Thursday, January 02, 2014

Fear of Weakness is Fear of Reality

Pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps may be an American distinctive, but it is an unbiblical one at best. The apostle Paul instructed us that God has "chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong." (1 Cor. 1:27 NASB) Weakness here refers to being feeble, timid, without physical strength, powerless, sickly. Dr. Verlyn Verbrugge notes that only rarely is the word used for "lack of conviction, moral weakness."1 The apostle uses the word at Romans 5:6: "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." (NASB) He uses the word here to refer not to "a relative quantity, but of an absolute one: incapability."2 We are all inherently weak, helpless, and God elects to bring Himself glory in such vessels to the shame of those who think themselves strong.

Elsewhere Paul even brags about his state of weakness: "If I must boast, I will boast about the things that show my weakness." (2 Cor. 11:30 NET) Only by recognizing, acknowledging, and publicly confessing our inherent weakness can we then find the strength of God. "So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me." (2 Cor. 12:9 NET) Again, Dr. Verbrugge explains:
Paul introduces another train of thought in seeing weakness as the place where God's might can be exhibited. In the course of arguing against his opponents in Corinth, the apostle unfolds his theology of the cross. In the crucified one the "weakness of God" comes to light, which to human eyes appears to be powerlessness and folly (1 Cor. 1:25, 27; cf. 2 Cor. 13:4). But since God has demonstrated his power in weakness (i.e., in the death of Christ) by raising him from the dead (2 Cor. 13:4), it is in the very sufferings of his followers that God's creative, life-giving power is revealed.3
Paul's desire, as should be the desire of any lover of God, is to imitate his Lord. Since God displayed weakness -- exhibited in the perceived weakness of the cross -- then he, too, would recognize and boast of his own inherent weakness. "Paul regards his own weakness as a mark of discipleship and fellowship in Christ's sufferings (1 Cor. 2:2-3; 4:10). At the same time the power of God is at work in weakness amid the conditions of suffering and alienation."4 So, here we also find that Christ identifies with our weakness, in our sufferings. We are never alone when feeling weak, vulnerable, or when we suffer various trials (cf. Heb. 4:15).

In other words, if Christ Himself experienced the weakness of our human frame, then why do we fear confronting and even embracing our own weaknesses? Fear of weakness is merely fear of reality, for we truly are weak and frail, and can in no sense whatsoever pick ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps. Either God's grace, mercy and strength works powerfully within us, or we are forever doomed. None of us has any inherent power to cure diseases, heal emotions and wounded hearts, change people's errant thinking or hurtful and spiteful hearts, or set a person free from that which binds him from believing in Christ. We must train ourselves to let go of our superficial illusion of self-reliance. We need Jesus' power in all we do from day to day (cf. John 15:5). 

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1 New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, abridged edition, ed. Verlyn D. Verbrugge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 76.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 77.

4 Ibid.  

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