“the power of Christ may rest upon me”
I found myself asking two questions about this phrase “that the power of Christ may rest upon me”: what does Paul mean by “the power of Christ”? And what does he mean that it may “rest upon” him?
Apparently the word translated “rest upon me” here actually means “tabernacle over me”, or we might say something like “the power of Christ may cover me all over like a tent”, but that seems a bit of a strange thing to say. You’re not supposed to mix metaphors. I mean, if I’m struggling with a thorn in my flesh, how will being in a tent help me?
My understanding of it is that the tent represented a shelter and place of refuge, which may not have helped Paul remove the thorn from his flesh, but was still a good thing to have as a place to rest during his time of suffering, and I think the point is also that Paul got to experience the power of Christ personally (“the power of Christ may rest upon me.”) Paul didn’t just have some abstract knowledge that God’s grace was sufficient; he knew that he personally was completely covered by the power of Christ, and nothing could touch him unless Christ let it.
And to understand what is meant by “the power of Christ” I looked up other places where the word “power” is used in the New Testament. One of those texts is Romans 1:20 “his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” And I think that kind of covers everything really. Christ’s power is seen in the fact that he created the universe. And that’s the power that’s resting on Paul in his time of weakness. Do we really need to say any more? When we’re conscious of our weakness – perhaps we’re facing some opposition in our Christian lives – if we remember and really believe that we belong to the one whose eternal power is seen in the fact that he made the universe, that’s probably going to be enough to keep us going.
We could also turn to texts like Luke 5:17, which says of Jesus that “the power of the Lord was with him to heal” a man who was paralysed, and in Luke 6 a great crowd of people came to Jesus to be healed, and in v19 we’re told that “power came out from him and healed them all.” Jesus may not heal us from our diseases, just like he didn’t remove Paul’s thorn. He may decide we’re better off remaining conscious of our weakness, but we can be sure he has the power to make us as healthy as we need to be to glorify him in whichever way he sees fit.
If we never suffered, if we could manage everything by ourselves, we would never experience the power of Christ, but as we suffer beyond what we can cope with, and recognise our own helplessness, we are forced to give up on saving ourselves and just fall into Jesus’ arms and trust him to catch us and hold onto us. And he will. And when that happens, we get the joyful personal experience of the power of Christ covering us, and at the same time he is glorified by it.
And I think this way of seeing suffering as an opportunity to experience the power of Christ personally is really the climax of this passage, because this is what we should be aiming for above all else in our Christian lives; we count all other things as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus (Phil 3:8).
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