ENDURE | Courage in Weakness PART XVIII | Leading out of Weakness and Vulnerability
Topic: New Testament Passage: 2 Corinthians 11:23–29
Leading out of Weakness and Vulnerability
- Pride and Defensiveness are not the way of Jesus
Philippians 2:5–8 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (ESV)
 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.  What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool.  Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.  For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves!  For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.  To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.  Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. (ESV)
As we read this passage, immediately it feels a little difficult to follow. What we need to remember here is that this is a letter, not a theological essay. Meaning Paul is applying the teachings of Jesus to a particular situation. Part of the difficulty in understanding a letter is that it is only one side of the conversation. Have you ever heard someone talking on the phone and you only heard one side of the conversation. This requires you to piece together the rest of the conversation. This becomes even tricker when you far from the time and culture. Also, tone can be difficult to pick up and in this passage we see Paul using sarcasm.
Here is what Jesus said about weakness and vulnerability
And qhe opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 r“Blessed are sthe poor in spirit, for utheirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are vthose who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the wmeek, for they wshall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and xthirst yfor righteousness, for they shall be s atisfied.
7 “Blessed are zthe merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are athe pure in heart, for bthey shall see God.
9 “Blessed are cthe peacemakers, for dthey shall be called esons1 of God. 10 f“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for utheirs is th e kingdom of heaven.
11 g“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely hon my account. 12 iRejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for jso they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Here is what we know about the particular situation…
- They lived in a culture of self promotion
- No internet, no email marketing campaigns, information traveled slowly, people would sit at the gates of the city and learn about things from travelers. Information traveled as people talked about things. In Paul’s day, speakers and religious leaders were expected to self promote. Here is why you should listen to me. Here are letters from other religious leaders that agree with me. Here is my success stories…
- Examples of the leaders of the day: Made statues and put their accomplishments on it. When kings like Alexander the Great entered the city of Jerusalem they showed off their lavish riches, large fan fare and he did it on a white station. Think of how Jesus entered on a
- Misinformation and rumors were common, people didn’t want to appear foolish. It was important to do what was culturally wise. People cared a lot about what other people thought.
- We Live in a culture of self-promotion. We promote ourselves on social media, podcasts, blogs, websites. We want people to see our successes and ask us to share the secrets to our success. We can definitely see examples of this from prominent leaders of our day.
- Jesus didn’t promote himself. In fact, after he healed people he would say, “don’t tell anyone.” When asked to do miracles on the spot, he refused. Most of his ministry was in the rural areas with impoverished people.
- They were attracted to abusive leadership styles.
- It is assumed that these “super apostles” were probably Judiazers that came long and said… yes …yes Jesus, but also you have to follow all the laws of the Jewish people. They were super strict. So stick they would slap people who admitted to sinning.
- The false apostles not only claimed superiority in such things as rhetoric, eloquence, ability to command fees, leadership, and knowledge of the truth, they also claimed spiritual superiority.
- We love abusive leadership styles. We want to follow a strong leader. Proven success. One that makes no mistakes. Has no weaknesses. Not emotional. Has the best theology. Leads the best church in the area. Great reputation, no church splits or failures. Someone who is serious about sin. So serious he makes us feel guilty about how sinful we really are. Maybe even makes people work hard to prove their worth. Why do we follow these people? Because it makes us feel powerful.
- Interesting studies have been done about people who are drawn to be pastors. Think about it, what type of people want to be the voice of God? Narcissists do. • Definition of a Narcissist: Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism. • Jesus wasn’t this way. He was kind. He was empathetic. He asked the least likely people to be his disciples. He preached a sermon and most people left. He was late to healing Lazerus. He was emotional and wept. He picked Judas as a disciple. The first shall be last he would say.
- Mark 9:33–35  And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.  And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (ESV)
- They defined success wrongly
- Being a strong speaker.
- Having the right background.
- Growing in power and respect
- Financially blessed by God.
Here it seems they are questioning if he is even Jewish. By hanging out with Gentiles, he was definitely not serious about following the rules. Maybe he is just a con-artist. Seems as if everywhere he goes there is controversy. Does he even have any business being a pastor. Also, if God was really for him, wouldn’t he have blessed him and his ministry? Why was he still struggling to make ends meet?
We define success wrongly
We think of success in a very Western way. We want things to always move forward and grow. Bigger and better. More people getting saved, more baptisms, more donations. That’s the way of God. Right? Not so fast. If that is the definition of success Jesus was a failure. He had no money. His entire ministry was 3 years in a very obscure part of the world, and he had a very small following.
Think of the prophets…
God called Jeremiah to preach and no one listened to him but he was a success in God’s eyes.
Pete Scazerro says success needs to be defined as
“Being Who God Created you to be (first)
Doing what God has called you to do (second)
In God’s time and in God’s way.”
When Jesus’ numbers dwindled, people told him to change his ministry and Jesus would say, My time has not come yet.
- John 7:3–9  So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing.  For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”  For not even his brothers believed in him.  Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.  You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.”  After saying this, he remained in Galilee. (ESV)
God’s timing is always slower than we want. And when we push to do things in our time, we fail. There is no place for pride in the way of Jesus.
Vulnerability as a Lifestyle
Definition of vulnerability: the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
2 Corinthians 11:23–29
 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
Paul starts by doing a word play on the word used for minister is also the word for servant. He says, I am much more of a menial servant than they are. He wants to reset their definition of what it means to follow God. It’s not rubbing the magic lamp and getting the life you always wanted. It is quite the opposite. It’s bowing down and saying…. Your will not mine. This is a very vulnerable position. What if it hurts? What if it doesn’t go well? Even Jesus struggled with this. In the garden of Gathsemene, he cries out 3 times…. “Please take this cup from me!!!” But not my will but yours be done.
Paul gives us 3 ways to make vulnerability a lifestyle
- Honest about rejection
- His ministry has resulted in more imprisonments, beatings, often near death.. Usually people downplay the times they spent in jail. He is not looking for sympathy, he is being honest about what resulted from doing what God had called him to do.
- He was beat by the Jewish people 39 lashes. Which meant the Jewish people thought he was a heritic. You don’t brag about being a heretic.
- He was beat with rods which was a Roman punishment. As a Roman he had rights, He was probably beat as a traitor to Caesar. You don’t brag about being a traitor d. He was stoned which as more a social rejection. You don’t brag about being a trouble maker.
- This was not the life he expected. This was not a life of honor, respect and riches. f. Can we be honest that life has not gone the way we wanted it to go? If we are dedicated to do it God’s way, it’s probably a lot harder and slower than we wanted it to be.
- Trusts God through darkest days
- Paul had some dark days. He was shipwrecked 3 times. Can you imagine saying “I was in three plane crashes”? Imagine the trauma after the first one? Nope. Not going on that thing again. Oh and he was adrift at sea for a day or two. These things either bring us closer to God, or drive us away from God.
- He didn’t look to stay comfortable and safe. It says he faced danger from people, in the city, in the country… Growing up as a missionary my parents always said “We are safest in the center of God’s will”. God was with him.
- He had sleepless nights. Often the stress and turmoil of our darkest days cause us to have sleepless nights. God was there too.
- Without food. That where he lost me. I can hang out on a raftt in the Mediterranean Sea, but being hungry… I’m out. Seriously though when we are without food, or without the money to buy food. Those are dark days. Jesus was there.
- Have you ever been super cold and miserable. It makes you want to give up hope.
- Has empathy for others
“Anxiety for all the churches”. Paul was in touch with his emotions. He wasn’t emotionless. There has been too much emphasis on leaders being unemotional. Jesus was emotional. I used to think it was a strength for me to be “steady” and unemotional. A couple years ago Rachel and I started going to counseling. She was feeling resentful about how I had treated her during our marriage. I had no idea what she was talking about. To me she was being “emotional”. I knew the counselor would see that I was the godly one, not getting overly worked up about anything. Then the counselor said to me, “How long have you been emotionally abscent? Rachel, I bet you feel abandoned emotionally.” I was startled. Was I the problem this whole time and I did not see it. Turns out I was. When I was 18 my sister died and I had never dealt with it. I pushed it down and refused to think about it. Feeling sad about it would been “Satan was winning” So I never truly grieved. When Rachel would come to me in sadness or anger, I would shut her down and make her feel that she was the problem. I mean to me, whatever it was it wasn’t as bad as having a sibling die, so it didn’t deserve acknowledgement. It didn’t deserve my empathy. I was shut down emotionally. It wasn’t until I started to grieve my pain and explore my sadness, did I start being able to have empathy. To truly see Rachel for who she is and listen to her heart.
Let God use your weakness to transform you.
2 Corinthians 11:30–33
 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.  The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.  At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me,  but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands. (ESV)
Paul gets to the main point here. If I must boast I will boast of the things that show my weakness. What about you? What stories do you tell at parties? Is it stories about weakness? Or about your successes? Pride is such a difficult sin because we can know we are not supposed to do it, but it happens internally and we have a hard time controlling our inner world.
In truth, my biggest sin is pride. You might think to yourself… you are not very prideful, and for that I would say… exactly what I wanted you to think. I am so prideful that I want you to think that I am humble. I will do almost anything to defend that. Our pride usually comes from damage in our past. In fact once we have been hurt, we build emotional walls to make sure we are never hurt again. We are desperate to feel whole again so we find something to declare as a strength and we boast about it to everyone. This is our plight. We need God to do some work in our soul. Help us heal the brokenness in the past and trust fully in Jesus.
This last section Paul tells a weird story in conclusion about an incident at the beginning of his ministry. For some reason this was an important story for Paul. I think it was a story where he first trusted Jesus to do things his way.
Acts 9:19–25 For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.  And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”  And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in
Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”  But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.  When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him,  but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him,  but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. (ESV)
Maybe the first time he preached in Damascus. There was such a resistance to him that the officials of the city wanted him dead.
Instead of people getting saved and a big revival happening… he has to run for his life. He had to hide in a basket. Baskets were used for all sorts of things in that day. Jesus and his disciples put fish scraps in some baskets. Bricks and garbage were carried in baskets. Think garbage can. Paul had to hide in a garbage can for who knows how long, and hope he did not get caught as he was lowered off a 4 or 5 story wall down. Hoping the basket did not break, or drop. Hoping no one would see him or kill him. Imagine how helpless he must have felt. Think of his prayer life. He had to let go of control. Let go of his pride. Let go of defensiveness, and just trust Jesus.
We can look at our problems, and our weakness as an opportunity to trust God and let him transform us more deeply. I believe it was in this experience that Paul surrendered his future and said… your will be done.
You see it’s a lot like becoming a Christian. Jesus calls us to believe in him. Believe that he is God. Believe that he paid for our sins on the cross. He invites us to believe and give our live to him. He calls us to climb in the basket and trust him. Leave our pride, our defensiveness, our control, our plans for our lives. We place our futures in his hands.
Whatever stress you are dealing with today. Whatever problems, pain, fear. Jesus invites us to trust him. To lay down our pride and defensiveness and trust him.
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