You are currently viewing 7 Powerful Lessons Paul Teaches the Church About Weakness

7 Powerful Lessons Paul Teaches the Church About Weakness

Apart from Jesus, no one confronted and dismantled the church’s lust for earthly glory more thoroughly and capably than the apostle Paul in his letters to the church in Corinth.

In both letters, Paul demonstrates God’s design for weakness in the Christian life, relentlessly returning to God’s power present in the weakness of the cross. For Paul, Christian living requires following Jesus in faith, rejecting the values of the world, and embracing the Christ crucified out of weakness.

Consider these seven ways Paul encourages us to embrace weakness.

1. Believe that the weakness of Christ crucified is God’s power to save.

The message of Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23–24). So, for Paul, the whole of the Christian life is lived “by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave himself for [us]” (Gal. 2:20).

Since the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” all God’s saving righteousness is revealed and received entirely through faith in Jesus (Rom. 1:16–17). To put our hope in anything else is to forfeit God’s saving power.

Will the church preach this today?

2. Imitate the weakness of Christ.

To be an apostle was to be conformed to the image of Christ crucified: “God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death” (1 Cor. 4:9). But the way of weakness isn’t limited to Jesus’s apostles.

Paul’s gospel ministry birthed the church in Corinth. As their “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” he expects his “beloved children” to grow up to look like him: “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (vv. 14–16). Paul sent Timothy to the Corinthians for that purpose: “[He will] remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (v. 17).

What example does the church set and call people to imitate today?

3. Consider your weakness when God called you.

Understanding that “the weakness of God is stronger than men” requires remembering your own weakness when God saved you (1:24). Paul writes, “Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (v. 26).

To put our hope in anything but the gospel is to forfeit God’s saving power.

Where is our wisdom? Christ. Where is our righteousness? Christ. Where is our holiness? Christ. Where is our redemption? Christ. Christ Jesus—and he alone—is the entirety of our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

Does today’s church remember where she came from?

4. Reject any methodology that empties God’s weakness of its power.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of how he came to them with the gospel: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2). Paul is describing the “how” of his ministry.

The “how” is as crucial as the “what” of the message, because when the world’s means and manners are employed, Christ’s cross is emptied of its power.

Is today’s church willing to follow suit?

5. Live in a way that demonstrates the Spirit’s power.

Paul chose to live in such a way that God’s power was present and active (2:4). Elsewhere, Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ “was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4).

Throughout both 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul battles thought systems that value earthly wisdom and strength. How does he go about demolishing such things? Every time, he preaches and applies the gospel. The powerful weapon of our warfare is the message of the cross proclaimed in the Spirit’s power through a gospel-shaped messenger.

What weapon is the church using today?

6. Don’t be afraid to appear weak.

At the center of the super-apostles’ criticism of Paul (and the Corinthians’ wavering fidelity to him and his gospel) was the charge that Paul was weak. He didn’t measure up to the standards of “those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart” (2 Cor. 5:12).

Paul wasn’t a specimen of human strength and beauty. But then again, neither was Jesus, who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2).

Jesus looked weak. Paul wasn’t afraid to appear weak.

Is today’s church willing to look weak to keep the gospel central?

7. Boast about your weaknesses so Christ’s power may reside in you.

Paul disdained the idea of commending himself: “It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor. 10:18).

Instead, he boasts about the shameful weaknesses obvious in his ministry history:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (11:24–27)

Paul’s list might be seen as triumphal boasting. In this way, these experiences would be testimonies to Paul’s strength in the flesh. But he wants nothing to do with such a conclusion. So he adds a capstone of humiliating weakness: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (v. 30).

Are we in the church willing to boast about our shameful weaknesses to show Christ’s glorious power?

Does the church take pleasure in humiliation for Christ’s sake?

Are we willing to believe it (and live like it) when Jesus promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:8)?


Leave a Reply