“I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses”
We’ve got one more angle to look at this subject from, and I’m hoping to answer the question I raised during my introduction: why does God allow us to go through suffering? Surely it makes him look bad if he either allows or is apparently unable to prevent his followers from suffering? What message does that send to others, including non-believers?
Well, as I’ve already said, the purpose of us going through suffering is not for us to show how strong we are that we can cope with all kinds of difficulties, but to expose our weakness.
And Paul says he will boast of his weaknesses. In Chapter 11v30 he says “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” In Chapter 12v5 he says “on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.” And in v10 he says “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” So Paul apparently sees weakness as a positive thing for the sake of Christ, and is boasting to the Corinthians about it.
How can weakness be a positive thing to boast about for the sake of Christ?
One way to illustrate this comes from earlier in this letter to the Corinthians, in Chapter 4v7, where Paul says “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” When the jar of clay is broken, people see the treasure that’s inside. Paul doesn’t mind being weak and breakable if it shows other people more of the value of Christ.
And for another illustration I’m returning to what stuck with me from John Piper’s chapter on prayer in Desiring God. Piper also referred to John 14 verse 13: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the father may be glorified in the Son.”
And he uses an illustration to show how we should glorify God: Suppose you’re totally paralysed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a very kind and reliable friend promised to live with you and do everything for you. When you have people come to visit you, how would you show them how amazingly generous and helpful your friend is? Would you try to get out of bed and start doing things for them? You can’t; you’re paralysed! Surely a better way for your visitors to really understand how deep your friend’s generosity and kindness is would be for them to see for themselves all the things that your friend does for you?
Louie Giglio describes suffering as a megaphone for broadcasting the hope that is within us, and I think it’s true that we’re all broadcasting a message to those around us all the time, showing what’s important to us in what we talk about, and what we spend our time and money on, but people particularly notice how we react to suffering.
People might see that we’re Christians and that God has given us a nice comfortable life with a nice house and a nice car and think “Wow, maybe I should give this Christianity thing a go,” but it’ll probably be because they want the comfortable life with the nice house and nice car, not because they want to know God himself.
But if they see us going through times of severe suffering that we can’t handle in our own strength, and see that we still praise Jesus and that we’re satisfied in him, they might say “Wow, I want to know their God,” and they might actually see something of the glory of God himself, and be attracted to the one who’s sustaining us, rather than just his gifts.
Bath University Christian Union summarise their purpose as: “to know Christ and to make him known”, and I think it’s because Paul had those same aims (obviously Paul had them before Bath CU did) – it’s because those things were more important to him than his comfort – that he learned to accept suffering, because having his weakness exposed by suffering helped him both to know Christ better, and to make him known. He experienced more of Christ for himself as he relied on Christ’s strength rather than his own, and other people who saw Paul’s weakness also got to see something of God’s work in his life.
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