Power in Weakness

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

- 2 Corinthians 12:1–10

The Lord’s visit to Elijah reminds us that He is present with His people even if He is not performing the great feats we might want Him to do (1 Kings 19:12–13). Most of the time, in fact, God orders history with an invisible hand, working through ordinary decisions to bring about His desired ends. His use of Esther and Mordecai demonstrated this maxim, and we can also look at our own lives and see how our Creator regularly works “behind the scenes” to do His good work (Isa. 18:4; Luke 17:20–21).

The Lord also goes a step further than this and does what is completely unexpected. We may not always see Him moving leaders to fulfill His plan, but His use of potentates is not particularly surprising given that it often takes powerful men to make powerful changes. However, sinners cannot anticipate that God takes joy in working through our weakness. This is the point of today’s passage.

Among other reasons, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians because of false teachers who came in to steal his disciples. These evil men undermined Paul’s authority by attacking his “weak” bodily presence, unsophisticated speech (10:10), and, apparently, a lack of spiritual experiences these false teachers deemed worthy of an apostle (12:1). Paul could have boasted of the revelations Christ gave him to counter their claims (vv. 2–6), but instead he boasts in his weakness, telling us the Lord gave him a thorn to keep him humble (v. 7). The exact nature of this thorn is unknown, though The Reformation Study Bible note on this passage suggests it could be a physical infirmity or some kind of harassment from demons or persecutors. Paul pleaded to have this thorn removed, but God kept his thorn in place to show the apostle how His “power is made perfect in weakness” (vv. 8–9).

Whether the thorn is a physical ailment like Jacob had (Gen. 32:22–32), lowly status as with David (1 Sam. 16:1–13), a lack of education (Peter and John, see Acts 4:13), or something else entirely, the Lord does the unexpected and uses weak vessels to advance His kingdom. When weak individuals accomplish great things, then others see clearly that God exists and is present with His people.

Coram Deo

Unfortunately, the church of Jesus Christ has not always relied on the power of God to advance the Gospel. In ages past, the “power” of the sword was a favorite tool. Today, many borrow the “strength” of secular business models or popular fads to grow a ministry. But the Lord delights to work in our weakness. Even if you have a disability, do not occupy a position of power, or otherwise feel insignificant, God can use you to do mighty things.

Passages for Further Study

Judges 7
Ps. 25
Ezek. 34:11–24
2 Cor. 13:4
Rev. 5

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343