STRENGTH OUT OF WEAKNESS
Copyright © 2012 Robert B. Thompson. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
I have written many times about the concept of life out of death; resurrection out of crucifixion. I do not see that I have anything to add to what I have written previously, but it is in my mind for some reason.
I believe the reason the Apostle Paul has borne such incomprehensible fruit is explained in the Book of Second Corinthians. There he mentions several times the various means God employed to “kill” him. One thing after another. Then, on top of all his tribulations, God permitted Satan to afflict Paul in some manner, probably with an infection in his eyes.
Paul declared that he was subjected to so much trouble he went about with the sentence of death in himself, that he should not trust in himself but in God who raises the dead.
“I am crucified with Christ,” Paul said, “nevertheless I am living. Christ is living in me. I live by faith in Christ, trusting in Him for all I do and say.”
As in the case of Christ living by the Life of the Father, Paul was living by the Life of Christ.
Perhaps the opportunity to be brought down to the place where we are not living by our own wisdom and strength but by the wisdom and strength of the Lord Jesus Christ is not given to everyone, but we can pray that someday this will be our condition. Paul spoke of the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. This is not our idea of fellowship, is it?
I have just finished writing about being careful to not touch the Ark, that is, to let God have His wonderful way without trying to assist Him unless He asks us to. Also, in line with this, I have mentioned that the present emphasis on going forth and saving everyone from Hell may not be coming from Jesus but from the personal ambition of the ministry.
Why do denominations keep a careful count of everyone who is converted, when King David was charged with sin when he numbered the people? Even Joab knew better and warned David about the folly of this.
But David persisted. What is the motive today of counting how many are “saved,” unless we regard numbers of people as a sort of crown of success?
Yet every experienced pastor knows that some people who make a great show of being converted do not last; while others who are quiet and reserved about their experience with Jesus endure to the end.
Aren’t we really conducting our own program when we count heads in this manner?
I realize the Bible states that so many were present at the miracle of the loaves and fish, and at the establishing of the first church in Jerusalem. But I think these numbers were listed to give us some idea of what was taking place. I seriously doubt that the disciples kept a record of how many came out to hear Jesus preach; or that the early church elders turned in a record of attendance every month.
But maybe they did. It appears the desire to organize the Gospel began early in Church history, although I have been given to understand that there were no buildings set aside for worship until the third century. Apparently people met in homes—which I think has some merit.
Incidentally, Jesus just taught the Words of Life and did not ask for a show of hands when He finished. As a pastor, I usually have an altar call after preaching every Sunday morning. But this is a chance for people to talk to Jesus about what has been preached that morning. I assuredly do not keep a count of how many came to the altar.
I remember talking to a relative about my experience with the Lord. I found out years later that he had turned to Christ as a result. I believe it took place while I was speaking with him.
But isn’t that the way it is supposed to be? Isn’t the Word of God as a Seed that lodges in the heart? Who knows when it germinates or how it grows. No show of hands is needed.
It gets back to the idea of Peter building three houses for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. We have our hands on the Ark. We are afraid to speak the words Christ gives us and just let the Lord have His way with people.
As far as worldwide evangelism is concerned, the folly of keeping a record of conversions is done only to satisfy the desires of headquarters, as far as I can tell. C. T. Studd wrote to his missions board that only a small percent of the supposed conversions turned out to be lasting; to result in genuine Christians. I wonder if the missions board was pleased with that?
And as far as worldwide evangelism is concerned, I think keeping a record of how many conversions there were reveals a wrong attitude on our part. Joab said something about that to David, to the effect that why should David care how many men of war there were. Was David trusting the Lord or his army?
As I mentioned in a previous essay, I don’t believe the emphasis on getting souls saved is coming from Jesus. It may be genuine in some instances. But the glaring need, at least in the Christian churches in America, is for the people to come to maturity in Jesus. Does it make sense to keep insisting that we go forth and get more souls “saved,” when those who supposedly have been “saved” are not growing in Christ?
After having been “saved” for forty years, and having attended church for this period of time, many believers still are bitter, unforgiving, jealous, seeking preeminence, bound with sexual lust, arrogant, and ready to gossip the moment some juicy morsel appears concerning the weakness of a brother or sister.
For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. (II Corinthians 12:20)
Yet a careful record is kept of the attendance.
It is my opinion that the overemphasis on evangelism, to the ignoring of most of the text of the New Testament, is not coming from the Lord Jesus but from the ambition of church leaders who desire to be successful. And success in ministry today in America is measured by number of people who attend the services.
I have mentioned not putting our hand on the Ark, that is, letting God move in the way He desires without seeking to help Him out, unless He requests assistance. I have written also about the overemphasis on evangelism, when the great need facing us in America is growth in righteous character on the part of those who attend Christian churches.
Is there a common problem here? Perhaps I should ask, “Is there some condition that is moving us to attempt guide the Ark; is impressing us to overemphasize evangelism when the obvious need is to build up the members of the Body of Christ into the image of Christ; and is insisting that the number of our proselytes be recorded?”
I believe there is a common factor here. I think the common factor is that we are very much alive in the flesh. We have not been crucified with Christ. We are not living by the Life of Christ but by our own wisdom, strength, talents, and ambitions.
It reminds us of Samson. He accomplished many miracles by his God-given strength. But it was in his death that he destroyed the enemy.
Since the days of Christ and the original Apostles of the Lamb, there have been numerous commentators who have explained the Kingdom of God. But the writer whose words have come down through the ages is the Apostle Paul. Why is this? Why are you and I studying Paul’s words today? It is because Paul had the sentence of death in himself.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (II Corinthians 1:8,9)
The Apostle Paul was not a revered theologian reclining comfortably in his walnut-lined study, surrounded by theologic tomes. Paul was a hunted man, sometimes fleeing for his life. He could have settled down in Tarsus surrounded by his grandchildren. He chose instead to bear the cross of reproach.
It is of interest to note that one of the three requirements for overcoming the accuser is that we love not our life to the point of death.
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)
I believe there is a real temptation to treat the Gospel of the Kingdom as a business enterprise. I do not know about other countries; but this certainly is true in America.
The whole idea seems to be to help local churches to be as large as possible in numbers of people who attend. Yet I think it is true that each local church has a unique role in Christ’s plan for His Kingdom. Some churches definitely have an evangelistic calling. They tend to be large in the number of parishioners.
Then there are churches that work among street people, helping addicts. Still others provide the homeless with food and shelter.
The wise district administration will ask Jesus what the role of that church is, and then assist the church in the ministry to which Christ has called it.
The idea of strength coming out of weakness does not seem to be popular. Yet it is the way Christ works. Human personalities will make a mess of confusion every time they try to do Gospel work. As in the case of Samson, nothing of eternal Kingdom significance is going to be accomplished unless Jesus can find people who will let Him do things His own way while they remain strictly obedient.
This is another way of saying, people who are willing to die to their own plans and lives.
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (II Corinthians 11:23-29)
And then, after all of this:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12:7-10)
“To keep from being conceited”! “My power is made perfect in weakness”!
I wonder how many Bible schools teach the ministerial candidates. that the only eternal good that will come from the ministry will be that which Christ brings forth out of their suffering.
Notice that the two witnesses of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation are clothed in the sackcloth of humility and repentance. Contrast this with the ministers of today, the popular evangelists, driving expensive automobiles. Contrast this with the Christian speaker who demands two thousand dollars up front if he or she is to come to your church.
What can we say? The Gospel in America in some instances has become a business. The entrepreneur uses his talents to become successful, in terms of attracting large audiences. He has chosen the ministry as a profession, and he is competent in the pursuit of his field.
The less talented and aggressive pastor may lose his congregation to someone more colorful. His young people may go to a larger church where there are more marriage prospects.
This situation may prove to be the opportunity of a lifetime for the less talented pastor. He should go to intense prayer until he hears what Jesus has to say about his “failure.” Jesus will hear him and direct him one way or another. It may be a different sort of ministry. It may be to leave the ministry altogether. He may have gone to Bible school to please his mother and there actually is no ministerial call on his life.
If we are to live by the Life of the Lord Jesus we must learn never to cling to anything; never to grasp anything. We are to enter the rest of God, seeking to discover what God has spoken from the foundation of the world concerning us. How wonderful it is when we are resting in the center of God’s Person and will.
The Christian ministry is not supposed to be a profession in which the talented, aggressive individual makes a huge success, while a hundred others plod along, being faithful to what they believe to be God’s will for them.
The Bible tells us of the successful leaders of Israel. John the Baptist referred to them as a “brood of vipers”; and so they were, those murderers of Jesus.
The Bible is not a record of talented leaders or of successful churches. The Bible is a story about people whom God chose, sometimes reluctant people who were not always happy with their assignments.
Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends! I have neither lent nor borrowed, yet everyone curses me. (Jeremiah 15:10)
I feel confident that many people whom God has used to build His Kingdom has on occasion felt like Jeremiah.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,
Quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.
They were stoned they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:32-38)
Now compare Christianity in America with the passage above. Do you see any differences? More to the point, do you see any similarities? Not too many, I guess. How are we going to feel when we are in Heaven with these people?
I believe it is true that difficult times are coming to our country. There may be severe, even violent, persecution of Christians. The people of the world may be looking for someone to blame for their discomfort. The politicians in those days may point the finger at Christians to take the blame away from themselves.
If this sort of chaos takes place, it may be that the Christian churches will be stripped of their trust in worldly people. Some may join with the world and condemn their more humble brothers and sisters.
The Christian churches that turn to God may be treated like the Apostle Paul, and the martyrs of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews. It seems difficult to believe this, in the present period of ease. But no nation has turned back into sin, as has the United States of America, and not been visited with fiery Divine judgment.
If we are wise, in the present days of peace, we will place all of our treasures in Heaven. We will practice looking to the Lord Jesus for everything we think, say, and do. We will do what we can to bring up our children in the admonition of the Lord. We will make the effort to shield the children from the social networking and the violent, morally depraved Hollywood productions.
This will not be easy to do, because many if not most Christian parents in America have been indulgent toward their children. To then turn and seek to prevent the social networking or the violent screen presentations may result in an untenable situation in the household. The parents will need to pray and seek wisdom in helping their children prepare for the coming difficulties.
Here is the point. The difficult situations will be a means of learning to live by the Life of the Lord Jesus. Just as in the case of the Apostle Paul, when we come to the end of ourselves, Jesus can do things through us that will last for eternity. In any case, if we abide in Him, we and our loved ones will be under God’s protection no matter what takes place in our country.
Quite a few of God’s prophets are telling us that there is going to be an outstanding outpouring of the Spirit of God in America in the near future. I believe this is true. What is not always is added to the prophecies is that the outpouring of the Spirit will be in a time of trouble.
God is going to work great miracles, I believe. But we are not going to be settled back snugly in our comfortable American way of life. Food may be in short supply. There may be antagonistic neighbors who will be only too glad to report us to the authorities for holding Bible studies in our home.
People may be laid off from their jobs because they are perceived to be Christians, and therefore against the demands of homosexual people for recognition.
It already is true that the state is stepping in when private businesses refuse to service homosexuals. People who home school their children may be attacked by the state and forced either to send their children to public school or else teach in their home the acceptability of sexual perversions.
Health practices, such as vaccinations, may be forced on parents who are opposed to them. Recently there has been a move to outlaw circumcision. You can imagine the reaction of Jewish parents. I think the proponents of this ridiculous law have had to back down because of the opposition. But this is the sort of thing that is on the way in America.
It is not impossible that there will be civil war in America in the fairly near future, and that numerous Americans will be held in detention centers because they will not cooperate with federal or United Nations policies concerning the upbringing of children.
If we will keep our eyes on Jesus at all times, He will guide us through these abominations. Such opposition to Christians has occurred many times throughout history, and even today is taking place in Muslim countries.
We would have been spared the destruction of the American way of life had we turned away from the fleshly practices of the world. But in our soft way of life we have accepted the corrupt practices of non-Christian people, supposing that God would continue to bless America.
Maybe you haven’t noticed it, but God is leaving America. This is why there are bizarre actions of demons occurring ever more frequently; why nature is telling us that God is leaving us, by withholding rain, by tornadoes, and by other disasters such as unprecedented fires.
To invite God back into our nation would require repentance on the part of all the Christian people. But because the pastors are preaching lawless-grace and an any-moment rapture, there unfortunately will not be nation-wide repentance. There may be talk about repentance, but it may prove to be too little and too late.
Our life of victory in Jesus will not come about while our environment is safe and predictable. It will take place as we are brought to the end of our hopes and dreams, no longer trusting in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.
We may be terrorized until we faint; thrown in jail; our children taken from us; our money worthless; food scarce. The media will be presenting orgies of sexual perversion, including nakedness, bestiality, and legalized pederasty. This is what we have to look forward to in America because we refused to take up our cross and live as a genuine disciples.
Those who are wise will prepare themselves by drawing closer to the Lord Jesus each day until they understand His will for the moment. They, and their loved ones who obey them, will be kept by the Lord in the day of trouble.
The casual Christians who do not use the present time to prepare themselves spiritually, will be tossed about like a rudderless ship in a hurricane. They will be no help to their family or their neighbors. It will be as though they never knew the Lord Jesus—which probably is true.
There are many Bible verses that speak of deliverance in the hour of trouble for those who trust the Lord and walk humbly with God. The righteous never are forsaken. But the scornful shall dwell in a dry land!
Paul said to the effect that he was glad for the affliction because then the glory of the Lord rested on him. The Lord’s strength took the place of Paul’s weakness.
In one of her books, Isobel Kuhn, a middle-aged lady, told how she left the mission compound with its soft beds, showers, and regular meals, and went into the jungle. This may have been in Vietnam, although I am not certain. Isobel went from village to village, telling of Christ. The natives told her that, as she drew near, their idols would no longer speak to them.
Can you imagine that? But after a while, she returned to the comforts of the mission station. Isobel stated in her book to the effect that she was just as happy going from village to village as she was at the mission station, because of the increased presence of the Lord Jesus.
There appears to be a principle of compensation that kicks in when we are in distressing circumstances. The rougher our environment, the more present is the joy of the Lord.
So the only thing we have to fear is that now, in the period of time God has given to us to prepare ourselves, we permit ourselves to be distracted from the task of preparing ourselves to stand in the evil day.
No matter what takes place in the future, if we will keep ourselves in the Presence of Jesus, making certain our mind remains on things that are lovely, as Paul commanded us, we will be fine.
As far as death is concerned, for the faithful Christian, dying is like the summer holidays when school is out; it is like Christmas morning when we see the presents around the tree.
The present world is the valley of the shadow of death. Sometime as I watch the homeless people pushing their carts with their belongings, I try to picture these ragged, hopeless people as they were when they were happy little children with their Teddy bears.
That old man pushing the shopping cart; the elderly lady with the stringy hair–these at one time were joyous boys and girls running about the schoolyard.
What force bent their backs and robbed them of joy? The answer is, life. Life on the planet Earth. Life in the valley of the shadow of death.
God knows what is it is like here. He has several reasons for allowing this insane dance to continue. I have presented these reasons in other essays. Suffice it to say, this present world is not God’s idea of an environment for His offspring. Rather it is a lesson to people and angels what the world is like when Satan is active.
Some day this horror will be over. So dying is to be looked forward to with the greatest joy, if we have been a decent person and have not rejected Christ when He was presented to us.
If we love Jesus and are abiding in Him, we have nothing to fear in the future. Certainly not death, which is our release from misery. Whatever troubles we or our loved ones may encounter, Jesus will help us go through them so they are bearable.
It will be over soon, and there is a wonderful world ahead for those who love the Lord. So let us use the present time as a period of preparation, which is its purpose.
(“Strength Out of Weakness”, 3512-1)