Paul’s life shows us a drastically different mindset. Rather than trying to escape his weaknesses, he embraces them. Rather than hindrances that keep him from doing what he wants to do, they are daily helps toward his holiness. They remind him of how badly he needs the Spirit of Christ to be working through him, making his finite labors fruitful and keeping him from the sins that all too often surface alongside weakness, such as pride, bitterness, covetousness, laziness, and irritability.
Paul’s weaknesses did not hold him back from doing great things for God. They did not make him passive or idle; indeed, he “worked harder than any” (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul was fruitful. But when we look at his life, we see that his fruitfulness was not so much about his doing great things but rather about demonstrating a great God.
What made God appear great? It was not the weakness itself. Weakness in and of itself is not holy and fruitful. Paul’s life was incredibly fruitful because of how he responded to his weaknesses. Rather than turning inward and focusing on how frustrating they were, how silly they made him appear, or how they foiled his ministry plans, they caused Paul to turn his eyes upward to a Savior who was nailed to the cross in His flesh but was raised in power and sat down at right hand of His Father in glory. When Paul beholds this Savior, he realizes he is simply a jar of clay through which that glory is to be seen and praised. The more Paul beholds Jesus, the more he becomes like Jesus, “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). And the more he becomes like Jesus, the more fruitful his weaknesses are, because in his increasing maturity, the aim of his life becomes, “Not Paul, but Christ in and through Paul; not for the glory of Paul, but for the glory of Christ.”
Weakness is hard. As we feel the weight of it, we groan, “longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:2) and to be freed from a fallen body and world. As long as this groaning causes us to turn inward and bemoan our own limitations and how uncomfortable they make us, then yes, our weaknesses will be hindrances to mature fruitfulness—and more so, provocations to sin and misery. But there is another way to groan, and it is a groaning that results in growing.
My groaning in weakness can make me covet what others are able to do, or it can drive me to prayerfully ask God to show me the work He has prepared for me and how I might do it in a way that makes Jesus look great.
My groaning in weakness can make me pridefully insecure, or it can compel me to learn how to love people well, as my heart rests secure in the smile of Christ rather than the praise of man.
My groaning in weakness can make me bitter about my own lack, or it can drive me to discover new depths of joy in what Christ lavishly provides through my union with him.
Are you weak? Ask God to make it a weakness unto maturity, in which the glory of Christ is beheld and the power of Christ is praised.