Do you have a specific Bible verse that's sort of ... hounded you all your life? You've read it a bunch of times, but it never really made sense? You haven't done any study on it, but every time you read it, your brow furrows. Pastors may have mentioned it, but they never really get into the WHY behind the verse.
My mystery passage of Scripture is 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
This Scripture is speaking of a specific sin, or thorn, in Paul's side that was causing him "pain". We don't know exactly what it was, but he speaks of it as a "messenger of Satan", to keep him from becoming conceited in the wonderful visions and revelations Christ gave him. In other words, God allowed Paul to have this vice to keep him humble. However Paul wanted God to remove it. But God spoke, and Paul realized "When I am weak, then I am strong."
And there it is. The mystery that has stymied me all my life. How is it possible to be strong when you're weak? All my life I had assumed it meant Christ gives you the appropriate strength you need in times of crisis and weakness. I suppose that's true. But I don't believe that's the full scope of this passage.
If you notice, the Lord tells Paul His GRACE is sufficient. His power is "made perfect" in weakness. Well... Ack, what does THAT mean?! God gave us grace at the cross, we're covered with it and clothed by it. It's all around us. We're saved by it AND we live by it. It is by grace we resemble Christ at all, amen? But what does "made perfect in weakness" mean? Isn't God's power already perfect? And why only in weakness? What's going on here?
As the Spirit sometimes does with me, the revelation of this verse came to me quite by surprise. I hadn't read it in awhile, as I'm studying other books than Corinthians. It just popped into my head one day. God said, "Here, understand this." And I believe this Spiritual understanding is the very KEY to knowing how Paul was able to rejoice always (1 Thess. 5:16), no matter what came at him (Philippians 1:20-21).
You see, God was showing Paul, through the "thorn" in his side (that was likely a certain sin he kept committing *see Romans 7*), that God's grace is enough for him -- the very grace given to him at the cross. This revelation to Paul wasn't God's flippant reply to Paul's genuine guilt and shame over a habitual sin, but rather a LESSON IN THE GOSPEL.
At the cross, Christ became our sin and we became His righteousness. Anyone who knows my walk with Yeshua knows 2 Corinthians 5:21 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, because it outlines what actually happened that day. Christ became "me", and I became "Him". Galatians 2:20 (another favorite) says we DIED with Him on the cross and the life we now live is CHRIST in us.
So, it was our life for His Life, a life of sin and shame traded for a Life of Righteousness and Truth. God placed OUR sin record on Yeshua, and gave US His mantle of Righteousness. God then turned His face away from Yeshua so that He could gaze upon us. We now have the favor of the Father toward the Son of God.
With regards to Paul's "thorn", God was saying that all of Paul's sins are GONE. His record is wiped clean. It is a struggle to live holy, but God knows its impossible, which is why He sent Christ to atone for us. This is why God's GRACE is enough. Because by His Grace, our sins are as white as snow. We agonize over stumbling, but God tells us not to. His Grace is enough. He remembers our sins no more. Christ already paid our punishment. So while we hurt because we sin against God, the Lord is telling us there is now no more condemnation (Romans 8:1).
"My Grace is enough!"
But how could God's power be made perfect in our weakness? Why is it when we're weak, we're strong?
Certainly Christ gives us strength when we ask it of Him. But it is because of God's grace at the CROSS that we are strong when we are weak. We are leaning on HIS work. On HIS blood. On HIS atonement. It is by HIS strength we're saved at all! So in that darkest moment, when you've stumbled into that familiar sin, THAT is when you're strong in Christ, because you already have the Victory. You are an overcomer because He overcame. Our identity is found in Him. His Grace is the eraser that has wiped the "chalkboard" of our sin record clean.
When you are at your lowest and you feel like you've broken God's heart, THAT is when you're strong. Don't turn away from God in that moment, Christian! Turn TOWARD Him! You are strong in that moment, because no matter what you've done, you have been given VICTORY in Christ. His Grace is enough because He's wiped the impossible stains of your life clean with His Own perfection. We are the strongest when we're weak because it is only when we're weak that we realize we need His strength to save us.
Grace isn't fully appreciated until one is brought to the end of their rope. When we stumble in sin as believers, that is when we truly understand the scope of what has been forgiven. That's when we internalize the price Christ had to pay, when we comprehend the depth of God's Love, and the magnificence of the One Who has given us redemption.
Therefore, in our weakness, we look to God's Grace to be our strength, because no matter how weak we are, we have been made STRONG through God's forgiveness of sins on the cross. There is nothing anyone can do to pluck us out of Yeshua's hand. There is nothing anyone can do to pluck us out of the Father's hand (John 10:28-29). THIS is why Paul was able to rejoice in his suffering!
The strength of God's grace is everlasting. No matter what we do, He will not lose us. Our sins are forever gone. And while we continue to sin in the flesh, the blood of Christ covers us until our salvation in Him is complete (Philippians 1:6) and we're glorified at the Resurrection. Paul's strength in his weakness was not simply asking Christ to give him strength, but to realize he already HAD Christ's strength, His righteousness, His perfection, His favor with God the Father. And never was he more aware of that fact than when he had sinned -- and yet remained a favored child of God!
The "strength" in this verse is not physical strength, emotional strength, or even a spiritual strength, but rather a knowing that no matter how hard we stumble, fall, or fail Him, His Grace is enough. Our strength is knowing that our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). That we are in the palm of His hand. That He'll never let us go. That our sin record has been completely expunged - even if we commit another sin.
I believe this truth is why God allowed Paul to have this "thorn". Thank God for Romans 7! Through Paul, we realize that as Christians, we still sin and we'll still struggle with it, but God's grace is enough - and His strength is made perfect in our weakness. For when I'm weak, I see how glorious, how marvelous, how beautiful, and how incomprehensible our God is to forgive -- and forget -- a lifetime of rebellion through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When we sin, that is when we should praise Him the most, not run from Him in shame! At the cross, He took our entire lives upon His shoulders so that we could find our strength in weakness through His wondrous Grace. Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. ~~Ephesians 6:10