Rethinking Weakness

I was talking with a friend on the phone the other day. She’s quite a hero in my book. She has set aside some personal ambitions and a vocational trajectory to be present with family during a difficult season of loss. I’m really proud of her. But the loss of her plans and ambitions are difficult to bear.

After hanging up, I was walking home from the office and our conversation forced me to rethink about how I think and talk about weakness. I have many friends around me who have made costly decisions to love deeply. And as they begin to feel the cost they, in the process, feel weakened. But how do I talk about their weakness? Loving people who are suffering often puts us in situations that disconnect us from personal connections and networks that can further our own ambitions and plans. We are not only losing opportunities but often times our lives become more hidden. Being hidden often times feels like being forgotten. And there are moments that if we internalized this, we can feel like we are being forgotten by God. My God, my God why have you forsaken me?

Sinclair Ferguson’s book The Holy Spirit has helped me process this a little bit. Ferguson unpacks Paul’s thoughts on weakness from 2 Corinthians 13:4, “To be sure, he [Christ] was crucified in weakness, yet lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you.” Now, Paul is responding to the accusations of people around the Corinthian church who are saying that Paul is weak and unimpressive. But Paul’s response is not to dismiss his weakness. Instead he places his weakness in Christ.

Ferguson points out: “Careful attention is required in order to feel the weight of Paul’s language here. He does not say: ‘We are weak in ourselves, but we are strong in Christ.’ That would be true as he explains elsewhere (2 Cor. 12:10; Phil. 4:13). Rather, Paul has a different perspective: bound by the Spirit to Christ crucified and risen, he is weak in Christ, as well as powerful in him.” That insight seems so fresh to me.

It isn’t wrong to say, I am weak but Christ is strong. That’s true. But if we dissect this truth a step deeper, as Ferguson does, we find important spiritual resources. Ferguson writes:

Rather, Paul’s weakness is a direct consequence of his union with Christ in his weakness in crucifixion. Paul’s weakness is not a motivation for seeking union with Christ in order that he might be strong; it is the direct consequence, implication, and outworking of that very union in the Spirit.

Paul is explaining his experience as a Christian, that he was weak not despite being in Christ, or apart from being in Christ, but because he is in Christ. In a performative age, this is almost intolerable. We resist weakness in all measures. But for those who feel weakened because they have followed through in costly love, this might be a sweet balm. We feel and experience weakness because we are in Christ. This is important for us. As Esau McCaulley has said somewhere, “We want the results of Jesus without the method of Jesus. And the method of Jesus is cruciform.”

John Starke

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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