Boasting In Weakness

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 11:28-33

28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.
29 Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?
30 If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am.
31 God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying.
32 When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me.
33 I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him.

Sermon

I am a pastor, Paul was a missionary and there is a difference. The difference is seen in verse 28…Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. The difference is between the singular “Church” and plural “Churches.” Paul was deeply concerned with all the churches he had planted and this would be a considerable number. My concern for the past 37 years has been Danville Baptist Church. In a small way, I can identify with what Paul is saying. There is no escape from your responsibility. No matter where you go, the concern for your flock is on your mind.

The burdens a pastor bears range from sympathy to anger. Paul felt the pain of the weak and hurting and he burned with anger when some of his flock were being multilated spiritually. There are two interesting Greek words in verse 29. The Greek word for lead astray is skandalizō. Sound familiar doesn’t it. From this word we get our word scandel. The second word is pyroō like in pyromaniac. Pyroo is the Greek word for burn. So Paul’s emotions ranged between weakness [empathy] and anger. Either extreme can be draining emotionally.

I don’t think it is necessarily a super natural gift but I do feel people’s weakness. I feel the same helplessness they feel. I do admit that the problem the Judaziers posed doesn’t seem to be as real today. It burned Paul up to see his converts being lead astray by false prophets who were teaching a doctrine of works. I do know the frustration of seeing a member of the flock being lead astray but it has been rare for me, not the norm. It is a helpless feeling. I lost a very good friend in this very way some years ago. I man came into our church under the guise of being good person but he was divisive and he intentionally poisoned the attitude of a very close friend. He was so convincing, that my friend believed everything he said. It hurt me deeply but there was nothing I could do.

So Paul has a problem. He wants the Corinthians to love him and empathize with him. He so desperately craves their admiration that he has stooped to boasting just like the false teachers. But in the later part of Chapter 11, we see a shift as Paul seems to come to his senses, he will continue to boast but he has decided to boast about his weakness.

By boasting about his weakness, God can get glory.

In order to change courses and set the record straight, Paul tells about a humiliating experience. It is the kind of story that a proud man would not tell. The false teachers would never incriminate themselves. They would not tell a story that made them look small but Paul did just that.

Paul was saved on the way to Damascus so it was in Damascus that Paul was confirmed as a believer. It was here that he first witnessed to the Jews at the synagogue. Paul did not go back to Jerusalem for a while. He left Damascus and went down into Arabia where he spent some time in seclusion and some time preaching the gospel to the Nabataens and this may explain why  King Aretas would want Paul arrested. It is very possible that the Jews conspired with Aretas to capture Paul. Luke tells us in Acts 9 that the Jews were looking for an opportunity to capture Paul.

Paul was saved from King Aretas and the Jews but not in a spectualar fashion. Paul was put in a basket, like the ones used to empty garbage and let down through a window in the wall of the city. The basket used was about the size of a bushel basket: it was not tiny but neither was it large. A full grown man could not possibly get inside this basket. This and many other things, like his name, have lead us to believe that Paul was a tiny man, possibly a dwarft. John Chrysostom, a fourth century church father believed that Paul was tiny and hunch backed. He believed that the twisted spine was his infirmity. No one knows for sure but I am firmly convinced that Paul was a tiny man. It fits his profile.

No one is going to brag about their smallness, unless they want God to get the glory. The story of Paul’s escape from Damascus highlights his smallness and God’s greatness. The story had two sides: one was humiliating but the other was glorious.

I have wrestled with this concept for years: how can a man sincerely boast about his weakness? Was Paul sincere when he boasted about his weakness? At one time in my life I doubted the words of Missionaries who always said, “What we need most is your prayer.” I doubted until I became a short term missionary 6,000 miles away from home but that trip healed me of any doubt.

Likewise, there was a time in my life when I doubted Paul’s sincereity; how can a man brag about his weakess? How can one glory in his weakness? After all, weakness is weakness. I do believe that Paul was sincere. I do believe that he reached a point where he could boast in his weakness.

One of the things that has to happen in a believers life is total abandoment of the flesh and its ways.

You have to get to a point of such deep sorrow, grief and frustration that the only thing that matters is the glory of God. For me personally, it took what the old preachers called, THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. Dr. Adrian Rogers had a great message on this subject and I had it on tape but I have either let some one borrow it or I have misplaced it. I tried to reorder but the second version was not as good as the first. The dark night of the soul is a time of doubt {John the Baptist} where you question everything and there seems to be no light. I made the mistake of having a Calvinist preach a revival. I didn’t know it at the time and I had used a couple in the past that didn’t do any damage but this guy had 50% of our members doubting their salavation. It took me weeks to get things straightened out. He used John 2: Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them. [This is verse 23 and the first line of 24 but you have to read the entire verse to get the context] He emphasised over and over that profession of faith in Christ meant nothing. Faith is Christ is not the issue, it is His choosing us. The people that Jesus is referring to in John 2 believed that Jesus could be the Messiah but they did not trust Christ personally and Jesus knew it. You have to read the entire verse. They were admirers but not converted believers.

Everything is based on faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. Even God Himself is invisible. You cannot relate to HIM a part from faith: it is impossible. How many times did Jesus say, “Believe?”

  • “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” {Mark 1:15}
  • “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” {Mark 5:36}
  • “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” {John 3:36}

Yes I would prefer to tell you that I’ve never had a doubt but that would be dishonest. I have doubted my salvation, my call to preach, my call here, my motives, etc. I got to the point that I threw in the towel and just said, “Lord, I don’t know, I believe, my faith is in Jesus but I don’t have assurance, not perfect assurance and I am weary of thinking about it. One thing is certain, you will get glory one way or the other, to You be the glory.” When I reached that point of desperation, I got peace. The good that came from it was that I ended up thinking about His glory more than my own personal good.

Job had the same experience and so did John the Baptist. So to answer the question, “Yes, I believe Paul sincerely gloried in his weakness because even in his weakness, God got glory. We want God to use our strength but He gets more glory by using our weakness.

Conclusion

I am going to wrap this up with a story that I have used often. It illustrates perfectly how God uses our weakness. I was doing a follow up visit on a 16 year old girl who had made a profession of faith in the little church is East New Orleans where I was serving. She lived with her parents in a trailer park just a few blocks from the church. She was not at home but her mother was and she answered the door. I told her who I was and why I was there and she informed me in no uncertain terms, that her daughter did not need saving. She was visibly upset by my words and my presence. I was a bit taken back and began my retreat but before I departed, I thought I should get a witness in so I told her, “Everyone needs to be saved.” Then I quoted some verses out of Romans or tried to, in truth I made a big mess, nothing came out right. As I pulled back out into the highway to leave, I broke down and sobbed. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I had made a fool of myself or so I thought.

You can imagine my shock when I got up to preach the next Sunday morning and there sat that little lady and she still did not look happy. I preached a sermon on judgment which I thought would set her off again. When I gave the invitation, she stepped out and came forward. I was very nervous, she still looked angry to me. When she got to the altar she said, “You were right, everyone needs to be saved. I have sinned and I want to be saved.” We looked at the scripture, then prayed and she was saved. She was literally transformed before my very eyes and I never saw anger in her face again. I will be sending her a Christmas card in a few weeks. She is 92 and lives in the western part of New Orleans in a retirement home. She is still smiling. I know for a fact that God uses our weakness. I don’t want to be weak, I don’t pray for God to make me weak but I know He works through our weakness and by so doing, He gets the glory.

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