Although I ended cancer treatment in March, I am still very tired and limited in what I can accomplish as a full-time professor and in my many relationships with friends, relatives, and neighbors.
My experience of weakness has been admittedly frustrating at times, but it has also been, by God’s good and gracious design, very beneficial for me and others. God is pleased to use our various kinds of weakness and limitation to remind us of important truths and refine our trust in him.
1. Weakness reminds us that our very life depends on God.
Weakness reminds us that our lives are but a vapor, that all flesh is like grass. We are reminded that God provides each and every breath to our lungs and beat of the heart. He has numbered our days (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16). He is the Creator who upholds all things, even our puny little magnificent lives, by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). We cannot take for granted even the mere fact of our lives.
This reminder bears the fruit of gratitude and humility.
Too often, when things are going well, we are tempted to forget how dependent we are upon God for anything and everything (Deuteronomy 6:10–12). Savings accounts, good salaries, ministry success, healthy bodies, or a charming personality can become the horses and chariots in which we put our trust (Psalm 20:7). When our weakness reminds us that we depend on God and his providence for life and breath, we find joy simply in knowing that we live by his good pleasure.
2. Weakness reminds us that God will give us new bodies.
Our aches and pains and inabilities point us to our future perfected body and soul. Feeling like you have one foot in the grave reminds you that you have one foot, already, in glory. Our longing for the resurrection is increased by weakness.
As J.I. Packer writes, “Our new body . . . will match and perfectly express our perfected new heart, that is, our renewed moral and spiritual nature and character.” Our present weakness increases our yearning for the day when Christ gives us a new body that “will never deteriorate, but will keep its newness for all eternity.” The Christian hope, says Packer, “is understood not in the weak sense of optimistic whistling in the dark, but in the strong sense of certainty about what is coming because God himself has promised it.”
This reminder bears the fruit of hopefulness and endurance in faith.
Romans 5:1–5 says those who have learned to rejoice in their sufferings will endure through trials, trusting God and growing in Christlikeness. That is because they look back to God’s reconciling mercy at the cross and forward to their full and final deliverance at Christ’s return. Romans 8:25 says that those who hope for the setting right of all creation, by the Spirit at work in them, wait for that inheritance with patience.
3. Weakness reminds us that we deserve wrath, but receive grace.
All of creation, ourselves included, suffers corruption, pain, and weakness because of the sin of our first parents (Romans 8:18–21). And each of us individually has earned the just wrath of God for our own multitude of sins (Romans 3:23), let alone a little suffering in this life. We don’t deserve a weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17), but a weight of wrath.
Yet this world and our lives abound with so many good gifts from God. And we Christians have the best gift, Christ, who is our life and our eternal treasure. We have been spared God’s righteous wrath, redeemed, forgiven by God, reconciled to him, justified, adopted into his family. What mercy!
This reminder bears the fruit of sympathy and kindness.
The weak, being reminded of God’s tender mercy and forbearance toward them, are assisted by the Spirit to better embody Ephesians 4:32–5:2: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
4. Weakness refines our trust in God’s wise and loving providence.
We learn obedience to God as we experience that nothing can separate us from his Spirit. God never leaves us nor forsakes us (Joshua 1:9; Hebrews 13:5), no matter how difficult things become. We learn that he knows exactly what he is doing at all times, what he is up to through our trials, even when we can’t comprehend it.
So we grumble a little less about our given lot. We learn a bit more consistency in submission to our Savior and Lord, no matter what he brings our way. Our stiff necks grow a bit more flexible. We grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18).
In Finishing Our Course with Joy, Packer defines spiritual maturity like this: “Spiritual maturity is a deep, well-tested relationship to our triune God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and a quality of relationship with both believers and unbelievers that embraces concern, sympathy, warmth, care, wisdom, insight, discernment, and understanding.”
This lesson bears the fruit of neither thinking more highly, nor less, of others than we ought.
There are various kinds of weak believers: the sick, disabled, elderly, poor, those not intellectually gifted, those with unimpressive occupations, the socially marginalized (to whom little opportunity is given and from whom little is expected). Some of the most sympathetic, caring, and wise people I have been privileged to meet and know fit one or more of those descriptions. Their relationship with God has been tested and their character refined.
Our weakness reminds us that the marks of spiritual maturity are not the abilities lauded by the world, like productivity or being a great public speaker. God chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and what is weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). So let us move toward such people not merely to serve them but to learn from them. Study God at work in their lives. Look through their limitations to Christ inside. Listen to them gladly testify to God’s goodness, grace, and glory.
The Weak Will Conquer the World
All throughout the Bible, we see that God loves to draw attention to himself and grow the trust of his people by working despite and through their weaknesses and limitations. Consider barren Sarah and Rachel, bumbling Moses, Gideon’s small band, the young virgin Mary, and blue-collar Peter, among others. Jesus himself, the Lamb who was slain, ultimately demonstrates that it is meek sheep who conquer and win the world.
The great — and ironic — wisdom of the cross is that God chooses the foolish, weak, low, and despised to shame the strong and shut the mouths of the proud. God uses our weaknesses to remind us of important gospel truths and to refine our trust in him.