Are you having a bad day? The Apostle Paul has a surprising announcement for us:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong”(2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV).
Frankly, that sounds a bit masochistic! How can illness, insult, distress, persecution, and trouble be occasions for celebration? Because Paul has realized when we rely on ourselves – our cleverness, power, intelligence, and resources – the result is desperation: weakness. We come up short. It’s easy to be overpowered.
Life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people. Like my grandmother used to say, “Where there is light, there are bugs.” In other words, when we live as Christians should, when we let our light shine, not everyone is going to be pleased! It is going to attract trouble, but what kinds of trouble can we expect? Look at the words Paul uses to describe what we will be up against:
Weakness (astheneia, ἀσθένεια) This word describes debilitating illness or feelings of inadequacy. It is the opposite of power (dynamis, δύναμις).
“Lord, I just don’t think I can do this anymore!”
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
“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 of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Insults (hybris, ὕβρις) Can you imagine how seasick you would be after enduring two weeks on a storm-tossed sea? The word Paul chooses; next, hybris is found only three times in the New Testament: here and twice in Acts 27:10, 21 where it is translated “injury” and probably means debilitating seasickness. If that’s true, then the sickness we encounter in 2 Corinthians 12:10 could be called “insult sickness.” Taunts and ridicule can weigh us down and, if we worry about what other people are saying, it can destroy our confidence and joy. The NIV Reader’s Version translates hybris “when people say mean things about me.”
“Father, have you heard what they are saying about me?”
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11, 12).
Distress (anagke, ἀνάγκη) This word describes great trouble, such as will occur in the last days (Luke 21:23). It can even mean torture! Most often, the term refers to overwhelming pressure and distress. Pressure can even come from good things, but it can still overpower us. The key to survival, Paul says, is patient endurance.
“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance,” (2 Corinthians 6:2-4).
I love optimist/pessimist jokes. The optimist believes this is the best of all possible worlds … and the pessimist is afraid he’s right! It’s hard to be optimistic and upbeat when it seems like everything (and everyone) is working against you! The Apostle Paul has an important message for us when we are down:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV).
“When I am weak, then I am strong.” That doesn’t sound very realistic, but consider what the apostle was up against:
Persecution (diogmos, διωγμός) Sometimes, our opposition is systematic. If so, you are in good company!
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14).
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Trouble (stenochoria, στενοχωρία) Do you ever feel like you are out of options? Do you feel like it is all closing in on you? This next word describes a set of stressful circumstances, distress, difficulty, anguish, trouble.
“Lord, I have nowhere to turn!”
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake, we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 8:35-39).
When I am weak, then I am strong
So, in this one remarkable passage, the apostle tells us that we need to embrace our weakness rather than worry about the challenges we face.
Once my wife Jan was swimming in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. Jan is a good swimmer, but suddenly she found herself being carried out to sea by a riptide. She was helpless. No matter how hard Jan tried, she couldn’t fight against the tide. She feared she was being swept out to sea. Then she turned onto her back and prayed. It was a prayer of despair. She quit trusting in her strength and asked God to show her the way back. Then it came to her. Instead of swimming against the current, she swam across the current and escaped the tide.
As Christians, we don’t need to rely on ourselves, but we need to rely on the Lord. Give your troubles to God. He specializes in the impossible! Paul observed, “When I am weak, then I am strong!”