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-God knows- was caught up to
paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not
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.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me 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.
II Corinthians 12:2-10 (N.I.V.)
It happens from time to time. A person will say that I am a
out liberal, that I don't really proclaim the Word of God, that I'm
way too far to the left. It also happens that some people find I am
I am thus confronted with the question,
How do I validate
myself? I could do so by saying,
Look at the budget. Our budget
used to be almost nothing, now we sometimes even have a little money
left over. Some ministers validate themselves because of the huge
crowds they attract.
Paul faced this same issue. Paul's authority was questioned. He
was accused of being a waffler. He was criticized at times for
being weak. He was not in any sense
charismatic. Paul began in
this letter to boast,
I am a Pharisee among the Pharisees. I know
more about the law than anybody. He began to list his
credentials. Paul said he hated to do this, but his opponents were
driving him to it. Then he backed off and said,
Maybe I should not
take this path of boasting. Paul then said his authority was not
based on any accomplishments of his. He then made this startling
My authority comes not from my strength, but from my
weakness. Then he spoke about his
thorn in the flesh.
What was his thorn in the flesh? Was it epilepsy? Did he have fainting spells? Did he have poor eye sight? It was some humiliating ailment, but beyond that, nobody knows. Paul says he asked the Lord to remove this thorn in the flesh three times. He received word from God that he was going to have to live with this thorn because he heard God say that God's grace is perfected in weakness.
We live in a culture that prizes strength. It was no different in
Paul's time. In spite of this fact, Paul said,
My authority comes
because of my weakness. Paul had revelations from God in which he
was taken up into paradise. Paul could have said,
Look at all of
these revelations I've had. These are my authority. No, he said he
would boast only of his weaknesses.
What does this passage mean for us? We have a way of wanting to
discount, hide, deny, flee from anything about us that might
communicate a sense of weakness. We only want to present a sense of
strength. If something bad happens to us, if we have a loss of
career direction, it can be embarrassing. We want to keep that
quiet. If we have a physical health problem, we may say,
going to keep that quiet. I'm not going to tell anyone about this.
Telling someone about this problem could be embarrassing or
shameful. If a person has a psychological problem, he or she may
I sure don't want anybody to know about this. People may look
down on me. I only want to only communicate a sense of strength.
Paul's attitude is really revolutionary. He is saying that if we
accept our weaknesses, such acceptance can give room for God's
I myself have found that my credentials as a human being and
pastor and counselor come more from my own struggles than from my
training. If someone is talking to me about a matter with which
they're dealing, and if I can say,
Maybe I haven't struggled with
exactly the same thing, but, I have dealt with something similar,
then that recognition is my credential. It isn't the degrees or the
years of study or the years of training. A person can have all that
and come off as pompous. I don't think people are very helpful when
they feel like they have not experienced the usual sufferings of
life. When a person can say,
I understand that. I have experienced
something similar, a person may then go on to say,
My power really
comes from God.
I've had the experience earlier in my ministry of saying to
myself prior to a sermon,
I'm really going to knock their socks off
this morning. I have a sermon that's really good; the congregation
is going to be wowed. Almost invariably I find it doesn't
happen. If I say,
God, there is much unfinished about what I'm
trying to preach this morning, but, it's in your hands — you preach
through me. Sometimes I then experience a great sense of power.
Our weaknesses can lead to strength. Our weaknesses, struggles, and shortcomings, though they are painful and may be embarrassing, can keep us from that awful smugness and arrogance and open us to God.
The above is based on a sermon given by Carl Bickel on July 9, 2000.
© 2000 Carl O. Bickel