Perfect in Weakness

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We are reminded that God graciously offers us grace to overcome our weakness. We are encouraged to rely on God and be open with our vulnerabilities.

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Present Paul, meet Past Paul

So, quick show of hands, who was confused by the reading we just heard? If your hand isn’t up, you either have excellent reading comprehension or you’re lying . . . or you’re not awake enough to raise your hand yet.
In any case, if I’m being honest with you all this morning, the first time I read these verses the words were twisting themselves into knots. There are ten verses and it took me until verse six or seven before I thought I might kinda get what Paul is talking about here, and I still had to go to a couple commentaries to clear things up. Even after that, there are parts of this reading that I just shrug my shoulders at.
Now, I think the core of a lot of the confusion I experienced, and maybe you experienced, is the fact that Paul is beating around the bush and using a lot of pronouns and common nouns instead of just saying what he means outright. Now, there’s a reason for that, but for the sake of us better understanding the passage I want to read it again but I’m going to replace the pronouns and common nouns with the specific persons Paul is talking about.
Present Paul must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, Present Paul will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. Past Paul was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago, but Present Paul doesn’t remember if it was in body or our of the body, God does know. And Past Paul was caught up into paradise - but Present Paul doesn’t remember if it was in body or out of the body, God does know. And Past Paul heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of Past Paul, Present Paul will boast, but on his own behalf Present Paul will not boast, except of Present Paul’s weakness - though if Present Paul should wish to boast, Present Paul would not be a fool, for Present Paul would be speaking the truth; but Present Paul refrains from it, so that no one may think more of Present Paul than he sees in Present Paul or hears from Present Paul. So to keep Present Paul from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given to Present Paul in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass Present Paul, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times Present Paul pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave Present Paul. But God said to Present Paul, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore Present Paul will boast all the more gladly of Present Paul’s weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon Present Paul. For the sake of Christ, then, Present Paul is content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when Present Paul is weak, then Present Paul is strong.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that this version of the reading doesn’t roll off the tongue, we don’t generally use a person’s name so many times. But it helps us to get closer to understanding the message here - that Paul has plenty to boast about. This man that Paul knows, it’s Paul himself. He saw and heard incredible things in the presence of God, but Paul doesn’t rely on that.

Not to brag, but . . .

So by putting Paul’s name in, hopefully the passage becomes a little more clear. But I think it still is a little fuzzy, a little hard to understand. So let me paraphrase it for you.
Paul has plenty to brag about. God brought him up into heaven somehow and he was caught up in paradise, he heard secrets from God that he isn’t allowed to share with anyone. Paul is willing to acknowledge that all of that happened, but he doesn’t brag about it. God has even given him a constant problem to deal with to keep him humble, all so that Paul continues to rely on the grace and power of God.
In Philippians, Paul shares even more reasons that he could justifiably brag.
He was born into the right family, the people of Israel and the house of Benjamin - but he doesn’t boast about his heritage, he relies on the grace of God.
He rose to one of the highest ranks in the synagogue at a young age - but he doesn’t boast about his intelligence, he relies on the power of God.
He persecuted the church (a good thing from the Jewish point of view at the time) and was blameless when it came to the Law - but he doesn’t boast about his righteousness, he relies on the grace of God.
He was shown visions and could influence people, one of the greatest Christians of all time - but he doesn’t boast about that, he relies on the power of God.
And in relying on the grace and power of God, he has to acknowledge and shine a light on all of the places where he isn’t good enough, where he isn’t strong enough, where he cannot do it on his own. So he gladly brags about his own weakness, receiving insults, experiencing hardship, facing persecution, and witnessing calamities. And that puts him in a place of real vulnerability, a place where he has to completely trust in God.
And in our lives, we each have places where we can justifiably brag - and it’s not very often in our weakness or need to rely on God.
We’re much more tempted to brag about things going well financially than we are to brag about the time where we barely scraped by and God took care of us through a miracle.
We’re much more tempted to brag about things we do well and our character strengths than we are to brag about the things we stink at and the weaknesses of character we need the Holy Spirit to work on.
We’re much more tempted to brag about victories with our families, with our friends, with our circumstances than we are to brag about the times that our lives force us to our knees in prayer.
No one likes to be vulnerable, no one likes to admit that they need help, no one likes to admit that they’re not good enough - but that’s where God’s work becomes most visible to us. His power is made perfect when we’re vulnerable and He can support us, His love for us is on full display when we cry out to Him for help and He provides, and His grace is sufficient for us when we’re not God enough and He accepts us anyway for the sake of Jesus who died and rose again for us. -THIS SECTION I THINK IS GOING TO BE BIG ON EMOTIONAL IMPACT-

My Grace is Sufficient for You

So we translated this reading a little bit, we paraphrased it, but I want to make sure the meaning here is crystal clear. We are reminded that God graciously offers us grace to overcome our weakness. We are encouraged to rely on God and be open with our vulnerabilities so that we and the people around us can see God at work.
And the analogy that I have for you, and I want to remind you that I’ve been here almost a year and this is only the second weightlifting analogy I’ve used - that’s what self-control looks like, but the analogy I have for you is from the weight-room.
Most of us are familiar with the exercise of bench pressing. When you do this exercise, you lay on a bench with your feet on the floor and a slight bend in your back. You reach up, grab a barbell, lift it off the rack, and lift it up and down. It’s a great exercise for your upper body, but it can be dangerous. Because you know what happens if you drop it? A metal bar weighing however much you loaded onto the bar drops onto your chest and, potentially, rolls back onto your neck. This is an experience to be avoided. So when you do a bench press, you employ the use of a spotter. This is someone who stands behind the bench and catches the weight. Now you don’t appreciate the strength of the spotter until you push to failure, until your weakness becomes unavoidable. For example, Chris and I used to always lift together and I would spot my wife. She is excellent at pushing until failure (a skill I envy, I frequently chicken out), and when she failed, I would grab the bar and do a couple of bicep curls with it for good measure. No one sees my strength until she needs it though.
In the same way, for God’s power to be on full display, our weakness, our vulnerability, our failure has to be recognized first. And this is no more the case than when we think of our ability to enter into heaven, our ability to follow God’s Law. It simply cannot be done, we are not strong enough, we are not good enough, we cannot succeed on our own. And God knew this, so He send Jesus to live and die and rise. To proclaim to Paul, to you, and to me that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Amen.
JOSH: This sermon looks good, I don’t have a lot to add to be honest. I feel this structure is almost like a verse by verse structure with a frame/refrain twist. I agree with you though, that the Not to Brag part will be a big sticking point with people and hopefully get them to trust in God’s power and rely less on their own.
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