It’s human nature to detest pain, suffering, and weaknesses. Perhaps that’s why I find 2 Corinthians so intriguing. It shows how Paul suffered for his faith and responded to criticisms.
By that time, Paul had planted churches and proven his commitment to God, yet certain people in Corinth were attacking his apostleship and authority. In response, Paul could have boasted in his knowledge, experiences, and successes, but he repeatedly boasts in his weaknesses. For example, he had “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12:1), something worth boasting about, but he shifts the focus on a thorn in the flesh.
Paul suffers from a thorn in his flesh and pleads with God to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Christians debate the meaning of Paul’s thorn, but the consensus is that Paul was suffering immensely and God used the thorn to humble him.
God’s answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For most of us, it’s not the answer of our preference. We’d rather have our affliction, which could be physical, mental, or emotional, removed.
Perspective 1: Radical Discipleship (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)
Paul’s response is radical.
Paul writes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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 12:9-10).
It’s radical because most people do not talk about contentment with hurtful experiences. Rather, we say that we “would” be content if we didn’t have weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities! So, typically, our prayers center on God removing weaknesses from our lives. “God, please take away this trial.” “God, are you disciplining me for holiness? You’ve got my attention. Now, can you make my situation easier? Can you remove this person from my life?”
Like Jesus, Paul resists trying to fulfill other people’s expectations or cater to them (2 Corinthians 10-11). A leader should look this way, talk this way, or avoid hard labor. He was able to remain steadfast in his ministry because of his godly perspectives. Other passages in the Bible provide helpful perspectives on weaknesses.
Perspective 2: Expect Persecution for Godliness (2 Timothy 3:12)
Even Jesus, our Savior, was persecuted because of His teachings. Persecution could be physical, mental, or emotional. It might be that family member or coworker who constantly argues with you about your faith or godly decision. It might be a job loss or humiliation from people who hate God. The point is that persecution will happen if you are striving to live for God.
Perspective 3: Renew Our Perspective and Hope
Are we focusing more on our earthly life and comforts or heavenly home? Sometimes, remembering that our life on earth is temporal can help change our longings, desires, and expectations. For instance: “Yes, this decision will cost me acceptance from peers or a significant amount of money, but those things will not matter in heaven. God, may you be honored by this decision.”
In 1 Peter, Christians are persecuted for their faith. Peter says to place your hope on the future when Christ returns, “preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded” (1 Peter 1:13). Keep an eternal perspective and practice self-control. Be prepared.
Perspective 4: Allow God to Use Our Weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:10)
When we are weak, then, we are made strong. The world says, “Be strong in yourself.” Paul says being strong isn’t about physical strength or confidence in self, but the power of Christ that helps us to endure hardships. That’s why he was able to be content with weaknesses. Paul’s confidence was in God, not himself.
Perspective 5: Remember Spiritual Warfare (1 Peter 2:11)
Remember spiritual warfare. The moment we placed our faith in Christ for salvation, we entered spiritual warfare as God’s children and enemies of the devil. We not only battle sinful desires, which wage war against our soul (1 Peter 2:11) but also the devil waging war all around us. Since the days of Adam and Eve, the devil’s mission has not changed—to deceive and tempt us to sin. Anything to distance us from God. What keeps you from pursuing God?
Too often, we’re more vulnerable to temptations and hardships because we’re spiritually weak, not because the devil is stronger. A common problem is that we allow ourselves to be spiritually complacent, living passively as if we have no choice. When we placed our faith in Christ for salvation, an inseparable, nondestructive, and permanent union with Christ occurred. This means that God will not give up on us and that we have the Holy Spirit to help us at all times. We are not alone.
On a related point, are we blaming the devil rather than taking responsibility for our decisions? In conversations, I’ve noticed that the blame on the devil becomes more common in rationalizing sins or questionable responses during times of hardship and confusion. The devil is always working to discourage us. Are we prepared?
Sometimes, spiritual warfare can intensify despite faithful efforts to pursue God and godliness. We will become restless and discouraged if we choose to overanalyze and dwell on the unknown. In the Bible the focus is on strengthening our faith and clinging to what we know about God and His truth.
Perspective 6: Do Your Part (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Strengthen your faith. How are you doing spiritually? Has it been some time since you’ve attended church or worshipped God from your heart? Are you crying out to God, like the psalmists did when facing hard times? Like a soldier fighting a battle, we need to be prepared all the time and put on our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-20).
- Open your heart to God. Pray! Confess your struggles, weaknesses, and need for His help (1 John 1:9-10).
- Open the Bible. You could start with the Psalms or Proverbs. Reading a shorter book, such as James, might be more manageable. Ask others for suggestions. Write down what you learn about God and His promises.
- Open your schedule to people and ministries. We need Christians in our lives and to serve them well.
- Be careful of merely reading blog posts and listening to podcasts without taking action. Talk to a godly person about your present weaknesses and options. What needs to change?
We don’t know God’s exact purpose for allowing each hardship, but we know that His motives are always good and that He always makes himself available to help us. Like Paul, may we know that when we are weak, we can be strong—in Christ.
Join the Conversation
What additional biblical perspectives would you share about strength in weakness?