Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: This statement of the Apostle Paul “For when I am weak, then am I strong” is confusing and difficult for many to accept. Paul was not anti-power or wants us to be weak. He was a very strong man in many aspects of his life. What did he really mean?

“For when I am weak, then am I strong.” This statement of the Apostle Paul is confusing and difficult for many to accept. Many people want to be strong, whether physically (by doing weights and endurance training in fitness centers or if necessary taking strong herbal or energy drinks), intellectually (like many parents sending their children to take various kinds of lessons), or economically (through seminars on how to get rich). Super hero movies are gaining popularity as they are liked everywhere. To show even more incredible power now the heroes team up, e.g. Ironman with Spiderman, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, and so on.

What did Paul really mean? Paul was not anti-power or wants us to be weak, so do not misunderstand as if the Bible humiliates the strong. We must know that the Apostle Paul was a very strong man in many aspects of his life. In fact, I dare say that he is stronger than us all in many ways. Let's read 2 Corinthians 11: 22-28. He was a pure Jew (of my descendant, the tribe of Benjamin). He suffered from so much torture and suffering. He was very intelligent, a Pharisee who was an expert in the Law. He studied under Rabbi Gamaliel. He also studied various philosophies, so he was able to argue with the philosophers in Athens and the Epicurean and Stoic minds (Acts 17). Spiritually Paul had a very strong or firm faith. Then why did he say “For when I am weak, then am I strong”? This statement of Paul can only be understood and accepted by mature Christians! Young Christians will find it hard to understand or accept the truth of this spiritual principle because their thoughts and focus of attention in their lives still revolve around temporary worldly affairs. Let us try to understand this Pauline statement which is called a paradox (something that seems to contradict but does not).

This statement was motivated by Paul's remarkable testimony that happened 14 years earlier in which he was taken to the third level of heaven or paradise. The experience was so amazing. Indeed, before Paul there were prophets in the OT who had received visions from God like Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel. But what happened to Paul was different. He was taken to heaven so that although he did not explicitly say it, I am sure he saw God and heard God spoke to him. What does a person usually do when he experiences such a spiritual experience? It would be a great testimony, right? Many people who claim to get a vision about heaven or be taken to heaven write books. Some books have been made into movies even though later on the authors confessed that they exaggerated or lied about their testimonies, like the author of the book "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven". God knew a man like Paul who had so many spiritual gifts, accomplishments, abilities and extraordinary spiritual experiences could become arrogant. That is why in verse 7 he says “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”

What Paul means by "a thorn in my flesh" is still a debate to this day. But most likely it was something very painful. Remember, Paul was not a lame or weak man. We have already discussed how he had experienced persecutions and hardship. Perhaps it was also a very disturbing thing and Paul had been suffering from it for a long time so that he prayed that God would uproot the thorn in his flesh. Many interpreters think of the possibility of eye problems caused by the bright light that had blinded him for some time. Acts 22:6,11 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. … My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.” Galatians 4:15 “Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” Galatians 6:11 “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!”

So, Paul prayed earnestly to God to get rid of the messenger of Satan. Verse 8 “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. Did God answer his prayers? In V. 9 he said: “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.” God was not unconcerned about Paul's suffering. But it was permitted so that Paul in his weakness could actually experience the wonderful grace of God. Without the thorn in the flesh Paul might have relied on his own strength, intelligence, and ability. But in his weakness, he became aware of how he always needed the strength and power of God in his life and ministry.

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