“Five times I 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; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
When I look at the life of Paul, it becomes evident that he has gone through some incredibly challenging ordeals during his Christian walk. Whipped. Beaten. Stoned. Shipwrecked. In near constant danger. It would seem that these things would be a hindrance on Paul. These are the very things that were meant to hold him back from living a faithful life devoted to Christ. And yet God still uses him. A key principle that comes up again and again in Paul’s writing that I need to embrace is that Christ’s power is not measured by my adequacy as a person.
In Philippians 3, Paul brings up a list of his qualifications as a righteous person. I can’t help but see myself bringing up all sorts of things that I would put confidence in. My background, both national and familial. How I carry out my righteous duties. How much I give to be a good old Christian. And yet, Paul totally flips the situation on its head by saying that all of those things that made him so good are worthless compared to knowing Christ. Now, my brain knows the truth in this, but my pride kind of gets in the way here. You see, it is oftentimes like a little kid at a birthday party that is not theirs. A kid who is so desperate for attention that they totally lose focus of what this is all about. My pride screams out “Hey! Hey! Look at me! Look at all these things I can do! Look at how great I am! LOOK AT ME.” The point of it is, all of the things that I would have confidence in are counted as sewage in comparison with having a relationship with Christ. And so all of my abilities and qualifications have become impotent in contrast with what it means to know Christ. And yet Christ is still using me. What it comes down to is not that my talents are of no use, but it is all about what they are trying to accomplish. I must use my gifts not for selfish ambition, but rather to honor and glorify Christ in my life. But if that is how I am to look at my strengths, how in the world am I to look at my shortcomings?
Take a look at II Corinthians 12. Paul is going through his discourse on his thorn in the flesh. He goes on to say how this is a daily battle for him. How he is struggling with this hardship every single day. How he has pleaded with God to take this burden away from him. And yet what is God’s response?
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Again, what would be a hindrance becomes the very thing that spurs Paul on. When I am weak, then I am strong. God uses the things that Satan throws in order to hold back and uses them to display his power. So it doesn’t really matter about how great I am at something or how weak I am as a person; Christ’s power is at work regardless.
What does this say about me? That I am unimportant? That I have nothing to offer? By no means! God takes the talents I have and uses them for his glory, instead of my own. And my weaknesses? God is at work there as well equally if not more so. For the astounding thing about God’s power is that he not only amplifies what is good about me, he also transforms that which would render me incapable and makes me able. Despite my flaws and shortcomings, Christ’s power is still ever present in my life to carry out the ministry of grace that he established on the cross.