“Weak or Strong?”
Hello and welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. For the most part, the world in which we live values significance and importance. We lift up and praise those who make lots of money, who entertain us, and who are powerful and influential. We might even think they are living a wonderful life and secretly we want to be like them. That is a temptation we face if we do not know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. For when we do, we want Him to receive all the praise and attention. A man named Paul learned that lesson. He realized that through his weaknesses God's power was great. He even believed that the weaker he was the more powerful God became. In our lesson today on “Key to the Kingdom”, we will notice Paul's desire to allow God's power to work through his weaknesses. Oh, Paul was not interested in boasting about anything he could do on his own. He only boasted about God. He did not rely on his own strength, rather he trusted in what God could do through him. Hopefully, this lesson today will encourage us to do the same.
When our children are born into this world, one of the very first things we do is give them a name. Names are important and mean something to us. Names say something about who we are, and in many cases that is the name we use the rest of our life. On a regular basis I have the opportunity to travel to the country of India; and when I am there, on a almost weekly basis, someone will come up to me with their newborn child and ask me to give that little boy or little girl an American name. That is a tremendous privilege and honor, and I am more than happy to do that. As soon as I give an English name to that child then they change the name and they begin to call that little boy or that little girl by the new name they were given; and that is really a very unique and interesting situation. Well, in the New Testament we read about a man who also went through a name change. His name was Saul, but then later on he became known as Paul. But, have you ever wondered why? Oh, some suggest he wanted to get away from the name of King Saul, in the Old Testament, who did not turn out to be a very good King. Others say that he wanted to get away from the life that he was living before he became a Christian and so he changed his name to Paul to remind him of that change in his life. Well, the real answer is, he did not change his name. Saul was his Jewish, or Hebrew, name, but then being a Roman citizen he also had a Latin name, and that name was Paul. He had 2 names, but he used the name Paul in his ministry because his ministry was primarily directed to the non-Jewish, or the Gentile, world; and so that's why he used Paul after he became a Christian. He no longer went by Saul, but now he went by Paul. Well, we come across a story in Acts chapter 7 when he was still known as Saul, and you might remember this story. Saul was one who thought he was doing the will of God, and one of the things that he did was to persecute Christians. He would often times drag them out of places where there were meeting or speaking and he would persecute, and beat, and perhaps even stone them to death; and that's what's happening here in Acts chapter 7. A man by the name of Stephen is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, but Saul and his companions did not like that and so they beat him to death; and again, he thought he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. We find also another time when Saul and his companions were traveling to the city of Damascus, with the intent to do the same thing, to persecute Christians and to do what they could to stand in the way of God's kingdom being advanced upon the earth. Saul thought he was strong. He thought he was powerful and invincible, and nobody could stop him from what he was trying to do. He thought he was on the right mission until God changed his mission, and that happened in this story in the 9th chapter. He learned, on the road to Damascus, that God was concerned about the very ones he was seeking to destroy. You might remember in that story, as they were making their way down the road a great light from heaven shined on them and Saul went to his knees. His eyes were blinded. For several days, he could not see and he did not eat. In that time, God revealed to Paul that he had a new mission and that he would be His spokesman to the non-Jewish world. That changed Paul's life. That changed his ministry into doing something he never thought he would be able to do. He would begin to rely not on his own strength. He would not rely on his own power any more but rather he would rely upon the strength and the power of God; and we find that immediately taking place after his conversion on that road, and in that city of Damascus, when he was baptized into Jesus. He started, right then and there in Damascus, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ; and we come across this, in Acts chapter 9 beginning with verse 19. – Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on His name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. – Saul is now ready to take on the world. He is excited about his new mission, but the problem is the world isn't ready for Saul. They didn't know for sure about this man who once persecuted Christians and now he is trying to make Christians. Yes, Saul had a change of life. He had a change of ministry. I wonder sometimes, do we ever feel like that? We are ready to take on the world. We have all kinds of strength and power and we too believe we are invincible and don't need anybody or anything. Oh, if we made a list of all those things that in our minds make us strong, and invincible, and powerful, and influential, it might include a number of things. Perhaps our accomplishments, the things we've done in the past, or maybe the degrees we have earned in school, perhaps the years of experience we have spent doing certain things. We might count as something important to us the amount of money we make or where we live, the cars we drive or a host of other things; and all those things might make us strong and powerful in our eyes, or maybe even the eyes of this world, but they really don't matter much to God. That's the way it was with this man Saul, who became Paul. He had a list unlike any others, and his credentials are found in several places, like 2nd Corinthians 11 and Philippians 3. And as we go through those lists and read about this man, Paul, we learn that he was the best of the Jews and the greatest of the Pharisees. He perfectly kept the law. He overcame shipwrecks, and beatings, and hunger, and sleepless nights, and daily anxiety. He even saw a glimpse into the 3rd heaven. Yes, Paul could boast with the very best of them in regards to who he was and what he had done in the past. You know, if some people had those credentials today they would think they were powerful and invincible and they would rise above everyone else; but that's not the case with Paul. None of that mattered to him. He did not boast about any of it. He did not think any of those things made him powerful in the eyes of God, but instead Paul boasted about his weaknesses. He boasted about the struggles he had and the difficulties he encountered in life. He boasted about the insults and the struggles he had to deal with and overcome on a regular basis. And here is perhaps the most interesting thing of all, Paul liked being weak, because when he was weak he could rely on the strength of God. He did not brag about himself. He did not say look at all the things I have done and accomplished. Rather, he bragged on God for he knew that God's power would overcome all of his weaknesses. He also knew that if God had any weaknesses, which of course He did not and still doesn't, then He would still be strong enough to do something with Paul's weaknesses. So Paul would write, on a number of different occasions, things like – ‘when I am weak it is then I am strong’; and when we read those words we know what he meant. The weaker he is the stronger God becomes in his life. Now having said all of that, we come back to the name Saul and Paul as Saul goes through that name change. In Latin the word Paul means small, it means little or perhaps even insignificant, and as Paul takes on that name and uses that name he spends the rest of his life living out his smallness. He even brags about being small and weak. Listen to this passage of Scripture over in 1st Corinthians 2 beginning with verse 1. – When I came to you, brothers, 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 men's wisdom, but on God’s power. – Paul said, when I came to the city of Corinth I did not come bragging about myself, or my credentials, who I was, or what I had done, but I came in weakness so that God's power might be revealed in me and in my messages. Paul also mentions, in chapter 1, that the wisest and the strongest in this world are absolutely nothing compared to God; and so Paul makes it his purpose to brag not about himself, but rather to brag and to boast on God. God's strength and God's power would always overcome Paul's weaknesses. He did not place any confidence in his own abilities, rather his confidence and his boasting was always in God, because of God's power and God's work in and through his life. When we think about all of the things Paul did throughout his ministry, when we think about all of the people he taught and the churches he established, we think about the missionary trips he took, there is one thing that is absolutely clear. That is, God did some of His very greatest work in a man who recognized his weakness and his dependence upon God. That was Paul. He liked being weak because he knew that when he was God's power would be revealed in him. And again, we find that in a number of different places. In 2nd Corinthians 11:30 Paul wrote, “If I must boast I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” 2nd Corinthians 12:5, “On my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.” Then I think about the exchange we have recorded for us between Paul and God. Paul evidently had some struggles. We don't know for sure what they were but he had some kind of physical ailment problem in his life. Some say that it was his eyesight, he could not see very well. We don't know for sure. On a number of occasions, Paul asked God to take away that problem. He asked Him to remove that physical ailment so that he could be perhaps more effective, or live without pain or discomfort in some way; and even though God very easily could have done that, He chose not to do so. In 2nd Corinthians 12, we find this exchange going on between Paul and God about that very thing. Listen to these words beginning with verse 9 of the 12th chapter. Paul writes – But God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast (Paul wrote) all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – Paul recognized that whatever made him weak in the eyes of the world, God could work through that and make His power evident in Paul's life. Yes, when Paul recognizes his weaknesses it is only then that he is strong, not by his strength but by God's strength. He saw his weaknesses as a way for God's power to be revealed in his life. The story I'm about to tell you in no way comes close to describing the power of God in the midst of our weaknesses, but perhaps it is something we can relate to and understand because maybe we've been through the same thing ourselves. A number of years ago, when I was in the 7th grade, the 7th class, I went to a middle school that educated 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students and so I was one of the youngest people there in that school. One day an 8th grader, one that was a year older than me, approached me and began to insult me. He began to make fun of me. He pushed me against the wall and he threatened me, and I was afraid. I did not know what to do. I was intimidated. I did not know how to respond. And so, I thought about what to do and then I remembered I had a cousin, a relative of mine, who also went to that same middle school and he was a 9th grade student, 2 years older than me and one year older than this man who insulted me. I found him. I told him about my problem and he said tomorrow I want you to walk with me and we will find him. Well, that's exactly what we did, and I walked with complete boldness and confidence knowing that my cousin would take care of the problem, and he did. We found that 8th grade student and my cousin let him know he was to never insult me again, to never threaten or intimidate me, because if he did then there would be more problems. I never had any more trouble after that but I remember walking with complete confidence with my 9th grade cousin, who could handle my problem for me. And on that occasion, I liked being weak because I knew someone who is stronger than me could take care of that situation. Now again, that in no way comes close to describing God's power, but yet the idea is there. When we are weak then God can make His strength and power evident in our lives. The things that make us incapable of doing something in this world are often times the very things that God can use to demonstrate His power in our lives. Except for one instance in the book of Revelation, the lion referred to throughout the book of Revelation represents Babylon, the beast, the great enemy of those who are Christians. He is feared by Christians and he is compared to Satan, as Satan is described in 2nd Peter 5:8 as a roaring lion seeking those whom he would devour. That is the way the beast is identified in Revelation, except for one time and that one time is in Revelation 5:5; there the Lion is Jesus, who then turns into a Lamb. That's a very interesting change of events. It's a name change, if you will, from a lion to a Lamb. Then the story goes on, in Revelation 5, how this Lamb now defeats the lion. The Lamb of Revelation conquers Babylon and He defeats Satan. The Lamb is a powerful strong force against a powerful enemy but that powerful enemy does not stand a chance against the Lamb of God, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And Jesus stands against that powerful enemy. He destroys, He defeats, and He overcomes the beast. No doubt, all of us have some powerful things we have to deal with in life. We have some mighty struggles that we are trying to overcome. We have some tall mountains we are trying to rise above. We have some valleys of which we are trying to come out of, and it's difficult. Yet, God handles those beasts and those problems for us. We might sometimes be backed into a corner. We might feel weak and helpless and have all kinds of hardships and insults placed upon our life, but yet time and time again the Lamb knocks them down and overcomes them. Think about those things in your life that seem insurmountable. Think about those things that seem overwhelming. You may think you don't stand a chance. There's no way for you to get out and to overcome, and in those times you quickly realize that you are powerless, that you have no strength on your own, and you are unable to defeat the beast, and the enemies, and obstacles in your life because you are simply too weak. It is in those times that we remember God's strength. It is in those times we remember that He is more than able to defeat the powers that stand against us, understanding that we are never powerful enough to overcome them on our own but through our weaknesses God's strength is revealed and He fights the battle for us. He overcomes the opposition and we rise above our adversary. You know that thought is mentioned, time and time again, throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament. I think about the words of 2nd Chronicles 20:15 – "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army for the battle is not yours, but God’s." – Now, that makes sense to us, doesn't it? Whatever battle we face in life, it may seem powerful, and big, and overwhelming, and yet it belongs to God. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses tells the people, “God will go before you and He Himself will fight for you.” That's still true today. God goes before us and He Himself does the fighting for us. He wins the battle. He conquers the enemy through our weaknesses. 1st Samuel 17:47, as David stands before Goliath, the same thing is said, “Let God fight this battle.” In fact, David said that same thing, “God has already overcome through my weaknesses.” Yes, let us remember today that a giant God will always overcome our giant problems, and the greatest strength we will ever have looks a whole lot like a Lamb, the Lamb of God. As a child of God, He gives to us His Spirit to help us in those times of weakness, to guide our path and to direct our way. When we don't know what to do or how to stand against the enemy, we remember He is our strength. He believes in us, as we struggle from day to day. He loves us more than we will ever know. He cares for us in every thing that we experience in life. Oh, we are a child of God. We are a part of His family, and all of that is important. There's no question about any of those things, but here is the real issue I want us to close with, and to think about, and to dwell upon today. In the midst of our weaknesses in what do we put our trust? Do we put our hope and our trust in our own name? Do we put our hope and our trust in our own resources, in who we are, or in what we have done, thinking that we are powerful and mighty? Or, do we rather put our trust and our hope in the powerful name of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God? And do we rely upon Him, and His resources, and His power to overcome the weaknesses in our life so that we are able to stand strong and stand confident in the Lord, knowing that our strength comes from Him? My encouragement for us today is to, like Paul, rejoice in our weaknesses remembering that God's power is made perfect in our weaknesses, and when we trust and rely upon Him we can overcome the obstacles of life through the Lamb of God.
Thank you for taking a few minutes to be with us for today's program. I hope this message encouraged you to think about relying on God's great power to overcome your weaknesses. At “Key to the Kingdom”, we believe God wants us to put our complete faith and trust in Him. We believe He wants us to rely on Him when we struggle to find hope for our lives. If we can assist you with that please contact us or request a free Bible study through the website. It comes without any commitment or obligation. Not only do we want you to have a free Bible study but we hope you will take advantage of other free lessons on the website as well. Short inspirational messages along with daily devotionals are also available or you can put the "Key to the Kingdom" app on your smart phone. This is an easy way to gain quick access to our media ministry. Whatever we can do to assist you in your spiritual journey we want to help. Again, let me say thank you for being a part of today's program and please join us again next time as we study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom”.