In a church culture where pastors are expected to be powerful preachers and power brokers, these words from Paul, “the Apostle of Weakness,” are an encouragement to me:
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 2 Corinthians 13:4
I found these notes from the New American Commentary on 2 Corinthians insightful (bold emphasis mine). They remind me that my all of my service to God’s people is to be carried out with an acute awareness of my own weakness and a deep dependence on the strength of Christ in me. The cruciform life is one that is lived with Him for others.
Paul asserts that weakness covers all of his relations with the Corinthians. But weakness does not mean impotence. As God’s power overcomes weakness in raising the seemingly vanquished Jesus from the dead and making him victorious over all, so God’s power works in Paul’s weakness in his dealings with the Corinthians, thus overcoming this weakness with divine power.
This verse exposes the key difference between Paul and the Corinthians: they do not perceive power in the same way.7 The Corinthians understand power as something exerted by assertive, domineering, forceful personalities who boisterously and tyrannically wield authority. The apostle sees divine power perfected in weakness. Barrett comments, “Since Paul, like all his fellow-Christians, lives in this age, on the side of death, it is to be expected that the main sign of Christian existence will be weakness-that is, the same kind of vulnerability that Christ himself chose to adopt.”8 The Corinthians need to see the whole picture and look at things the way Paul does: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:18). The crucifixion displayed an apparent helplessness that caused the spectators to taunt Jesus to show them some miraculous display of power or to pull off some miraculous escape that would finally convince them that he was the Son of God. A spectacular show of worldly power on the cross-the kind they wanted to see-would have proven only that Jesus was some kind of superman, but not the Messiah, the Son of God. Just as his tormentors suspected, nothing happened. His eyes closed, his head went limp, the breathing spasms stopped. The bystanders could not see that his weakness came from his voluntary sacrifice to give his life for others in absolute obedience to God. They also could not believe that God would deliver one whom they dismissed as so contemptible. The resurrection showed the power of God working in the most abject human weakness-death, even death on a cross. It also revealed that “the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Cor 1:25) and that God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27).
Unlike the Corinthians, Paul recognizes that God does not allow Christ’s followers, and especially apostles, to bypass Christ’s way of weakness that seems so foolish to the world. As Christ’s ambassador, he will continue to be given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested (4:11). The Corinthians still fail to grasp that, with God, weakness and power are two sides of the same coin. Some Corinthians have dismissed Paul because he is weak, and they think that they are strong (1 Cor 4:10). Paul admits to his weakness and glories in it because he knows that he is weak in Christ and that it continually proclaims his saving death and the power of God (4:11). His weakness is “a reflection of his fellowship with the Lord and of his participation in his death and resurrection.”9 What he knows and they do not is that “Christians do not merely imitate, follow or feel inspired by Christ, but actually live in him, are part of him, dwell supernaturally in a new world where the air they breathe is his Spirit.”10 By sharing Christ’s weakness, he shares the same divinely ordained paradox that constituted the life and destiny of Jesus Christ: comfort from suffering, life from death, strength from weakness, wisdom from foolishness. Divine power transforms the opposites from one to the other. If he is weak in Christ, he is powerful, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness and because God has already shown that power in Christ. Consequently, Paul wears his weakness as “a badge of honor” because it becomes “the platform from which the power of God is exhibited in the world.”11
7 Martin, 2 Corinthians, 476. 8 Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 337. 9 Black, Paul, Apostle of Weakness, 164. 10 Hanson, II Corinthians, 32. 11 D. A. Black, “Weakness,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. G. F. Hawthorne, R. P. Martin and D. G. Reid (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993) 966. Garland, David E.: 2 Corinthians. electronic ed. Nashville : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1999 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 29), S. 544.