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~ When Weakness Is Strength ~

     “We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-3).
     “He [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). The original Greek more completely renders Christ’s statement as: “My strength and power are made perfect – fulfilled and completed and show themselves most effective – in [your] weakness” (Amplified New Testament).

     “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay  late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127: 1-2, NIV).
    The psalm eloquently underscores the wisdom that any endeavor not done in God’s name is vanity, just fluff. The work of building, keeping watch and protecting, of growing our food, cannot bear fruit unless God is the one doing it through us. As we sleep, which is itself a gift from Him, God continues to do the laboring and growing.

    God knows us through our love for Him. Love does the building in our relationships and endeavors. Knowledge “puffs up,” as in “getting a big head.” Unless, as Paul writes, we are wise enough to know our knowledge isn’t as it ought to be and that it is quite imperfect. If we are not humbled in the presence of mystery, our heads are way too big to get through that narrow gate to the road of self-denial and redemptive Christlikeness.

    In another letter, Paul provides a remarkable blessing: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, NIV). I say remarkable because of the books of wisdom packed in this blessing. The quotes above are again reflected here: Our own efforts of sanctification, such as fasting, prayer, good works, meditation, penitential acts and sacrifices, are vanity. God does the sanctifying.

    This sanctification is “through and through.” “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV). Since only God can see all things in their full truth with nothing hidden at all, only He can do any sanctifying.

    In his blessing, Paul alludes to our triune nature of spirit, soul and body, listing spirit first. The word of God “penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” The soul are the joints between the bones, the spirit their very marrow, where the life force of blood is made. Perceiving the divisions between spirit, soul and body is important in understanding spiritual warfare.

    In the matrix of the soul lives our minds, emotions, personalities, our sense of self. In that way, animals could be understood to have souls since they are self-conscious beings. They know they are separate from others and thus participate in getting food, in self-protection, in maintaining relationships in their communities. They play and have their moods, feel fear and love, demonstrate loyalty and courage. Of people, Jesus said, “The Father is Spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and truth.” Our spirit is God-consciousness. We love Him in spirit. Sanctification begins in the spirit, then saturates “through and through” into the soul and body.

    Affliction and adversity may attack and weaken the body, which may result in the spirit drawing deeper into God’s Spirit for healing, loving, consolations, strength. The principalities and powers of darkness may attack the soul, and that too may respond by penetrating deeper into the Heart of our High Priest “who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God...Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16, NIV).

    An attack against our spirit, our consciousness of God, can result in a fatal wound. This is the “grieving of the Holy Spirit,” the denying of God, the refusal to open the door at His knocking. Consequently, that is why Christ calls this state the only sin that cannot be forgiven. One will not ask forgiveness and redemption from a God he denies. Jesus asserted it’s best to cut off that part of you that causes you to lose faith than to find one’s spirit in the hell of being disengaged from God.

    Now we can better appreciate how Christ’s strength and power cannot be made perfect (or complete and full) in someone who is “puffed up” and denies God is doing the building, the watching, the growing and even the sleeping. A peculiar state of the soul and spirit needed for sanctification is a consciousness of depravity and wretchedness. This is a very mournful state, but “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This experience of personal weakness creates a void that the Holy Spirit can now fill.

    You may have heard someone remark, “Oh, everybody likes me! I’m worth that!” Or maybe, “Of course he (or she) loves me. I’m lovable!” But when such a person experiences a withdrawing of love or affirmation, hurt and anger sets in. Pride takes a hit. Others may try to comfort with words like, “Oh, just forget about it. You deserve better.” Perhaps the person will then respond with, “You’re right. I do!” Pride recovers.

    So Jesus says to bless those who curse us and that the persecuted are blessed. Paul writes to be thankful for humiliations and afflictions. The person who does not understand how someone can care for or love him or her in their wretchedness, weakness and imperfection feels great spiritual joy when someone does. The joy is indescribable when that Someone is the Creator Yahweh Himself! Unlike the response of the person in the above paragraph, this one is filled with gratitude. The feeling of being undeserving leads to the person treasuring this gift in fullness of heart. This grateful joy is repugnant to the powers of darkness.

    The renowned hymn, “Amazing Grace,” alludes to the joy of God saving “a wretch like me.” Only in humility and contriteness of heart is such grace perceived as “amazing.” Only in acknowledged weakness can the strength and power of Christ be felt surging “through and through.” Only in despairing is trusting fully in God learned. As a result, “he who loves God is known by God.” To know God is an incredible and amazing grace. To be known by God through our love and gratitude is supreme joy and ineffable wonder!

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © July 19, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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