Strength and Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
I love job interviews where they ask you to list your strengths and weaknesses. Strengths are easy. You just have to be careful not to make yourself sound too good. After all you want them to hire you, and if you appear too wonderful they might not want you. You’ll make them look bad.
Weaknesses—ah! There’s the tough one. If you give them too few, they won’t believe you. Same if your weaknesses are too weak—too superficial. If you give them too many—or ones that are too huge—you’re out of the running, out of luck, and out the door. What do you say that strikes just the right balance—humble and imperfect, but not a walking disaster?
The best question I was ever asked at an interview was, “Why shouldn’t we hire you?” It was the last question of a very long (and ultimately successful) interview. It gave me a chance to turn a quest for weaknesses into a statement of strength. “Because I’ll work you to death,” I replied, speaking to three people who would be reporting to me if I was hired. I got the job, and have indeed worked them—and myself—hard over the last several years.
How to turn a weakness into a strength: that’s a difficult maneuver. How do you take a defect and make it an asset? The other way round is easy. If you push a strength too far it becomes a weakness. Strong points pushed to extremes become character flaws—sometimes serious ones.
Paul understood that situation well. He knew all about strengths—and taking them too far. It was his overzealous persecution of Christians that got him stopped cold on the road to Damascus. He had been operating from his own strength and the strength of the Jewish religious leaders, only to find himself on his knees before a Strength greater than he could ever imagine. Now he was blind—so weak he had to be led. So humbled all he could do was fall on his knees and pray. He learned—the hard way—the limits of his own strength, and the power of the greatest Strength in the universe.
Years later, writing to the Corinthians for the second time, he returns to this matter of strength and weakness. He has just been boasting—not in himself, he says, but in an opportunity he has been given for an unusual revelation. Now he comes back down to earth. So that he won’t become too proud, he has been given a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan” to torment him and remind him not just of his own humanity, but of his overwhelming weakness. Although many have speculated as to what this thorn might have been, we have no idea what it actually was. We just know he prayed earnestly that God would take it from him. God refused.
“My strength is made perfect in weakness,” God said to Paul. “My grace is sufficient for you. That’s all you need from me. When people see me working in you and working through you, they will know that I can take even imperfect vessels and make them able to do my work. Be content.”
Paul’s response is a perfect example of God’s grace at work. “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul got it right. There is no way anyone is strong enough to do God’s work alone. We are all weak, and have no chance of turning our weakness into strength. Only by God’s grace—God’s strength supplied to us by the power of Christ—can we be strong.