gaining new strength

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

There are times when we’ve simply had enough. When our strength has reached the end, and there’s nothing left. Well, we need to get our rest, for sure. But as God’s people we need to find strength in God.

We’re called here in Isaiah to wait for, hope in, or trust in God. That as we hope in him, we’ll find our strength. Strength for the day to finish our tasks. To do God’s will by God’s grace and enabling.

When we’re at a loss with no strength, that’s the opportune time to wait on the Lord to give us the strength needed. God will give that to us as we hope in him as Isaiah tells us clearly here. In and through Jesus.

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we speak, act, and live from Jesus’s authority

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Mark 11:27-33

There is no question that Jesus acted, spoke, and lived with a sense of unusual authority. It was in marked contrast to the religious leaders of his day who lived strictly according to the tradition of the elders. Jesus’s authority was from God, specifically from the Father by the Spirit. It seems to have been derived due to his humanity, yet at the same time Jesus seems to have had authority in himself.

Trinitarian authority seems to be in the union the Persons of God have with each other. The Father may be the fountainhead so to speak, but in the Trinity itself, such authority is shared.

But when it comes to the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, Jesus lived in utter dependence on God. He prayed to God, even appealed to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. This all seems to be related to the Incarnation, to the humanity God took on. Jesus said he could have called on the Father, and could have received a legion of angels, but that God’s will had to be fulfilled.

In Christ, we now live with the same sense of authority. This impacts our actions, words, and very lives. We do so in the weakness of this present state. Sometimes we can be quite bold, but often whatever boldness we might have is tempered by our weakness. But make no mistake, we act, speak, and live from the authority of God in and through Jesus.

This certainly doesn’t make us infallible by any means. Strictly speaking only God is right, and only God knows. And it’s not about us individually as much as it is about us together, the church, and what God gives the church. But this does extend out to us in our individual lives. We speak from God insofar as we’re actually doing so, and that speaking is tied to God’s word in Christ, the gospel, and for the purpose of making disciples. Jesus explicitly said that since all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him, that we’re to make disciples (Matthew 28). I take it by extension from the apostles, that we’re included in that, at least the church at large.

And so we live in the authority of God in and through Christ.

why we are so bold

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

There is no question that there’s a kind of boldness that goes with being “in Christ.” Paul had that boldness as a minister of the new covenant. The same Spirit that was on him is also on us in Christ. We too share in the blessing, which by our witness we’re to share with the world by good works, and by pointing others to the good news in Christ.

This boldness we have doesn’t at all depend on us. It is completely the Lord and his grace that makes it a reality. Even in our weakness, and we might say especially in our weakness, given this entire letter.

There are no two ways about it: in Christ there’s an unmistakable boldness for all who are people of the new covenant. The Spirit is on us to help us be a witness, and to change us from glory to glory into Jesus’s likeness. In and through him.

 

settling into what is unsettling

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10

A major theme of mine is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and the necessary embrace of weakness. It’s interesting in the passage (click link above) how Paul’s thorn, whatever it is, is not made known. I can easily imagine Paul elaborating with a paragraph, or a few lines on just what he went through. But somehow he didn’t, and I think we’re all the richer for it. And actually that thorn taught Paul something more: his need to embrace all weakness.

It’s not easy to settle into what is inherently unsettling. Maybe a new weakness or situation on top of another, or others. What we really don’t want, or want to deal with, or end up living with. Maybe something chronic, which could seem or even be potentially life threatening. We don’t want to go there.

Paul certainly didn’t want any part of what actually tormented him, and strange as it may seem, a messenger of Satan himself, to torment Paul. He pleaded in prayer with the Lord three times to take it away. Somehow the Lord was in it, what literally would seem to be an attack from the enemy, which instead of taking away, God actually using for Paul’s good and for the great blessing of others, including us today, through this passage, and through Paul’s life and ministry. Paul needed to be kept humble, because of the great revelations God had given him. And you might say, he needed to be kept weak, so that he would trust in God alone, and that others might trust in God as well, instead of being taken up with just how great Paul was. It wasn’t at all about Paul, but only about Christ. That’s hard for us to learn. Somehow God wants us to become something of the message we testify to. That the gospel, the good news in Jesus would be vital and personal to us everyday of our lives. And that our lives would conform to Jesus’s life, us becoming weak in him, so that his power might be evident even through us, yes through our weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4). Counterintuitive to us for sure, but what even we ourselves need in and through Jesus.

 

boasting in one’s weaknesses

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

2 Corinthians 11:30

The Apostle Paul was up against it. Impostors had somehow infiltrated the church wowing the people and disparaging Paul. They were not calling people’s attention to Christ really, but ultimately to themselves, and their agendas. Unfortunately you can get a sniff of that here and there today. They were the super apostles, but of course, not really apostles of Christ at all.

So 2 Corinthians 10 right to the end of the letter, chapter 13 (of course, the chapters and verses not a part of the original letter) is Paul’s response to them, and plea to the Corinthians believers.

Paul was defending his apostleship, but it was a defense that would never appeal to the flesh. It was in the way of following Christ, and great suffering in doing so. Certainly the signs of an apostle were present, but somehow the super apostles were able to dazzle the Corinthian church. They spoke well, Paul didn’t. And their appeal included casting doubt on Paul. He was not one of them. And he wasn’t.

I recently read or heard of someone including sins in weaknesses Paul was boasting about. There possibly could be a small element of that, but I rather doubt it. Listen or read 2 Corinthians 10-13 (click link above). It was rather about his weaknesses he struggled with, including the thorn in the flesh, even a messenger of Satan which tormented him. After praying three times to the Lord, finally Christ’s word came to him, that Christ’s grace was sufficient for him, for Christ’s power was made perfect, or evident through Paul’s weaknesses. Paul’s conclusion:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

This is an encouragement to me. I’m no stranger to weakness. Again, I’m not talking at all about weaknesses that are sin-oriented. Like some people might think their addiction to pornography or the like is a weakness that Christ somehow might use. Nonsense, and completely against what Paul was getting at here. If that person repents, and changes over time, then their life might be a testimony of Christ’s strength in helping them, so that they can help others through Christ and the gospel. Paul’s weaknesses came through his humanity in living in this present existence under the curse, death imminent, and especially because of his witness to Christ and the gospel in the face of strong opposition, in the end resulting in his death.

It’s no fun at all, weaknesses. But that’s where Christ’s strength is found. That helps a lot. I look forward to the Day, when all of it will be over. In and through Jesus.

Paul’s chronic condition: the thorn in the flesh

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Yesterday I was thinking about the passage I really don’t like to go back to, but find that I should at times, this passage right here. The point I would like to make today for myself, and for anyone who might read this, is that Paul’s condition here was indeed chronic. It’s not like every moment he was tormented, not at all. But that he carried with him some condition which at any moment could be the source of experiencing that torment.

My own “thorn in the flesh” I think is at least largely anxiety. Which is the root of various manifestations. Your’s could be something else entirely different. Sometimes we can’t figure out why we struggle the way we do. Different factors are involved, surely complex. But the reality of our struggle cannot be ignored. We are all creatures of experience. Our life is lived there, of course. Not in thoughts, or things in our head, though they factor in for good or for ill.

Again, Paul’s condition was chronic. He couldn’t wish it away, ignore it, or even pray it away, as we see in the passage. It was present for a reason. The bottom line is that he had to learn to trust God in it, yes, in it. And that ended up being the source of great blessing to and through him for others. Notice too that Paul factored in with that thorn every weakness or problem in his life. Ironically the very problems that could have been his downfall ended up being his strength through God’s grace.

This is an encouragement to me. Instead of resisting it in the form of seeing it as practically choking the life out of me, which I think is at least half my problem, I want to increasingly learn to trust God in it, seeing it in fact as part of God’s grace to me. And not necessarily in the sense of passing through and out of it. Paul surely had that thorn his whole life long. The idea being that God sees us through with it to the very end, bringing good and blessing out of it for others, as well as for ourselves. In and through Jesus.

the thorn in the flesh: my reluctant go-to passage

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

One of my favorite parts of the recent Paul, Apostle of Christ film was their treatment of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and showing how it tormented him all of his life as a Christ-follower. And how that was addressed immediately after he was beheaded. Love is the only way I can describe my reaction to that. What they chose as his thorn in the flesh was a possibility I had never heard of before, and was rather compelling, at least for the film. But the main point is beside the point of what it actually may have been. The fact of the matter is that everyone who seeks to follow Christ will be living in opposition to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we will experience opposition in terms of what is expressed in scripture from the devil, the demonic. And like Paul, these are actually allowed into our lives to keep us from becoming proud, which for reasons far less than Paul’s we are all too prone to become. To keep us humble, and dependent on Christ, and I would add, interdependent on each other.

I am faced with this myself, maybe not as much as in the past, yet it seems to come crashing in on me just as hard, usually in one form in my life. I think there is genius so to speak behind the concealing of what specifically Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him, was. We simply can’t say for sure. There has been more than one reasonable answer. That means whatever it is that torments us as we seek to follow Christ, we can chalk up as something of the same, in fact our thorn in the flesh. Flesh could mean physical weakness, but in scripture it’s most basic meaning is one’s life. It may involve some physical debilitation or weakness, but doesn’t have to, and I would go so far to think, most often doesn’t. What it doesn’t mean is out and out sin. We deal with everything, and especially our sin through Christ’s death for us, confessing it, and receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing as part of our ongoing walk in Jesus.

Who likes to be tormented? In the film as I recall Paul seems to be frequently tormented in his thoughts, and clearly in his dreams. And yes torment is a good word to capture this experience. I don’t so much dread it, myself, as simply hate going through it. Going through it is a good way to describe what it’s like for me. For Paul it may have been more chronic, ongoing, something present with him all the time. I tend to think so. My weakness which gives rise to this activity in my life is certainly as close to me as the next thought, which could hit me at any time when all was well, or okay before.

It’s the experience part which frankly I hate. Life is hard enough in itself, without having to feel miserable, yes tormented inside. But it seems in part what at least some of us who are believers in Christ will be up against in this life.

The necessity of hanging in there by faith, and knowing that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness is key here. We realize that God is at work in this malady, even when the source of it is from the evil one, the demonic. The world and the flesh in the sense of unredeemed humanity and creation included.

To come back to this passage, and yes, the entire book of 2 Corinthians, but especially this passage is always helpful for me. To remember that the Lord in love is at work in our lives in a way that helps us live as he did, in weakness, even the weakness of the cross (see the end of 2 Corinthians). Not where we want to go, except that there we find the Lord’s power at work in our own lives, and through us into the lives of others.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to say to some degree along with Paul that I have learned to embrace my weaknesses at least much more since in them I find Christ’s grace and power, and learn to be strengthened in that awareness and reality. In and through Jesus.