Perfected in Weakness
Perfected in Weakness
I kept getting these phone calls. They came mostly from church leaders. They were from many different parts of the church. They were always long telephone conversations. They all wanted to know: ‘How come you get so many people from outside of the church on the course?’ ‘What exactly is Alpha?’ ‘How do you run it?’
I thought perhaps the best solution was to get them together in one place and tell them all at the same time. As a result, we put on our first Alpha Conference in May 1993. To our astonishment a thousand church leaders turned up. I was relatively new to Christian ministry and was extremely daunted at the thought of a thousand church leaders, most of whom were far more experienced in ministry than I was.
The words of the apostle Paul, in today’s New Testament passage, seemed to sum up exactly how I felt. I read them to the delegates at the start of the conference:
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5)
I thought once I had explained what Alpha was to this group of church leaders, I would never have to explain it to anyone again. But in fact, by the end of the conference we had been invited to do many more conferences. Over the years we have done hundreds of conferences. At every Alpha Conference I start by reading 1 Corinthians 2:1–5. It is always what I feel; I always feel nervous. There is always an element of ‘weakness and fear, and... much trembling’. But I thank God that it does not depend on wise and persuasive words but on a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. And God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
There is a good side to ‘weakness’, ‘fear’ and ‘trembling’. There is also a bad side. In the passages for today we see both the good and the bad sides of weakness, fear and trembling.
Fear and faithPsalm 91:1-8
‘Fear nothing’ (v.5, MSG) writes the psalmist. He gives the remedy for ‘fear’ in the bad sense of the word. He writes, ‘You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday’ (vv.5–6).
The remedy for fear is a close relationship with the Lord – to dwell ‘in the shelter of the Most High’ and ‘rest in the shadow of the Almighty’ (v.1). The opposite of fear is trust in God (v.2).
There is a strong connection between what you think and what you say. What you think will come out in your words. But also, your words can affect your thinking. What you say to God can change your thinking. The psalmist tells us to speak aloud about God’s goodness: ‘Say this, “God you’re my refuge. I trust in you and I’m safe!”’ (v.2, MSG).
He promises to rescue you ‘from hidden traps, shields you from deadly hazards. His huge outstretched arms protect you – under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm’ (vv.3–4, MSG).
Fear can destroy your enjoyment of the present. God raised Jesus from the dead. In doing so, he freed you from the fear of death and all the fears that go with it. ‘Under his wings you find refuge’ (v.4). You do not need to be afraid about the future and you can enjoy the present without fear.
Lord, thank you that I can dwell in your shelter and rest in your shadow. I say to you today: you are ‘my refuge and my fortress’ (v.2). I will trust in you.
Power in weakness1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5
‘I was scared to death,’ writes the apostle Paul (2:3, MSG). He felt totally inadequate for the task that God had called him to, ‘But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it’ (v.4, MSG).
Moral weakness and cowardice are not virtues. However, as we see in this passage, there is a good side to weakness, fear and trembling.
God turns things upside down. The cross turned things upside down: ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1:18).
Jesus died as a state criminal. He died on a Roman instrument of torture – a death reserved for the most degraded and despised in Roman society. The cross did not become the symbol of Christianity for a hundred years. Crucifixion was about weakness, humiliation and defeat.
At this time, Corinth was the intellectual centre of the world. It was the place of debaters, travelling teachers, lecturers and philosophers. The mind and the intellect were highly rated.
The gospel message that we proclaim seems utterly foolish to many highly intelligent people: that Jesus dying on a cross two thousand years ago can totally transform your life seems ‘foolishness’ to the intelligentsia and is a ‘stumbling-block’ (v.23), even to many religious people.
Nevertheless, this simple message saves those who believe: ‘For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’ (vv.21,25).
As we look around we can see that it is still true today that not many of those in the church are ‘the brightest and the best’. Not many are ‘influential’. And not many are ‘from high-society families’ (v.26, MSG). But it is still true today that God ‘chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise’. He ‘chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong’ (v.27).
Do not be ashamed of speaking a very simple message, which seems foolishness to so many people. There is no need to try and dress it up with ‘eloquence or superior wisdom’ (2:1). Focus on the message of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (v.2). As Eugene Peterson translates, ‘I deliberately kept it plain and simple; first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did – Jesus crucified’ (v.2, MSG).
It is normal to experience ‘weakness and fear, and... much trembling’ (v.3). What matters is not whether you use ‘wise and persuasive words’ but the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (v.4). And his power is made perfect in our weakness. It is often only when we feel weak that we are willing to rely completely on God. Paul was utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit to speak through him. However inadequate you feel, if you ask for the Holy Spirit to speak through you, he will.
Lord, thank you for the message of Jesus and him crucified, which is the power of God. Thank you that I do not need eloquence or superior wisdom. Although I speak in weakness, fear, and trembling, I pray that you accompany the preaching of that message with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
Fear and trembling1 Chronicles 19:1-22:1
‘Fear and trembling’ before God is not always wrong. Indeed, it is sometimes appropriate.
The chronicler makes it clear, in a way that the earlier account did not, that it was ‘Satan’ who ‘incited David to take a census’ (21:1). Joab tried to persuade David not to do this (v.3). But David overruled him. ‘And God was displeased with this (reliance on human resources)’ (v.7, AMP).
It is not quite clear why this was such a great sin, but it obviously was as David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing’ (v.8).
With what appears to be fear and trembling he says, ‘I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great’ (v.13).
When he comes to offer a sacrifice to God he says, ‘I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing’ (v.24). He called on the Lord and the Lord answered him ‘with fire from heaven’ (v.26).
Lord, I come to you today in weakness and with much trembling and ask that your power will be made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
1 Corinthians 1:27
‘God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’
I definitely fall into the category of weak and foolish. Thank you, Lord, for choosing me!
Verse of the Day
‘His huge outstretched arms protect you – under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm’ (Psalm 91:3-4, MSG).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
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