The mysteries of the gospel are not discovered, uncovered, or solved—they are revealed. They come to us only as God grants understanding. So it is with the long-sought after meaning of the strange words by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:10: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I’ve read them no less than a thousand times, but their understanding has remained unclear. It seems to be an oxymoron.
Just what was Paul thinking when he wrote this bi-polar statement? I’ve wrestled with it for half-a-lifetime. I get glimpses here and there. Slowly, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. Yet, glimpses eventually lead to vision.
It is becoming clearer. Somehow I sense that when I grasp it, other scriptures will open to me—maybe dozens. Who knows? It is well worth the pursuit.
Let us consider the word “then” from Paul’s statement. It denotes a lapse of time from before until now. It also speaks of a condition— from that to this; from what was to what now is; or perhaps, from what was to what can be.
Turning the sentence around is helpful: When I am strong, then I am weak. From that perspective we might say: When I consider my strength (in and of myself), then I am indeed a weak being and in a weak position. That is easy to see. Now let’s reverse it back and read it with that understanding: When I am weak (in and of myself), then I am a strong being and in a strong position.
It appears that being weak—admitting weakness—is beneficial in becoming strong. A statement by J. I. Packer supports this conclusion: “The power principle—God’s power scenario, we might call it—is that divine strength is perfected in conscious human weakness.” 1
But how do I appropriate that knowledge? How to I actually find the stronger position?
The Song of Solomon 8:5 gives some light: “Who is this that comes up from the wilderness leaning upon her Beloved?”
Leaning implies one who is weak, unable to make the journey alone, and depending on another for help, support, and strength. Leaning is an outward sign of an inward weakness. Could that be the stronger position? Is that what God desires from us—His children leaning on Him?
We know that fallen flesh cannot live holy. Only God-life can live holy. Therefore, we cannot live the Christian life apart from leaning on Him, who is Life and who gives Life.
Could it be that if I lean on and depend on His impartation of Life to me, I will be stronger than if I do not lean on Him? If so, then leaning—a true sign of weakness—is the stronger position.
Taking it a step further: Could it mean that the more I lean on the Strong One, the stronger I will become?
And yet another step: The weaker I am, the more I will lean on Christ; thus, the more I lean on Christ, the stronger I will be?
Dare I go even further: It is then in my best interest to be weak, so I will lean more on Christ?
Please indulge me just once more: If being weak makes me stronger, then can I not boast in being weak? Can I not also glory in my weaknesses because they cause me to lean on Christ? Notice the cause and effect principle in Paul’s words: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2Corinthians 12:9).
Such an idea clearly goes against our flesh, our pride, and our American mentality to be all that we can be, to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, and the survival of the fittest. Yet, we must remember that our ways are not His ways (Isaiah 55:8).
Could the long-searched-for mystery be known? Is the key to finding and appropriating God’s divine power found in weakness—admitted weakness—even boasting of weakness? How did it elude me for so long? Clearly, my best and strongest position is leaning on God.
Dear Lord, help me not to stand straight and tall by my own strength, but to lean more on You. ~Janie Kellogg
1 J. I. Packer quoted in Dr. Bruce H. Wilkerson, 30 Days to Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc. 1999), 90.