How well are you investing the weaknesses you’ve been given?
Perhaps no one has ever asked you that question before. Perhaps it sounds nonsensical. After all, people invest assets in order to increase their value. They don’t invest liabilities. They try to eliminate or minimize or even cover up liabilities. It’s easy for us to see our strengths as assets. But most of us naturally consider our weaknesses as liabilities — deficiencies to minimize or cover up.
But God, in his providence, gives us our weaknesses just as he gives us our strengths. In God’s economy, where the return on investment he most values is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6), weaknesses become assets — we can even call them talents — to be stewarded, to be invested. It may even be that the most valuable asset God has given you to steward is not a strength, but a weakness.
But if we’re to value weaknesses as assets, we need to see clearly where Scripture teaches this. The apostle Paul provides us with the clearest theology of the priceless value of weakness. I have found 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:16 and, frankly, the entire book of 2 Corinthians, to be immensely helpful in understanding the indispensable role weakness plays in strengthening the faith and witness of individual Christians and the church as a whole.
Paradoxical Power of Weakness
Paul’s most famous statement on the paradoxical spiritual power of weakness appears in 2 Corinthians 12. He tells us of his ecstatic experience of being “caught up into paradise,” where he received overwhelming and ineffable revelations (2 Corinthians 12:1–4). But as a result,
a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 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 12:7–10)
In these few sentences, Paul completely reframes the way Christians are to view weaknesses, even deeply painful ones that can appear to hinder our calling and that the powers of darkness seek to exploit. What at first seems to us like an expensive liability turns out to be a valuable, God-given asset.
Weakness and Sin
Before we go further, we need to be clear that Paul does not include sin in his description of weakness here. The Greek word Paul uses is astheneia, the most common word for “weakness” in the New Testament. J.I. Packer, in his helpful study on 2 Corinthians, Weakness Is the Way, explains astheneia like this:
The idea from first to last is of inadequacy. We talk about physical weakness [including sickness and disability] . . . intellectual weakness . . . personal weakness . . . a weak position when a person lacks needed resources and cannot move situations forward or influence events as desired . . . relational weakness when persons who should be leading and guiding fail to do so — weak parents, weak pastors, and so on. (13–14)
But when Paul speaks of sin, he has more than inadequacy in mind. The Greek word for “sin” he typically uses is hamartia, which refers to something that incurs guilt before God. Hamartia happens when we think, act, or feel in ways that transgress what God forbids.
Though Paul was aware that hamartia could lead to astheneia (1 Corinthians 11:27–30) and astheneia could lead to hamartia (Matthew 26:41), he clearly did not believe “weakness” was synonymous with “sin.” For he rebuked those who boasted that their sin displayed the power and immensity of God’s grace (Romans 6:1–2). But he “gladly” boasted of his weaknesses because they displayed the power and immensity of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:9).
In sin, we turn from God to idols, which profanes God, destroys faith, and obscures God in the eyes of others. But weakness has the tendency to increase our conscious dependence on God, which glorifies him, strengthens our faith, and manifests his power in ways our strengths never do.
And that’s the surprising value of our weaknesses: they manifest God’s power in us in ways our strengths don’t. That’s what Jesus meant when he told Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) — “perfect” meaning complete or entirely accomplished. Our weaknesses are indispensable because God manifests the fullness of his power through them.