SUNDAY SERMON: The strength of weakness

Rev. Stephen Baldwin

NT: 2 Cor 12.2-10

We’re going to do some Bible Study this morning, going through our reading verse by verse before getting to Paul’s main message at the end of the passage. But first, a bit of context.

Paul is in a pickle. Paul, the leader of the early church, is in the midst of a public disagreement with another group of religious leaders. He jokingly calls them the “super apostles.” They are a group of missionaries trying to win people over to their form of religion while Paul is simultaneously trying to win them over to his. And rather than engage in a public debate that nobody wants to watch but everybody does, because you just can’t help it no matter how awful it is, wink wink, Paul tries a different tact. Let’s begin with verse two. 

Verse 2

Some faith groups believe in a heaven that’s a little bit like this building–three levels.  Some ancient Jewish groups and modern Mormons believe this.  The idea is that the holier you are, the higher you get in heaven. 

Verse 3-5

Who do you think this person is that Paul’s talking about?  I think he’s talking about himself.  “I know a person.”  Sounds a little bit like, “I have this friend…” Whenever somebody says that, don’t you suspect they’re actually talking about themselves?  But why wouldn’t Paul just say it was him?  He doesn’t want to brag, because that’s what he accuses his rivals of doing. He doesn’t want people to be distracted from what he has to say by how it happened.  So he says it like it happened to somebody else.  What happened?  He heard things unheard by other human ears.  He heard a secret. He knows something no one else knows. Especially not the super apostles. He knows about weakness. That is what the entire passage rests upon. Paul’s idea of the power in weakness. 

Verse 6

He slips.  He starts saying “me” and “I” and we now know this happened to him.  “I don’t mean to brag,” he says, “but you’ve got to hear this truth.”  He doesn’t want to brag, but the secret he heard is so life-changing he can’t help but want to tell it.  

Verse 7

Who’s this thorn in his flesh? Probably the super apostles, whom he does not trust ot regard highly but who he does not want to dismiss either. They are like a thorn in his flesh, constantly gnawing at him. 

Verse 8

Three times he pleaded with God to stop it. Stop what? Paul doesn’t directly say, but it seems like God shares a message about the power of weakness. A message Paul didn’t want to hear, let alone practice. A message the super apostles didn’t want any part of. A message that still doesn’t resonate today.  

Verse 9

God speaks.  “As you deal with this dilemma, Paul, know that my grace is sufficient.”  

You see, Paul is in a dilemma.  He is up against religious pretenders, sheep-stealers who sling mud at Paul incessantly.  People are listening to the pretenders, and Paul wants to stand up and shout, “Don’t listen to them!  They don’t know God!”  But then he’d have to behave the way he accuses them of behaving.  He’d have to pass judgment against them.  God says, “My grace is sufficient.”  That word “sufficient” makes all the difference.   It means “enough to meet one’s needs.”  God’s grace is enough to meet Paul’s needs.  Paul doesn’t need to stand up and shout to spread the Good News he knows in his heart.  He doesn’t have to tear other people down.  God’s grace is sufficient.

When someone is spreading a lie, we want to shout from the rooftops that they are full of it! But God’s grace is sufficient. 

When someone is doing dirty deeds, we want them to pay for it. But God’s grace is sufficient. 

The secret Paul has learned, about which he doesn’t want to brag, is to let God. Let go, and let God. Because God’s grace is sufficient to deal with super apostles and sheep stealers. We don’t have to deal with that, because God will. 

Verse 10

People insult him, sure.  People persecute him, sure.  People exploit his weaknesses, sure.  But Paul finds peace.  God’s grace is, he realizes, sufficient.  Is he weak?  Yes, he is. 

Weakness is a dirty word in our culture. Being weak typically means you are unable to do something. Leaders are supposed to be strong. Parents are supposed to be strong. Athletes are supposed to be strong. Workers are supposed to be strong. Kids are supposed to be strong. People of faith are supposed to be strong.  Preachers are supposed to be strong, and they are not supposed to cry during the sermon! And of course we all want to be strong. Nobody wants to stop and ask for directions for crying out loud, but here’s the thing. 

Weakness isn’t a bad thing; it’s a human thing.  We want to always be strong, but sometimes we’re weak.  And that is a good thing for us humans, because when we are weak, we are open to God.  When we feel strong, we think we can do it all alone.  But when we recognize our weakness, we realize that we can’t.  We need God, and God’s presence in our lives makes us strong. Not for appearance’s sake. But truly strong. Strong in spirit, strong in purpose, and strong in faith. 

Paul says, “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” This approach to life won’t be popular. It won’t win you debates and it might not even win you friends. But it might just win your soul for God. For when we are weak, we open ourselves to God’s sufficient grace. Amen.

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