Summary: My weaknesses cause me to rely on God, who supplies me with sufficient strength.
“When I am weak, then I am strong.”
The Big Idea: My weaknesses cause me to RELY on God, who supplies me with sufficient STRENGTH.
(1) What kind of “weakness” is Paul talking about?
(2) What is the source of our weaknesses?
(3) What is the purpose of our weaknesses?
I. What Kind of “Weakness” is Paul Talking About?
“My power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses” (v. 9).
“For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses” (v. 10).
(The King James Version uses the word “infirmities” in verses 9 and 10. But the Greek word is the same in all three verses.)
“Weakness” is similar in meaning to four other words in verse 10:
A. “Weakness” is not WRONG BEHAVIOR.
Paul’s not talking about moral weakness (like a weakness for lust or gossip).
B. “Weakness” is a PROBLEM we have no CONTROL over.
Paul is talking about problems that make us look weak.
“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
II. What Is the Source of Our Weaknesses?
Paul’s weakness was his “thorn in the flesh” (v. 7).
A. Our weaknesses come from SATAN who desires to HARRASS us.
“… a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (v. 7b).
The exact nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is unknown. Some scholars believe his thorn refers to persecution from his enemies. However, if that were true, “messenger” should be plural. Paul’s thorn was probably some kind of sickness. The most popular suggestions are epilepsy, an eye sickness, a speech impediment, malaria, leprosy, and depression.
Satan wanted Paul to give up his ministry of preaching the message of Christ and planting churches. So he tried to discourage him by harassing him with the thorn. But Paul also says that the thorn also came from God. Of course, God had a much different reason for giving him the thorn.
B. Our weaknesses come from GOD who desires to HUMBLE us.
“To keep me from being conceited … there was given me a thorn in my flesh …” (v. 7a).
Fourteen years earlier, Paul had been “caught up” to the “third heaven” and “paradise” (v. 2). The Greek word for “caught up” [harpazo] is the same word used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where Paul writes that those who are alive at the time of Christ’s return will be “caught up … to meet the Lord in the air.” The “third heaven” and “paradise” (in my opinion) are the same place: the place where the glory of God dwells.
God thinks humility is more important than comfort (another example of the upside down way of God).
Thomas Watson said, “A sickbed often teaches more than a sermon.” There are some lessons we can only learn when we are weak.
III. What Is the Purpose of Our Weaknesses?
A. Our weaknesses keep us from being SELF-RELIANT.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (v. 8).
Paul’s threefold prayer parallels Jesus’ threefold prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-41).
Paul’s thorn in the flesh resulted in him going to God in prayer. He realized that he couldn’t handle his problem on his own.
B. Our weaknesses cause us to be GOD-RELIANT.
1. When I rely on God, He will give me the STRENGTH I need.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’” (v. 9a).
“Sufficient” = “enough.” There will never be a time when our suffering is so great that God cannot provide us with enough strength to bear it.
Paul’s point in verse 10 is that whenever he is weak, then he is strong; not if he is weak, then he is strong. Paul does not seek to suffer. He’s not saying the weaker he is, the stronger he is. He’s saying that Christ’s power is present in His suffering, whenever and wherever and however suffering should come his way.
“… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
2. When I rely on God, I DISPLAY the power of God to others.