2 Corinthians 4: 5-12
Mark 2:23 - 3:6
If you could choose between being strong or weak, which would you
choose? Most of us would choose strength over weakness. In our world, strong is
Strength is something desired in almost every area of life. That's especially true in sports -- strength is what makes winners… and there is something awesome in the accomplishments of a great athlete. We want strong leaders, we want a strong economy, we want strong families. Strong is good.
In one important area, however, the emphasis on strength can make us losers!
The most important thing in life is our relationship with God. Why? The reason our relationship with God is #1 is because it's out of that relationship that we learn how to live properly. It is what gives us a proper perspective on who we are; it's out of that relationship and the teachings of our faith that we come to understand what are the most important values in life. And it is through that relationship that God give us strength – the strength to do good, to live properly, to love others, to forgive one another.
But… if we're not careful, we may begin to believe what is said in so many ways in our world – that it's our strength, our ability, and our goodness that matters most. In 1973, Dr. Thomas Harris wrote the bestseller "I'm OK, You're OK". That book said a lot of good things. It's helped thousands of people who never really felt okay about themselves to feel okay about themselves, and to take control of their lives. But the implication of that book's title – and the danger of taking these ideas too far -- is the belief that if we can just feel okay, everything will be okay. That if we can feel okay enough about ourselves, and things, and the way things in the world are going, then everything will actually be okay. A person might even feel so okay about themselves that they think they don't need help. They may think they should be so okay that they don't need help --- not from other people, not even from God. But the Bible, and the Christian faith, and the evidence of history all tell us that is just not true. . A person might be tall, strong, good-looking, educated, sophisticated, wealthy -- all those things our culture and society says are so important -- and your life can still come apart. A person can be very strong emotionally and still reach a breaking point. A person can be very patient, and still run out of patience.
It's not our strength that makes us most strong --- it is God's strength. It's not our love which makes us most loving – it is God's love. It's not our own wisdom which makes us most wise --- it is God's wisdom.
That's what Paul is dealing with in this portion of his letter to the Corinthian Christians. It seems that there were people in Corinth who noticed that not everything is Paul's life was perfect. He suffered persecution, he got himself into trouble more than once -- and they viewed this as evidence that he was not an authentic apostle, and not a true spokesperson for Christ. Surely, they thought, someone who showed weaknesses and suffered losses like that couldn't be a true apostle!
And in this passage, Paul says "but that's the point!". We are fragile, and weak, like "clay pots". But that's okay! Paul sees it as part of God's plan, so that others will know that the Church's achievements can only have happened through God's power. Of course we're not perfect: we're continually in danger of failing, and of dying. But it's in our vulnerability ("our mortal flesh"), we show the "life of Jesus". He suffered and was rejected, but lived in complete obedience to God's will. And it's what his Spirit does in us that proves this stuff is for real! According to Paul, it was part of God's plan that Paul suffer - so that others may know "life" (v. 12) in Christ, might know what what being a Christian means.
We love strength. But sometimes it is in our weakness that true strength is found. In some ways, that's the essence of the good news, that's the essence of the gospel! A relationship with God is not something given only to those who are good enough to deserve it, who are spiritually and morally strong enough to deserve it. In fact, just the opposite is true: God's salvation is offered to those who are weak and who recognize that they don't deserve it.
Dr. Zan Holmes of St. Luke's Community United Methodist Church in Dallas tells a story about a young pastor who had been assigned his first church. The church was in a struggling neighborhood, where unemployment was high and spirits were low. In that neighborhood, there were too many drugs and there was too many crimes. One day this pastor was walking down the sidewalk near his church and saw an old man sitting on the church steps. His clothes were old and tattered, his head hung low between his sagging shoulders. He looked like so many of the other jobless or homeless or hopeless ones seen in that part of town. "Today", the young man thought, "I'm not going walk by". And he sat down next to the man and said, "Old man, it looks like things aren't going well for you. I want to tell you about God."
And this old man slowly looked up, and with a small smile said, "Son, I already know about God. If I didn't know about God, how do you think I could have ever made it this far?"
Acknowledgement: Rev Kevin Tully