In St. Paul’s final words of the two letters we have of his to the Corinthian church, Paul speaks of power and weakness in the Kingdom of God, especially as it relates to Christian ministry. For those who are familiar with St. Paul’s writings, it will come as no surprise (even if it remains somewhat strange and mysterious) that St. Paul so often speaks of his weakness and yet even 2000 years later manifests himself in his letters as the most powerful personality in the history of the Church outside of Jesus Christ Himself.
Theologically, Paul’s strength in his weakness is no mystery: we’ve all read 2 Corinthians 12:9 and understand that Jesus told him: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, Paul himself can say in 12:10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” We know as well that though Jesus was crucified in weakness and yet lives by the power of God (13:3.) But what are we to make of Paul’s words in verse 4, that “we are also weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you”?
Sometimes Paul seems like the big bad wolf, ready to blow the Corinthian house down, and other times he comes as gentle as a dove. How can Paul juggle the two?
It seems as if the following is what is going on in the life and ministry of St. Paul and what is commended to our lives and ministries as well. Paul, who believed himself strong in himself, is shown his weakness by the power of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Paul learned, through his ministry of suffering, that he was weak not only before God but also before the demands of a life that is submitted to the Lord and that will suffer on behalf of the Lord. Having submitted and been conquered by His Lord, Paul’s weakness now became his strength because it was now the power of Jesus Christ, and not his own power, that inspired and vivified him.
In his own self, then, Paul is weak, but in the Lord, he is strong. For this reason, Paul can continually submit to the weakness of his own infirmities, the persecution of his ministry, and the thankless and painful job of ministering to the Corinthian church and other churches. Yet because Paul has submitted to Christ, he is strengthened to do all that God has called him to do.There is another side to Paul’s strength and weakness. In 13:10, and in other places, Paul makes clear that he could come to the Corinthians with his full strength, authority, and ferocity. At times, Paul does speak and act with great strength and authority, and he reminds the Corinthians that he can be like this whenever it becomes necessary.
But how many times does he prefer to come like a father to his children, not wishing to have to rebuke or discipline them? Paul, therefore, will come with the strength of humility, love, and self-denial but with the power of Christ. First, gently and patiently, and then forcefully and with discipline, if necessary.
Following the example of his Master, his principle is that “we are weak that you may be made strong.” He will spend and be spent on the church he loves, and when he is emptied of self and weak, the love and strength of Christ inhabits him.
In spite of the difficulties of his ministry and the hardheadedness of the Corinthians – no, actually because of them – Paul’s final words to the Corinthians are: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”
Prayer: Father, thank You for Your love in giving up Your Son to save us from ourselves; Jesus, thank You for Your all-sufficient grace that is made perfect in my weakness; Spirit, thank You for the communion of saints, the Church, which You sustain with Your presence in us all. Help me to accept Your love, grace, and communion, that I may be made a living member in Your Body, the Church.
Points for Meditation:
1. Make a list of ways in which you still assert your own strength. Choose the most pressing one to meditate on more fully, and then practice denying yourself and giving this to God.
2. Meditate on the ways in which you are willing to give up yourself but need to petition the Lord more fervently for His grace and strength.
Resolution: I resolve to allow myself to be weak in my own strength, that I might be strong in Christ. I resolve to find one way in which I have not accepted God’s call to give up myself and rely on His strength and to practice giving it up to God.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson