When Christ came into this world he came as a weak and helpless baby. He left this world hanging on a cross, in agony beyond description. His life was marked by continual suffering, reproach and rejection. He was, in this world’s terms, weak.
But, of course, he is the Lord of glory, the creator of all things. His power has no limit. Nothing is too hard for him, and sometimes during his ministry on earth this became apparent.
But for the most part, he appeared to this world to be weak — he had no influence in worldly affairs, no wealth, no military power, no status.
Suffering for the gospel
This apparent paradox — weakness and power — is mirrored in the life of the Christian and the church. The apostle Paul has a great deal to say on the subject. Speaking of his own experience, he tells the Corinthian church: ‘We are hard pressed on every side … perplexed … persecuted … struck down’ (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Later in the same epistle, he speaks of the sufferings he went through for the gospel — hard work, beatings, imprisonment, brushes with death, all the perils of travel, and so on (11:23-28). Or again, he tells of the ‘thorn in the flesh … a messenger of Satan to buffet me’ (12:7), whatever it may have been.
These descriptions of Paul’s personal experience match what we know of his missionary work. He gave his all to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to all. He toiled, he preached, he disputed, he taught, he poured out his heart and his very life — to bring others to Christ and build them up in the faith.
But he had no status or influence in this world’s terms. He was not striking in appearance, nor powerful in rhetoric. He travelled around with a group of nonentities, often meeting with rejection.
The power of Christ
Sometimes, he suffered physical retaliation. He endured all the inconveniences and dangers of travel in those times. His life was one of toil, discomfort, trouble, opposition, ridicule and pain. He, like his Saviour, was weak.
But did he regret this? Most certainly not! He tells the Corinthians that he rejoiced in the fact that he was weak — because in his weakness, the power of Christ was made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9).
He came to see that it was through his weakness that God worked with power in the lives of others — to build his church and bring glory to his Son Jesus Christ. So this is the outworking of the paradox: ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7).
How then does this work out in practice, in our own lives? Let me make a few suggestions.
Do not be anxious
1. We should not become over-anxious about small numbers. Of course, we long to see more people saved. But size is really not everything. Yes, we should proclaim the gospel, with all power; yes, we should seek the lost as Christ did. But we must not fret if only a few respond. Did not the apostle Paul, and even the Lord Jesus, often have the same experience? (John 6:66; Acts 17:34; 2 Timothy 1:15).
2. We should not become too concerned if we have little influence in this world. As citizens in a democratic society, we have the right to make our views known and to seek change to policies and laws. But we will find that our voice is usually ignored. Does this make us anxious? It should not. Christ, and Paul, had little influence in the corridors of Roman or Jewish power. Should we expect more?
3. We know that good health, a nice home, a satisfying job and a loving family are not everyone’s privilege. But we somehow feel that if we lack these things, God has let us down. When we suffer reverses, difficulties, disease or tragedy, we may feel deep down that our birthright as believers has been taken from us. Why? Are we promised these things in this world? No. We are promised trouble (John 16:33). So why do we expect anything else?
Abandon worldly ideas
So does this all mean that we should retreat into our own little ghetto — forgetting the world around us, just waiting for the Lord’s return? Far from it! Did the apostle Paul do that? It would be difficult to find anyone, in any sphere, who could rival him for vigour and perseverance.
He reached out energetically to others and sought to bring them into the kingdom of Christ. Yet all the while he rejoiced in his weakness, as it manifested the power of God. We should imitate him.
Let us, then, learn to abandon our worldly ideas in this area. Numbers, size, influence, status, comforts in this world are nothing, when viewed through scriptural eyes. We are weak in this world — as Paul was, and as Christ was.
The time of our glory is yet to be (Romans 8:18-23). Until then, let us be content — no, let us rejoice — to labour and toil for the kingdom of Christ. Let us do so with all that we have and are, recognising that this world will not recognise us.
Let us understand that status and influence in this world are nothing, and that it is through many troubles that we enter God’s kingdom (Acts 14:22). Let us also learn for ourselves the truth of Christ’s words to Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness’.