job’s great wealth.
After losing it all he said,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
Job did not accuse God of doing
wrong. He kept the faith. Then God permitted Satan to take from Job his health.
His wife told him to curse God and die.
Job refused. Shall we accept the good that God gives and refuse to accept
adversity? Job kept the
There is a huge religious market
today for a gospel that is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ but
another gospel. It is the
so called prosperity gospel that promises good health and good finances
to Christians if they act on the faith that God wants to prosper them
and give them the good life. Promoted
by such popular preachers as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, this
prosperity gospel has captured the allegiance of millions.
Go to Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club and check out the best sellers.
You find several volumes by these two people, hawking a gospel
that promises an abundant life in which you can overcome the troubles of
But it just might be that God
has something quite different in mind.
The abundant life that Jesus promised is not a life abundant with
health and wealth and worldly success.
It isn’t a life filled with wonderful friends and expensive
things. A Christian’s
abundant life does not consist in things that we have today but could
lose tomorrow. The wealth
that God has to give is imperishable.
It is invaluable. It
is the wealth of heaven itself.
But heaven is not a pleasure
palace filled with expensive things to tantalize the senses.
Heaven’s beauty is divine.
It is God’s purity. It
is peace that transcends all human understanding.
It is a majesty uncorrupted by the sins of this world. It is a joy unfettered by memory of sin, tragedy, suffering,
and death. It is above all
love – divine love – eternal love that embraces you and fills you
and brings you contentment you could never ever have in this life.
St. Paul calls this the third
heaven. He also calls it
Paradise. He was caught up
to heaven. He witnessed
what he could not tell. But
consider what he chose to glory in.
What was his boast? That
he had seen heaven? That he
had experienced a glory no one on earth had ever experienced?
No, he boasted in his weakness.
He boasted in his sickness.
Why? Because when
God made him weak God made him strong.
This is completely contrary to
what stands to reason. But
we must embrace this truth. We
must hold on to it with all our might and let nothing tear it out of our
hearts. If we have this
truth firmly planted into our minds, our hearts, our very souls we will
be able to withstand every adversity in life.
We’ll be able to rejoice when we suffer.
We’ll be able to see our great wealth when we can’t scrounge
up enough money to pay our bills. We’ll
be able to see perfect health when the pain just won’t go away.
When we are weak, then we are strong.
The soil must be plowed.
Only then can you plant the seed.
If you plant the seed on hard soil it won’t take root and grow.
But the plowing is painful.
God plows deep. He plants His word deep.
Then, as it is planted within us, it grows.
It brings life – the abundant life that Christ alone can give.
But what God considers the abundant life this world cannot
appreciate. By God’s
grace we Christians can.
What do you want?
Release from worry about how to pay all the bills?
Do you want relief from chronic pain?
Or maybe you just want to be left alone by someone who’s making
life miserable. There are
pains that run deep and we cannot see any possible benefit.
In fact, we find ourselves demoralized, dejected, depressed, and
at a loss to cope. We pray.
God promises to hear and answer.
But He does nothing we can discern.
We notice no change. Indeed,
matters often just get worse.
Why would God want His children
to suffer? It makes no
sense. Why should we be
rendered so weak? Because
in weakness we learn what we cannot learn when we are strong.
In our strength we learn to trust in ourselves.
It is in being made weak that we learn to depend on Christ.
The self-satisfied don’t
hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Luther used to say that hunger is the best cook.
God makes us hungry for what He alone can provide.
There’s an old saying, “God helps those who help
themselves.” But the
truth is that God helps those who cannot help themselves. God’s
grace is for those who need it. God’s
grace is weaklings. Listen
to what Jesus said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My
strength is made perfect in weakness.”
His strength reaches its goal in us when we are weak.
Being weak means you cannot trust in yourself and you know it.
You cannot manage. You
cannot cope. You’ve
searched within yourself for that inner strength and you couldn’t find
it because it wasn’t there. All
of the spiritual self-help programs in the world cannot turn a sinner
into a saint or give dying people the abundant life.
God must render us weak and
impotent. He must destroy
the idols to which we cling. Why?
Because our flesh is stubborn.
Like a mule, we need to be brought to attention by the proverbial
two by four. Otherwise,
we’ll just keep on clinging to what hurts us and drives us away from
our gracious God. When God
cuts deep into the soil of our pride and exposes the sin that we keep
covered up under the hard and shiny surface, He is not behaving cruelly.
He’s being merciful. The
gospel is for those who have learned to judge themselves. In judging themselves to be weak and poor God makes them
wealthy and strong.
The nature of this strength is
not visible to the naked eye, but the eye of faith can see it clearly.
It is the strength displayed on the cross where Jesus battled the
father of lies and crushed his lying head.
He did so by bearing in His sacred body all the evil of every
human heart. He bore our
sicknesses. He bore our
poverty. He was forsaken in
His holy suffering. This is
how our sin was washed away. This
is where peace with God was made. This
is our treasure. Idolatrous
hearts scorn it as irrelevant to life.
But when God has shattered the worthless idols in which we trust
and has shown us that there were never worthy of our trust in the first
place, He also graciously replaces the false faith with the true faith
that cherishes the blood and righteousness of Jesus more than anything
in heaven or on earth. From
this faith true and lasting fruit will spring up and grow to be healthy
We will not despise suffering. God does not despise us in our suffering.
Instead, by forgiving us our sins for Jesus’ sake and binding
Himself to His promise to work out every bad thing in our lives for
good, God takes our pain and turns it into pure joy.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of
Rev. Rolf D. Preus