Each of us lives in a circle of influence: our immediate families, our extended families, our small groups, teachers and students, and whomever else we encounter. We either have a negative or a positive influence on everyone in our circles. The word “influence” simply means the ability or power to affect someone else. Everyone of us everyday has an impact or influence on someone else. My hope is that you have a positive influence.
There is no denying that people have influence through position, such as the president of the United States. The president influences a nation. A superintendent influences a school district. An employer influences his or her employees. This series we are kicking off today will not be addressing influence through position. Rather, we will discuss the influences our lives have in five different areas. Today we will specifically discuss the influence of our weaknesses. We will also look at the influence of our life stories, our circumstances, our churches, and our communities later in this blog series.
Today we turn to a very counterintuitive kind of influence. There is perhaps no greater passage in the New Testament about the power of influence through weakness than 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. The passage reads:
12 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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. 10 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.
This section of scripture begins in 2 Corinthians 11:16 and runs all the way through the passage above. Paul uses two very powerful words in a very prominent way to drive home a lesson. These words are BOAST and WEAKNESS. Twelve times in this segment Paul uses the word boast, which means to take glory in something or someone for your own self, and to pride yourself in something. Nine times Paul uses some form of the word weakness, which means a frailty or illness of body, a feeble faith, not able to stand, strained. Paul is making a huge point by the liberal use of the words boast and weakness.
The natural tendency is to boast about our strengths and to put ourselves right out there as someone important. This is what the Corinthian church was doing. The supernatural thing is not to boast about our strengths, but to come to grips with our weaknesses and then to watch God work through them. Paul plays off these two words–boast and weakness–from his own experiences. As he walks us through his life, he teaches us a crucial spiritual lesson: We have greater spiritual influence through our weaknesses in the power of God than through our strengths.
Our culture doesn’t view things this way, but this how it is in the Kingdom of God. For us to really believe from our gut that God uses our weaknesses more than our strengths, we have to change our way of thinking. There must be a transformation that goes on in our minds to really believe it, or we are going to default to believing we can influence through our strengths. This is dead wrong. There are four truths we must understand to transform our thinking from strength to weakness. We will examine each of them below.
Truth #1: We all want to be influencers. We all want to make a difference in somebody’s life. We want to be important in the eyes of someone. The problem is that most of us go about it the wrong way. We do it like the Corinthians: “I am somebody.” Or we think our leaders need to be somebody. Strong reputation, strong leadership skills, and these kinds of things Paul calls boasting after the flesh, or tooting your own horn. The Corinthians thought that the natural talents is what God wants to use in order to influence people through ministry. Paul was dealing with this mentality in his time, but people still have this mentality today. If we really want to have an impact in today’s culture, we think we have to sing and dance well, dress and look sharp, and/or have impressive achievements. This brings power and prestige. Paul is trying to turn this notion on its head. Paul has an impressive list of credentials in the church. Paul was “raptured” into heaven and saw and heard things that are not permissible for human beings to tell other people. Paul said that he had reason to boast.
There will always be people with strengths, and they will get a lot of recognition because they think they have that influence. What happens is that those of us who don’t have those strengths won’t have that influence, but will hunger for it. Virtually everyone of us wishes that we could have some kind of powerful influence in those around us. Guess what? We tend to keep looking in the wrong places. God wants us to look at our weaknesses. God created each of us with a purpose. That purpose is to come to know Him in a personal way, and then to influence life after life. He understands that every single one of us secretly makse a difference in someone else’s life. We all have that interest, but all too often we are looking in the wrong place. We are looking to strengths to do it and not weaknesses.
Truth #2: We all have weaknesses. Not every person gets all of the good stuff in life. There is not a level playing field when it comes to strengths. There are a whole lot of people that are so naturally good at something that the rest of us have to watch them and feel very inferior. Paul levels the playing field. Every single one of us has weaknesses, therefore all of us can influence other people around us. Paul leads the way by talking about his own weaknesses and then goes so far as to say, “I will gladly boast of my weaknesses.” He puts in this text all of his weaknesses right out there for us to see.
By nature, Paul probably was reluctant to boast about his weaknesses. He probably would rather have boasted about his strengths. The impact going to heaven had upon him changed his life. I’m sure he really wanted to say, “I am the only person alive to experience this!” Paul realized he could not boast about his experience because he wouldn’t be able to relate to people the way God needed him to do so. Or, if he had done this, it would have been in a very inappropriate way in which his pride would swell.
God gave Paul a thorn. A thorn in the flesh. The literal meaning of thorn is a splinter or the point of a fishhook. Many have pondered over what was Paul’s thorn. We will never really know for sure. There are many theories out there. After he came back from heaven he may have started to go blind. Three times he asks God to take the thorn away from him, and it wouldn’t go. We do get an idea in other parts of the New Testament what it might have been, especially in Galatians 4:15 where the people say they would gladly pluck out their eyes for Paul and give them to him if they could. In another place he says he writes to the people with such large letters with his own hand. He obviously had some kind of problem with his eyes. Paul had to come to a place in his own mind where he had to realize his thorn was not going to be a limitation. He had a weakness like everyone else, and he had to realize that God wants to use our weaknesses. They will never really limit our ministries. Not all of us have unusual abilities, but all of us have weaknesses. Those weaknesses put us on a level playing field. God gives us the guarantee that all of us will be able to influence others in our circles because all of us have a weakness.
Truth #3: We need to embrace our weaknesses. This is the last thing we naturally want to do. We don’t like them, and we want to get rid of them. They bother us, and we think they are our liabilities. They can’t compete with our strengths. Look at what Paul says in verse 9, “I’ll boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.” He learned that his weaknesses were his greatest spiritual assets. In Philippians Chapter 3 Paul says that he counts all of his strengths as rubbish. Incredible! This could possibly be the greatest spiritual discovery in our lives. God will use your weaknesses to make more of an impact on others than your strengths. Don’t beat yourselves up over your weaknesses! They are our greatest assets, and we must embrace them.
This last statement needs to be qualified. There are, in fact, some weaknesses we cannot and should not embrace. For example, being a shopaholic and going into debt, or being rude and saying mean things to people all of the time. It is wrong to embrace a correctable deficiency. Paul is talking specifically about the weaknesses that come upon us that cause us problems that cannot be changed. A handicap. A difficult illness. There are too many to list here. The weaknesses that Paul experienced in his life were the weaknesses that he could not change. That immovable thorn in the flesh. It buffeted him, and it harassed him. It struck a blow to him. It hurt him. He wanted to get rid of it. He pleaded to God, like Jesus, three times to have it taken away from him. It just wouldn’t go. Finally, the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient in your weakness.” After all of that dialogue with God, Paul finally embraced his weakness.
Some of Satan’s greatest lies to us are about our weaknesses. He wants us to feel pain and inadequacy. He doesn’t want us to embrace them, especially when it hurts and we don’t want them and society says they are liabilities. We have a hard time seeing how a weakness that we cannot change can be of good purpose. Paul eventually said he was glad about his weaknesses, and he embraced them. It is hard to do.
Truth #4: God’s power is most evident in our weaknesses. The greatest strength comes from God’s power harnessed to our weaknesses. In verse 9 Paul says that God will give him the ability and grace to cope with his struggles. This is when God’s power is most potent. In verse 9 Paul no longer sees his weaknesses as limiting his influence, but he is glad about them because the power of God rest upon him then more than any other time. In verse 10 Paul says that he is content with his weaknesses now. He realizes that his greatest strengths are in his weaknesses. This is a life-changing understanding!
This begs the question: Why would God choose weakness to manifest his power? There is only one clear answer to this question. It is so that there is no confusion who is at work. If God worked through our strengths, people would see OUR power. For the most part, they would miss God. We would conclude that we are special and important. We would become puffed with pride. God wants to come through a weakness with His power in such a way that everyone will know it came from God. He will get the glory in the end. They will know it was His power. In 1 Corinthians 1 :27 Paul says that God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.
Most of us want to be someone we are not in order to influence. We want to be the hero, the winner, the most competent–the best. We have a hard time accepting the fact that we have liabilities and limitations. The truth is that our best chance at influencing others in the power of Christ is through our weaknesses. This is a very difficult lesson to learn. For many of us, it takes a lifetime to learn that this is how God operates. There are so many forces pulling us both internally and externally to make us believe that we have the greatest shot of influence through strength. The reality is that there are far more people with weaknesses reading this blog today than there are people with amazing strengths. With this collection of weaknesses represented here, there is no telling what God can do if we accept them and let Him work! We all have weaknesses and God wants to do powerful things through them. Your weaknesses are God’s opportunity to do something powerful in your life to touch other people around you. This should give you hope.
Embrace your weaknesses today! Let the power of God touch others through your weaknesses because that is the way God does His greatest work! Take a moment today and try to identify your weaknesses. Write them down. Don’t sell yourself short another day. This is your opportunity to team up with God and to let Him show Himself mighty in the places you think you don’t have anything to offer. Settle this matter with God right now, and let Him do something wonderful with your life!