We tend to build a lot of who we are on pillars of personal talent or aptitude. We find something that we’re good at or confident in ourselves with and use that as an object of magnifying who we are to those around us. Rick is known for his sense of humor. Carl is great at games and competitions. Deirdre is basically a musician virtuoso. People come to know us by the traits we exemplify and make stand out.
However, we all look in the mirror and see something that we wish was different. Or something that’s just not good enough in our mind. Too short. Too fat. Not beautiful. Receding hairline. Crooked teeth. Perhaps there are imperfections that only exist situationally. Short temper. Greediness. Sharp-tongued. Foul language. Cockiness. These are flaws that we are aware of in ourselves and ashamed of as we try endlessly to hide or overcome or compensate for so that they don’t become our defining characteristics.
Consider, when we see that individual whose heart was moved by God’s message, responding to His invitation and pouring out the weaknesses that he or she is ashamed of, we smile inwardly at the courage that was displayed and gather around to show our support and love. In that person’s acknowledgement of weakness and shame, God steps in to make them whole. In that weakness, the heart is made humble to realize that only with God can sufficiency and perfection be completed.
The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 makes clear how he chooses only to boast of himself in his own weakness. He recognizes that there is a thorn in his side, something that shames him and makes him feel like he’s being held back. I’m sure we can all relate to this. “If only I could be this certain way, then I’d be able to serve God better…” But Paul gives this thorn the purpose in him of instilling humility. Without it, Paul sees that he could very much become a man of conceit and self-sufficiency. In reference to this shortcoming, God declares, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul, conceding that Christ shines most when he himself is lacking, then expresses “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul makes the same point in different letters all across the New Testament, calling us to be clothed in Christ (Gal 3:27), (Roms 13:14), and to be imitators of himself who is imitating Christ who the representation of God (1 Cor 11:2), (Eph 5:1).
If we take a look at the man of Jesus, we see the character of God Himself. Why is this the case? It’s because Jesus submitted Himself fully to the will of God, acknowledging His weakness as a man, and letting God’s strength shine such that Jesus was never given to sin. God’s Strength was made perfect in Jesus’ weakness. And we are made perfect by clothing ourselves with Christ and endeavor to imitate Him.
“We have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:14-16)
“If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pet 4:11)
The more that I rely on myself for sufficiency, the less room I give God to build me up. Which means that rather than God shining out as my defining characteristic, I’m defining myself.
As we set out into the world, let us submit ourselves to have God be that which defines us.
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10)