The Strength of Weakness

Strength is that which is relied upon and takes precedence in faith. For the unlearned believer it is much on self (old self), until it is learned that since self always desires “preeminence” (3Jhn 1:9) it must progressively be denied the outward workings of its “motions of sins” (Rom 7:5) more than not. For the learned believer, true strength is not even in the new self, but in the Lord Jesus, for Scriptural instruction reveals to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Eph 6:10), which strength is “by My Spirit” (Zec 4:6), as are all things that proceed from the Father and the Son.

The principle of displacement is a universal law which involves the concept that no two elements can occupy the same space simultaneously, thus to be strong in Christ is to be weak (lack of dependence) in self (new or old), for there can be no dependence upon both simultaneously. Thus, it should be axiomatic that the learning of this instruction is paramount if strength is desired—it being among the chief spiritual growth truths, which I believe is well displayed in 1Peter 5:7.

- NC

The Strength of Weakness​

Paul prayed three times that the thorn in the flesh might be removed, but the Lord did not relieve him of it. It was for Paul’s good to have it*. We do not know what it was, and this leaves the principle open for general application. It was something that kept Paul in the constant sense of weakness as to himself. Great pain is not so trying to a man as the sense of positive weakness. A man can steel himself against positive suffering, and harden himself to beat it by resolution of will. But to be reduced to absolute weakness brings a man down as nothing else does.

You are obliged to go down under weakness; you cannot gird yourself up against it as you might against external trials or even pain. Paul was brought down to be conscious of nothing but weakness in himself. His life and service were carried on really in resurrection power, as he says, “We ourselves had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not have trusted in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2Cor 1:9).

All this exercise goes on down here in the one who has been conscious of being caught up to paradise as “a man in Christ” (2Cor 12:2). If, on the one hand, we touch the infinite privilege of “a man in Christ,” we must be prepared, on the other, for the discipline of God which brings death in upon what we are naturally, so that we may prove the grace of the Lord, and lean how divine power is perfected in human weakness.

A dear servant, now with the Lord, used to say that the angels excel in strength but the saints excel in weakness. It was so with Paul. He gloried in his weakness that the power of the Lord Jesus Christ might tabernacle on him. Many Christians are too strong to learn what this means. Will and energy are the great things in the world, and a great many think that what is effective in the world can be effective in the things of God. But it is not so.

Divine power does not work along with human power. Human power has to be set aside that divine power may be perfected in human weakness. Many a man is ineffective in the service of God because he is too strong. If we pray for more divine power it is most likely the Father will answer by causing us to experience our own utter weakness and nothingness as never before. This is humbling to us, but it is the Father’s blessed and holy way of preparing vessels fit for the Master’s use. The power of man must be set aside, crucified*, if the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus is to be manifested in our “mortal bodies” (Rom 8:11).

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2Cor 12:9, 10).

- C A Coates

Poster’s Notes:

*”for Paul’s good”: How can the author claim that the “thorn in the flesh” was good for Paul? Primarily because regardless of what transpires in the life of a believer, it must “work” for the “good” of the believer (Rom 8:28), and I am doubtless it is because not only are all occurrences foreknown, but are also pre-designed, “according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). It is highly instructional to learn that God has predetermined and foreordained all things for our good within everything we or anyone will think, feel, say or do—none of which can evade His providential provisions.

*”power of a man”: I know of no other power within humanity itself greater than its nature, because I believe it is the nature of beings which determines their finality; i.e. all possess the “old man,” or sinful nature, but only believers avoid living by it (Rom 6:6) and instead live by a “new man,” or nature (Rom 6:13).