James D. Slopsema is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.

“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.”

II Corinthians 12:9, 10

When I am weak, then am I strong.

Now that’s a paradox!

A paradox is a statement which on the surface is self-contradictory but upon further contemplation makes perfectly good sense. The paradox was a favorite teaching device of the Jews to impress indelibly a point on the minds of others.

This most striking statement of the Apostle Paul is also a paradox. At first glance it seems to contradict itself. How can one be strong when he is weak? But properly understood it makes perfectly good sense and reveals in a most clever manner a very important truth. The truth the Apostle would impress upon us is that only when we are weak in ourselves are we strong in the grace of God.

This is a very important truth for us to remember. So often we rely on our own strength. And then we fail miserably. However, when we see our own weakness so that we rely on the power of God’s grace, then we are strong.

Let us be weak, therefore, that we may be truly strong!

In the preceding verses the apostle Paul speaks of the thorn in his flesh.

We all know what a thorn is. It is a small sliver that can easily embed itself in the flesh. Such a thorn can cause a great deal of pain and suffering. If located in the proper place, it can virtually cripple a person. A thorn, for example, lodged in the heal of the foot and allowed to fester can make it impossible for the healthiest of persons to do his work.

In like manner the apostle Paul had a thorn in his flesh—not literally but figuratively. There has been much speculation as to what this thorn really was. Some suggest that Paul was blind; others say he had a speech impediment. Almost every malady found in medical textbooks has been suggested. The fact is we don’t know what this thorn was. However, it appears as though it involved some physical infirmity that quite severely hindered his work as an apostle.

Hence, Paul writes that three times he asked the Lord to remove this thorn that he might labor more effectively as an apostle. And the answer of the Lord was, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

Many take these words of the Lord to mean that no matter in what situation we find ourselves, God’s grace will always be there and will always be sufficient to uphold us. That is indeed one of the comforting truths of the Scriptures. God never, in His grace, leaves us. Wherever we go, God is always at our side. And when we meet difficulties, as we invariably do, God always upholds us in His grace. We shall never flounder in the storms of life; we shall never be overcome. For God is always there with His grace; and His grace is always sufficient. How wonderful and comforting!

However, this is not the main thrust of the Lord’s words to Paul.

The main thought will become clear if we bear in mind that this is the Lord’s answer to Paul’s request to remove the thorn from his flesh. The meaning then is that it is through this thorn that the Apostle receives the grace of God. Strange as that may at first seem, God’s grace reaches Paul exactly through the affliction of this thorn! And with that Paul must be content. It ought to be sufficient for Paul that he has Gods grace. He must not therefore continue to ask the Lord to remove this thorn.

And so it always is. God’s grace reaches us exactly through our afflictions. The sick receive God’s grace exactly through their sickness. The poor receive God’s grace through their poverty. Those who suffer the loss of loved ones receive God’s grace through their loss. We may ask God to remove the afflictions we suffer. For no suffering for the present is joyous. However, God will often answer, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

God’s grace reaches us through affliction exactly because, as the Lord continues to point out to Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Let us bear in mind that each of us has a calling. Your calling is the work God has set before you to do in the service of His name. Your calling may in part be to serve God as a husband or wife or parent. Your calling may include serving God as an officebearer in the church or as a teacher or as a student or as an employer or as an employee.

Let us also bear in mind that to do the work God has set before us requires the strength of Jesus Christ. We can’t do this work in our own strength. The husband who will rule his wife in his own strength will fail miserably—as will the wife who will be a help to her husband, the parent who will train up his children, the office bearer who will build up the church. Working in our own strength we will surely fail. To do the work of the Lord we need to be strengthened. We need the strength of Jesus Christ. The power of Christ must come to rest upon us and dwell in us.

This strength of Christ is made perfect in weakness.

To be made perfect means to reach the goal that has been set. When God set Christ at His own right hand and clothed Him with all power and might God had a purpose, a goal. His goal was that this great power come to rest upon His people so that in that power they may faithfully perform the calling He has for them. And when that goal is reached the strength of Jesus Christ is perfected. When you and I in the strength of Jesus Christ faithfully fulfill our calling in the home, in the church, in our place of work, in the community, then is the strength of Christ perfected. And then also God’s grace has reached us. For the perfecting of Christ’s strength in us is the work of God’s grace.

However, this strength is made perfect only in weakness—in our weakness.

From our vantage point our weaknesses hinder us in fulfilling our calling before God.

This certainly was Paul’s feeling. He had a terrible weakness that was like a thorn in his flesh. And Paul was convinced that this weakness was seriously hampering his work as an Apostle. Oh, if only God would remove this weakness and make him strong! How much more effectively couldn’t he then serve the Lord!

And we too often feel the same way. We have many weaknesses. Perhaps we too suffer from physical infirmities or lack physical endurance. Perhaps we suffer from financial difficulties or nervous problems or family problems or some other kinds of problems. And for all the world these seem to hinder us in our ability to serve the Lord. Oh, if only the Lord would remove these burdens and weaknesses and make us strong! Then we could serve Him much more effectively!

That’s not always true, however. For if we are always strong and never weak we tend to rely on our own strength rather than on the strength of Jesus Christ. Those who are strong often see no need to rely on Christ. They can do quite nicely in their own strength. However, they will ultimately fail. Because of their great strength they may for a time bask in the limelight. According to the standards of men they may for a time appear to be very successful even in doing the work of the Lord. But ultimately they will fail. For the work of the Lord requires much, much more than the puny strength of man.

And so God often sends us afflictions to make us weak.

For when we are weak we rely not on ourselves but on the strength of Jesus Christ.

That is what happened to the apostle Paul. Paul relates in the preceding verses that due to the abundant revelations God gave him he was inclined to be puffed up in pride. He tended to glory in himself. In such a spiritual frame of mind he never could have served effectively as the Lord’s servant. Hence, God made him weak through this miserable thorn in his flesh, so weak that in his own strength he could do nothing. It was exactly through this weakness, however, that Paul learned to turn to Christ and to rely upon Christ’s strength alone. As a result Paul was a much better servant of God. Since the strength of Christ had come to rest upon him, he was able to do much more in the service of God than he ever could have done were he still strong in himself. In his weakness he became strong.

And the same is also true with us. How often does not God make us weak through affliction so that we can not possibly rely on our own strength to do the work of the Lord! Being weak we learn to turn to Jesus our Savior, that His power may come to rest upon us. As a result of our weakness we are able to do great things in the name and strength of Jesus Christ.

When I am weak, then am I strong!

Christ’s strength is made perfect in my weakness!

It is through affliction that I receive Gods grace!

Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake. Most gladly will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Our first reaction to the infirmities, necessities, and distresses God places upon us is to resent them. How easily we become, discontent. Perhaps we murmur and complain. We may even outwardly rebel against the hand of the Lord.

However, if this is our reaction, we will indeed be weak in our weaknesses. For the strength of Christ does not come to rest upon us in the midst of discontent and rebellion.

Seeing the great design of the Lord in affliction, let us rather take pleasure in our afflictions. And let us glory, that is, boast in them. And in wisdom let us then turn to Jesus Christ our Savior to receive His great strength.

Then in our weakness we will be indeed very strong!