Did God leave us to struggle with our human weaknesses? Can God turn our weaknesses into strengths? How can we draw on the power of Christ? Does weakness itself make us unclean?
The Apostle Paul, when buffeted by the messenger of Satan, addressed his prayer to Christ (cf. 2 Cor 12:8), which is a proof of our Lord’s divinity; and Christ was a fit object for such a prayer, because He has endured the like temptation, and knows how to succour them that are tempted. Moreover, He has come to earth to destroy the works of the devil, and it was by His name that devils were expelled after He had risen. This prayer was not only addressed to, but was like the prayer of our Lord Jesus in Gethsemane. We see the Lord Jesus reflected in Paul, and hear the threetimes repeated prayer, mark the cup standing unremoved, and see the strength imparted in the midst of weakness.
In 2 Cor 12:9, Jesus, Himself, delivered the promises to His chosen Apostle: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. The exact tense of the Greek promises are not easy to translate into English. The Apostle does not merely tell us that his Lord said these promises to him 14 years ago, but the tense connects the past with the present, as if he felt that the answer was not simply something past, but something which continued with him in its consoling power. The echoes of what his Lord had said were still sounding through his soul! The promises had an abiding effect upon the Apostle’s mind not merely for the time reconciling him to the particular trouble which had afflicted him, but cheering him for all the rest of his life—strengthening him in all future trials to glory in his infirmities and render praise to God.
Taking the promise translated grace to mean favour or love—for that also is included in the promise charis—how does the passage run? “My favour is sufficient for you.” Do not ask to be rid of your trouble, do not ask to have ease, comfort, or any other form of happiness—My favour is enough for you, or “My love is enough for you.” If you have little else that you desire, yet surely it is enough that you are My favoured one, a chosen subject of My grace. “My love is enough for you.” What a delicious expression!
Throw the stress on the first word, “My,” i.e., Jesus. Therefore it is mediatorial grace, the grace given to Christ as the covenant Head of His people. It is the head speaking to the member, and declaring that its grace is enough for the whole body. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell,” (Col 1:19) and of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.
Put the stress in the centre. “Is sufficient.” It is now sufficient. It is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future, but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith. It is now that grace is sufficient; even at this moment it is enough for us. Do not say this is a new trouble, or if we do say it, remember the grace of God is always new! Do not complain that some strange thing has happened to us, or if we do, remember blessings are provided in the grace of God to meet our strange difficulties. Tremble not because the thorn in the flesh is so mysterious, for grace is mysterious too, and so mystery shall be met by mystery.
This sufficiency is declared without any limiting words, and therefore Christ’s grace is sufficient to uphold, strengthen, comfort us, sufficient to make our trouble useful to us, to enable us to triumph over it, to bring us out of ten thousand like it, and to bring us home to heaven. Whatever would be good for us, Christ’s grace is sufficient to bestow; whatever would harm us, His grace is sufficient to avert; whatever we desire, His grace is sufficient to give us if it be good for us; whatever we would avoid, His grace can shield us from it if so His wisdom shall dictate.
Lay the emphasis upon the first and the last words: “My… you.” Surely the grace of such a one as our Lord Jesus is sufficient for so insignificant a being as I am. Put one mouse down in all the granaries of Egypt when they were fullest after seven years of plenty, and imagine that one mouse complaining that it might die of famine. Imagine a man standing on a mountain, and saying, “I breathe so many cubic feet of air in a year; I am afraid that I shall ultimately inhale all the oxygen which surrounds the globe.” Does it not make unbelief ridiculous?
“For My strength is made perfect in weakness”. Now, running the parallel still between Jesus and Paul, remember that it was so with Christ. He was strong as to His Deity; but His strength as Mediator was made perfect through suffering. His strength to save His people would never have been perfected if He had not taken upon Himself the weakness of human nature. This is the strength which is made perfect in weakness.
The power of Jesus can only be perfectly revealed in His people by keeping them, and sustaining them when they are in trouble. Who knows the perfection of the strength of God till he sees how God can make poor puny creatures strong? When you see a man of God brought into poverty, and yet never repining; when you hear his character assailed by slander, and yet he stands unmoved like a rock — then the strength of God is made perfect in the midst of weakness. It was when tiny creatures made Pharaoh tremble that his magicians said, “This is the finger of God”.
God’s strength is made perfect to the saint’s own apprehension when he is weak. If you have prospered in business, and enjoyed good health all your lives, you do not know much about the strength of God. You may have read about it in books; you may have seen it in others; but a grain of experience is worth a pound of observation, and you can only get knowledge of the power of God by an experimental acquaintance with your own weakness, and you will not be likely to get that except as you are led along the thorny way which most of God’s saints have to travel. Great tribulation brings out the great strength of God.
The term “made perfect” also means achieves its purpose. God has not done for us what He means to do except we have felt our own strengthlessness. The strength of God is never perfected till our weakness is perfected. When our weakness is thoroughly felt, then the strength of God has done its work in us. When we know that twelve humble fishermen overthrew colossal systems of error and set up the Cross of Christ in their place, we adoringly exclaim, “This is the finger of God”.
All history shows that the great strength of God has always been displayed and perpetuated in human weakness. What made Christ so strong? Was it not that He condescended to be so weak? And how did He win His victory? By His patience, by His suffering. How has the Church ever been strong? What has brought forth the strength of God so that it has been undeniably manifest, and consequently operative upon mankind? Has it been the strength of the Church? No, but its weakness, for when men have seen believers suffer and die, it is then that they have beheld the strength of God in His people. The weakness of the martyr as he suffered revealed the strength of God in him, which held him fast to his principles while he was gradually consumed by the cruel flames.
Paul puts the power of Christ in opposition to his own, because if he is not weak, then he has strength of his own; if then what he does is done by his own strength, there is no room for Christ’s; but if his own power be gone there is space for the power of Christ. But what is the power of Christ? “The glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). What power, then, was this which Paul expected to tabernacle in him but the power of grace and the power of truth? It must be so, because God had said, “My grace is sufficient for you”.
We cannot simply repent of being weak—nor does weakness itself make us unclean. We cannot grow spiritually unless we reject sin, but we also do not grow spiritually unless we accept our state of human weakness, respond to it with humility and faith, and learn through our weakness to trust in God. As we are meek and faithful, God offers grace—not forgiveness—as the remedy for weakness. Grace signifies the good-will of God towards us, and that is enough to enlighten and enliven us, sufficient to strengthen and comfort in all afflictions and distresses. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Thus his grace is manifested and magnified. When we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; when we feel that we are weak in ourselves, then we go to Christ, receive strength from him, and enjoy most the supplies of Divine strength and grace (cf. 2 Cor 12:10).
Let us praise God with the song “Your Grace Is Enough”: