- 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10
A teacher said to her students in class one day,
“Boys and girls, there is a wonderful example in the life of the ant. Every day the ant goes to work and works all day, a busy life. And in the end, what happens?
Little Johnny replies, “SOMEONE STEPS ON HIM.”
We live in an era in which life is a constant struggle. Everyone wants to be healthy and strong; nobody likes to be sick, weak, depressed or worried. And yet, we face problems and tragedies; we struggle to live up to expectations – whether our own or those imposed by others. We’re not quite who we think we should be. Just like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.
Take a moment and put this in context: this letter to Corinthians was not written in a vacuum. When Paul wrote this letter (which by the way is his 4th letter, not the second), he didn’t pen in the chapter and verse designations. Those were added much later in history. So chapter 11 and chapter 12 are one continuous thought. In chapter 11, Paul writes about the suffering he has endured because of the name of Jesus. He tells the Corinthians that he has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel; he has been whipped on several occasions; he had been beaten with rods. He tells them that on one occasion the Jews stoned him; and left him for dead. But he survived (probably with deep lacerations and broken bones.) Paul was shipwrecked three times, spending one night in the open seas. He experienced intense times of suffering and yet found strength.
It is apparent as you read this part of 2nd Corinthians, that some in the church in Corinth were questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle. “Not good enough.” So in Chapter 11, Paul tells about all the things he could boast about, both good and bad, that make him an apostle. But in Chapter 12 the tone changes, because he is not living in the past. Our past history and our past glories are all fine and well, but the real question is “who are you today?”. Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthians when he is no longer in sparkling health and strength. Who keeps singing “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen?
The church in Corinth has these “super apostles” or “big shots” that were criticising Paul. Paul responds, admitting that he was not a trained speaker, (2 Cor. 10:10), implying that the so-called super-apostles were trained speakers. One of their favorite criticisms of Paul seems to have been that he was not very impressive in presence or speech. Paul warned the Corinthians against the pretense that knowledge can create. Toe to toe with these orators, Paul would fail. In many respects, his writing also lacked sophistication and talent.
And yet Paul says, he will boast about his weaknesses. We feel unhappy and worried about our weaknesses, but somehow he has accepted his weakness in a positive way and so he is able to boast about it. And he even accepts that he needs it long-term. In order to remain focused on God, rather than himself and his exploits, Paul has this “thorn in his side”. He prayed repeatedly and yet the thorn remained in his life. I don’t think that ‘three times’ means Paul said three prayers but that he spend three seasons in prayer pleading with God to remove this from his life. And yet he has an unanswered prayer.
- How many times could we cite that we are thankful for our unanswered prayers?
- How often do our prayers tend to focus on making life easier and softer and rarely are for the kind of difficulties that would challenge us and make us grow spiritually.
None of us wants to really be moved outside of our comfort zone, and so we react to life’s situation by rejecting the difficulty. Paul, for all his abilities and mighty use by God, could not escape the fact that he was human, and thus inevitably susceptible to weakness.
Paul doesn’t like it.
He can’t change it.
And God won’t remove it.
Had Paul focused on the injustice of this torment in his life, he could have become a very bitter man, consumed by how unfair this harsh and excessive situation had become for him. But Paul not only accepted his negative circumstances but he also expresses his joy and happiness over them.
- What is your hurt story?
- What behavior keeps you from where you need to be?
I hate looking weak or insufficient. I particularly loathe being wrong, especially when the mistake I’ve made has public ramifications. What will people think? God forbid that someone realise how far behind I am at work, or that I get upset and short-tempered with my daughter when I’m tired, or that I can’t seem to get things right in my marriage, or that I don’t think quickly on my feet and always come up with the perfect rebuttal three days later! I get frustrated by these deficiencies and perceived weaknesses – I’m inadequate and useless. And so, since I don’t like to feel this way, I adopt a fake persona that I hope others will see (or that they will at least pretend to see, because I pretend to see the fake persona they put forward).
We live in a world where all the photos of models in magazines are Photo-shopped to perfection, where there’s a special model for hands, and another for backs and another for legs. Where there are body doubles for actresses in Hollywood for those close-up shots or for the action or dance scenes – each one showing a perfection that perhaps the actress doesn’t actually have.
Boasting in weakness goes so against the way the world operates today. We don’t boast to our peers about our weaknesses or in a job interview. Typically, when we’re asked to focus on our weaknesses in an interview, we are trained to say – “Well, I would say that I’m stubborn, and I just don’t give up until I’ve finished the project that I’m working on to successful completion.” or “I care too much about my work, and don’t have a good work-life balance.” – or whatever we think the perfect answer to the question is.
In our conversations with our friends, we don’t say, “Hey! Turns out I’m really bad at empathy and I’m totally self-centered. Isn’t that great?”
So, let’s each take a moment to reflect – what is your greatest weakness? What are you truly ashamed of?
- I’m self-centered, frigid, insensitive and withdrawn;
- I speak too loudly and sometimes have inappropriate social awareness;
- I hate confrontation and so don’t deal with issues in a timely manner;
- I don’t take criticism well;
- I shut down and reject others;
- I ride rough-shod over other people’s feelings in order to get what I want;
- I can’t handle change and am stuck in a rut;
- I take things personally;
- I can’t say no and am always overloaded;
- I’m condescending and treat others badly;
- I have poor leadership skills;
- I manipulate others;
- I hold on to hurt feelings and dwell on them;
- I overreact …
Each one of us has something that we try to hide and pretend isn’t there. And if it’s a habit that we’re trying to break or a type of reaction that we know is wrong, whatever you do, don’t label it as “SIN”, so passé! No one “sins” anymore… No one is a “sinner”.
Let me put it this way – the Bible says if you know what is right and you don’t do it, it’s sin – so, when you’re on that diet for your diabetes and you know you shouldn’t eat that chocolate bar and ice cream, that’s sin – not necessarily for someone else, but for you. Because you know that it’s bad for you! And yet you insist…
For how many of you, has ignoring and trying to hide this weakness, bad habit or character flaw actually worked? As much as we may hate it, ignoring our weakness doesn’t make them go away. How many of you notice a character flaw in another person and say nothing, because you’re polite? You see someone faking it and you go along with the charade, because you want them to go along with your charade? They say there’s “nothing wrong” and you say “okay”, because it’s the easy way out.
If I took the time to actually ask, and they answered me honestly, I might have to do something about it! I might then have to care for this person later, and ask how they are doing again… and then hear the truthful answer! And it’s so much easier to just accept the “nothing wrong” and “okay” and carry on as if nothing had happened.
But that’s not who we are supposed to be! We’re not supposed to be shallow and callous people, living on a surface, pretending that the weaknesses don’t exist.
When I don’t have enough love in my life, God reminds me that God is LOVE – it’s unlimited! I may be frigid and uncaring, but when I’m filled with God’s love there’s more than enough to go around! I can be filled to overflowing – because God created me to be His vessel. It doesn’t matter how much love I have, the question is “how much love does God have?”And so, it is when I can truly say “this is my weakness” that I allow God to shine through! When I finally accept – “this is how I am”, I’m wonderfully and perfectly made, and God just wants to shine through all the cracks in my character, then I can truly boast in my weakness.
When I don’t have enough patience, God reminds me that He is PATIENCE – unlimited…
When I am filled with anger, God reminds me that He is goodness and kindness… unlimited…
I would invite all of you, during our coffee time after the service, to take a moment and share with someone your weakness, (yes, that one that you are SO ashamed of) and how God can shine through you, in spite of yourself!