Weakness is a teacher, instructing and reminding us that the power we have to live the Christian life does not come from us but from God.
“…we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Cor 4:7)
“…so we do not lose heart, Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16)
Immediate Change and our weakness
By way of introduction into this subject of human weakness and the surpassing power of God, there is room and need to address the motivation for change. Imagine for a moment you were to present a plan for church reform and everyone listening understands that your words are like seeds and the change is such a long way off and all the benefits of change will happen to others first. Now imagine how motivated people are for such reform, it doesn’t immediately benefit them or at all and yet they are the ones who must put in all the hard work. It’s like ploughing and sowing only for others to benefit in the harvest because we have died from all the hard work.
When a Christian is aware that change is slow, that they will not be perfect until Christ returns it can be hard to pursue holiness if we’re not likely to get that far or see any immediate change. Yet, this is the very pursuit which God expects every Christian to endevour. Our weakness can be our ready defence for not trying at all, but we cannot say to God I am unable, because we have been made alive in Christ Jesus, enabled by the Holy Spirit to live a holy life. At the same time, we know that God if He so chose could make us perfect right away but He has chosen to leave this until Christ returns. So the Christian who is concerned with their growth must contend with their responsibility and God’s chosen plan regarding how much they can change.
God, Material blessings and our weakness
The man who prays for his daily bread doesn’t have enough to see him through the week. If he did he might not pray and this might just cause him not to pray for other things either. Jesus warned how material desires and material blessings can hinder our walk with God causing us in both cases to rely on ourselves rather than God. When God said to Satan have you considered my servant Job, Satan’s response inferred that Job has no reason to fear God? His argument is that God has put a hedge around him and his house protecting him and his family, that God has blessed the work of his hands and his possessions have increased. However, God knew His servant Job and knew that though he had all of these material blessings they did not and would not get between Job and his relationship with God, but for many others, this is exactly what too many material blessings will do.
It’s important for us to understand the difference between what hinders our growth in Christ Jesus from the blessings we need but which can also get in the way of our relationship with God. In other words, if God gave us physical bread daily and only enough for each daily would we pray each day for that bread? however, if we received that bread weekly and there was enough to see us through the week, would we come before God daily for bread? To put this another way our needs and our weaknesses have a way of focusing our attention and causing us if we have grown in the knowledge of God to go to Him in prayer. Our weakness in this sense provides the necessary understanding and hopefully, motivation for us to turn to God, therefore to be free from such weaknesses would be to be free from one of the provisions God uses to motivate us to come to Him in prayer.
Jars of Clay and the reason for keeping us weak
The treasure that we have in us (jars of clay, 2 Cor 4:7) is “…the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 cor 4:6). Our lives are transformed by being in union with Christ Jesus and the transformation of our lives is seen in the power of God at work within us. It happens this way so that we would understand that the power to live the Christian life does not come from us but from God and in turn causing us through our weakness to turn to him every day. The power of God does not remove our weakness or take from us the feeling of being weak, rather it dwells within us and that though our flesh and hearts fail, God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever (Ps73:27)
What we must come to understand is that when God works His power through us rather than removing our weaknesses and making us strong. Our weaknesses are meant to be understood as a necessary provision that will motivate us to come to God in prayer and so bring glory to Him because it is His power at work within us.
We do not lose heart because we are being renewed day by day, which is a reminder that God doesn’t do it all at once. God renews us every day in Christ Jesus rather than all at once because if He did it all at once, we could so easily forget that it is the power of God at work within our lives that keeps us pursuing the holiness of God. This is also where God refocuses our attention from the present to the future, from the things which are seen to those things which are unseen, from those things which are transient to those things which are eternal. The feeling of wanting the Lord to come and for all the struggles to be over is understandable.
As I addressed in the introduction, that focusing on everything which is going to happen in the future as benefiting others can cause us to lose motivation in the present, we are it seems quite willing to sacrifice future benefits for short terms gains if we are given the option. Since our outer self is wasting away we feel the immediate effects and we are aware that this physical weakness and ability to provide an income is only going to diminish further over time. Therefore knowing that God’s grace is sufficient for us each day and every day, we can be at rest but at the same time we must pursue a close and clean walk with God.
God’s means of motivation
Paul in Acts 20 commends God and His word of grace to the Ephesian elders, reminding them that this is able to build them up and give them an inheritance among all those who are sanctified, those who are set apart for God (Acts 20:32). However, God’s provisions are many when it comes to motivating His people and are needed if the people of God are to serve him through their weaknesses. It’s possible that we can become so concerned with strengthening our weaknesses that we will seek to do so all by ourselves with material means. Therefore, if God uses weakness as one provision for motivating us to prayer and a close walk with Him, there is no reason why He could not increase our weakness by holding back His power at work within us so that we would come to Him. God has the means of turning up the heat so that we would come to Him. The point here is to reinforce the idea that God uses our weakness as a provision for motivating us, something which we can quickly forget.
How we apply
The application of scripture can be seen in what a person believes and what a person does. Therefore, the application of this passage begins with believing what is revealed and to do this we must first recognise what has been taught. God’s glory is displayed through our weakness and we are not removed from our weakness in order for the surpassing power of God to be experienced and understood and witnessed by others in through our lives. God uses our lives to further His own will, to display His glory. God’s grace extends to us more and more so that it may increase our thanksgiving to the glory of God (2 Cor 4:15). As a result, we do not lose heart, in other words, God’s grace towards us takes care of applying the provisions and benefits of belonging to God to us.
The application, takes place in how we are to think about our weakness before God, why we should think about it as a provision, why we are renewed day by day rather than all at once. The application which God’s grace provides is light, it’s revelation, it’s understanding, it’s the faith to see the things which are unseen. The application is for us to understand, believe and know that God is at work in us.