Human Weakness Is No Obstacle to Christ's Power
False teachers in Corinth boasted of their skills and power. Paul, who rarely showed his personal reactions to hostility, admitted that the only thing he could boast about was his weakness. His body struggled when savagely beaten, exposed to the elements, often tired and hungry and cold. Imprisoned, shipwrecked, lashed, and often near to death (2 Corinthians 11:23-29), the apostle understood a little of how the Lord Jesus felt, describing his experiences as "the fellowship of His sufferings" and was even willing to die for Jesus and the gospel (Philippians 3:10).
In this unusual personal insight into Paul's sufferings and his motivation (2 Corinthians 11:16-30), he is being transparent and honest, before God and his readers. He is not trying to milk sympathy for the church in Corinth, or advertise his personal stoic courage in the face of trouble. He brings God into the narrative as his witness. God knew exactly what Paul had endured and his motivation for persisting in gospel ministry. What Paul wrote was the truth – for the benefit of the self-centred, sensual and arrogant church. Paul wanted them to understand the reality of normal gospel Christianity, probably longing that they might grow like the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10).
And yet, not every danger resulted in beatings and prison. The Lord protected His servant on many occasions. Paul mentions his escape from Damascus, being let down in a basket on a rope from the window of a house in the city wall (Acts 9:22-25). Like the Lord Jesus who escaped capture and stoning when it was not God's chosen time for Him to die (John 8:59), Paul's life was preserved until he had completed the work Jesus gave him to do (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Paul understood Psalm 31:15, "My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me."
Being a gospel Christian is not easy. Hardship may come in many ways but unless our work is motivated by faith, our hard labour motivated by love, and our endurance motivated by hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3) – we will never be what God wants us to be. Unless we trust the Lord to deliver us from our enemies, we will try to organise our own safety and miss the blessing of His powerful interventions. We might cry out to people to comfort our distress and fail to embrace the peace of God. It is not our strength that God needs; He is looking for people who are weak enough to let Him work powerfully in them by His grace (2 Corinthians 12:9). When that happens, some of your friends and colleagues will take note that you have been with Jesus, and want to follow Him too (Acts 4:13).
© Dr Paul Adams