The Blessing of Weakness

In our culture, we greatly admire strength. We celebrate, sometimes even idolize, the talents and skills in others. Our respect goes to those who can overcome difficult circumstances through sheer will-power. In business, we greatly value the self-made individuals who transformed their abilities into great achievement. When it comes to our entertainment, nothing sells better than a powerful hero who wins the day. And in today’s turbulent world, many seek security in the strength of their personal economy and environment.But there are at least two unfortunate by-products created by a fixation with strength. First, it can cause us to despise the weaknesses we see in ourselves or in others. Weakness is a quality of a person ‘regarded as a disadvantage or fault’. With so much admiration for capability, it stands to reason that we would try to hide our deficiencies out of shame. When faced with inability to overcome a problem or accomplish a task, many just remain silent because of the dread they feel when admitting they need help. In a world that so highly values self-reliance, we become adept at hiding our problems, our fears, our addictions, our temptations, and our sin. We reason that if people really knew of our inadequacies, perhaps we would be marginalized or rejected.

Secondly, an over focus on strength will lead us to place too much confidence in ourselves when it comes to setting and accomplishing goals or overcoming difficulties. The overly self-reliant are quick to assume that their plans are correct. And often when they find themselves in a season of despair they endeavor to overcome quietly in their own power, rather than reach out for help. Even in our churches we have developed statements of encouragement for those who are struggling that expose a subtle over-emphasis on self-reliance. We say things such as, ‘God will not give you more than YOU can handle’. Or ‘God only gives the greatest battles to his toughest soldiers’. And while we would not deny the well-meaning heart behind these sentiments (let’s be honest, we have all said them), the focus is still misplaced.

 The Bible teaches us that what human culture sees as wisdom, is actually quite foolish to God. Scripture often overturns social norms by presenting an entirely different way to view life. When it comes to how we navigate our weaknesses, this is what the Lord says in Jeremiah 17:5,7-8: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh…but blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water…It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit’. Most of us know what it is like to go through the heat that life can bring or live through a season of drought. And God uses this imagery to teach us that there is a way to order our days so that we can always flourish and be full of life. That way demands that we disregard the cultural pattern of relying on ourselves. Nothing good will come from placing trust in our own abilities. You will not bear fruit at all times by being confident in your ways, your wisdom, or your strength. Rather, a blessed life will be found when we realize our absolute dependence on God for everything.

The Apostle Paul came to realize this truth, and even wrote to the church in the city of Corinth that he had chosen to approach his weaknesses with gratefulness (2 Corinthians 12). Even in his day, this was a shift from the social norm of highlighting your strengths, and hiding your frailties! But Paul told the church that he had come to recognize that when he was weak, Jesus Christ would supply His power, His wisdom, through His Spirit, and the qualities of Christ were far greater, and far more satisfying than his own.

As moms and dads, husbands and wives, leaders and friends – we could do no greater service to one another than to live unashamed of weakness. Our legacy can be certain if we will decline fascination with our own competence; opting instead for a radical confidence in the power of God. May we celebrate our talents for what they are: gifts from above to be used for God’s glory and in service to other people. And may we be willing to speak of our weaknesses boldly, knowing that they are paths for God to deliver his power in unique and anointed ways.


Why We Must Not Forsake the Gathered Church

A few weeks ago we spent time together in Romans 12, in a message titled Living as a Gospel Centered Church. This message followed several others that were focused on the spiritual life of Agape in a corporate context. The purpose of this letter is to go a bit deeper into the passage, and finish up some of thoughts on how the word calls us to live together as a church.

When we went into Romans 12 we read this: 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will. Rom 1:1-2. The mercy of God toward a believer is the foundation for Paul’s appeal on our lives. The internal experience of God’s compassion, always precedes behavioral commands. The Gospel is both the power for our salvation, and the power for our transformation. Paul described this in the opening of his letter to the church in Thessalonica when he said: Our Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. 1 Thess 1. It would be useless for us to try and build behavioral change in our lives or in the lives of others, without first having the foundation of God’s mercy. None of us are able to make any spiritual progress without him. At the same time, it is poison to our soul to believe that you can have a saving attachment to God, without experiencing the conviction to turn from your sin. Saving belief in the Gospel compels us to obey verse 1 of Romans 12 by viewing our very life as an instrument of worship.

And this Gospel transformation does not occur in isolation. The gospel builds us into a church. Any notion that a person can love Jesus yet hate His gathered people is a falsehood with no biblical justification. Paul continues in Romans 12:3 I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. Romans 12:3-6 [ESV]. According to this passage, God grants faith and gifts in a variety of measures. When coming to Christ not everyone receives the same spiritual gifts, nor the same measure of faith right away. But whatever gift and whatever measure of faith you do have, you have received it for the common good of the church. In His wisdom, God has chosen to heal and sanctify sinners by His Spirit operating through His people.

In light of this, we would do well to put some thought toward our role in the church. How will people be impacted if we are not there to participate and minister with the gifts that God has given us? Yes, we will be weaker if we forsake the gathering of the church, but so will those around us. In Christ we are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph 2:22). What God is doing in your life, directly impacts what he is doing in the life of your church. And this is why I believe that God has Paul follow up His definitive commands to be transformed by the gospel, with relational instructions for the church. Romans 12 continues 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:9-18 [NIV]

The battle to preserve spiritual passion is a battle that the church takes up together.
God has designed it so that we need the gifts and faith of others to build us up. When Jesus spoke to the churches in Revelation, he spoke to them corporately. When he warned the church at Ephesus, ‘You have abandoned the love you had at first’, this was an observation about the spiritual health of the church as a whole. We stand together – seeking to be zealous for God and His kingdom. And we help each other, in part, by serving with our spiritual gifts. Verses 6 – 8 in Romans 12 could be summarized this way: Use your Gift(s)!! The God of the universe has granted you a manifestation of His Spirit, for the purpose of serving the people around you. And God knows that serving is not always easy for His people who daily live with a nature bent toward self-focus. Thus, God commands his church to Honor one another above yourselves. We have this high calling from Christ to honor the church, which means to treat it as valuable, even if it means we sacrifice our own interests in the process. Young parents, we are setting the pace for our children: Will our parenting lead them to grow up and treasure the church with their own families? Older mentors, will the younger people in this church be taught to treasure the church by what they see in your life?

Of course whatever God is doing among His people, the enemy looks to stifle. Satan delights in sowing disputes and disagreements among those joined under the name of Jesus Christ. Therefore, our church will always be in great need of peacemakers. We will probably always struggle with a temptation toward conflict because of the self-focused nature that was just mentioned. People will say or do the wrong thing, harming us, accidentally and sometimes purposefully. And because of this we will be tempted to gossip, or slander by venting to others angrily. In light of this, God commands His church, 14…bless and do not curse. 16 Live in harmony with one another. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Church, refuse gossip. Handle conflict face to face, with truth and grace. Be devoted to each other in Love. When harm comes, forgive. Do not harm back. Jesus was willing to be treated unfairly for the sake of sinners– so likewise honor others above yourself, even when they do not deserve it.

A church battling for spiritual fervor is one whose people are using their gifts, honoring each other, and praying to be daily bent toward peace. May we be that church, Agape!  

I love you all in Christ.