Serving by Grace alone
Ben Lucas writes about the need of dependence on our powerful Lord.
There’s a wonderful line in Frasier in which he is tasked with producing a theme tune for his radio program. Not satisfied with a little ditty, Frasier ends up with a studio filled with an orchestra. At this point his brother Niles asks, “What ever happened to the concept of less is more?” to which Frasier replies, “Ah, but if less is more, just think how much more more will be!”(1) It’s one of those moments in comedy that works because it articulates something we all feel. At least we often act this way even if it doesn’t reach the conscious level.
In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul tells how he pleaded with the Lord three times about his thorn in the flesh. A certain weakness that God in his providence left vague. Whatever it was, though, it was a weakness Paul wanted to be rid of. But the Lord’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That is, a weak Paul relying on a strong Christ is the Lord’s power made perfect in weakness.
Consider that phrase “made perfect (τελεῖται) in weakness.” The verb refers to something brought to completion. The Lord’s strength “finds its consummation”(2) in weakness. Not, “weakness is a good start,” or “weakness gets us half way there,” but “my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Yet John Hindley insightfully observes that “We might wonder whether a strong Paul depending on Jesus might be even more powerful.”(3) That is, if God’s strength is in weakness just think how much stronger strength in strength will be!
I think Hindley’s being diplomatic. Is not the reality for many of us not that we wonder but that we assume? That is we often simply assume that if God can use a weak me just think how much more he’ll use a strong me.
Yet that is precisely what doesn’t happen for Paul. His thorn in the flesh was a provision from the Lord. It put him right where God wanted him. God’s equation was weak servant + strong Lord = power made perfect.
It’s an equation of humility, isn’t it? I’ve had to admit to being saved by grace. But now I have to admit to serving by grace alone?! It brings me to my knees and undermines my desire to be applauded alongside the Lord.
Earlier in 2 Corinthians Paul spoke of how he’d been brought to a place of despairing of life itself (1:8). And he tells us that this experience was “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v. 9).
How quickly we can go from leaning on the Lord in our weakness to trying to run in our own strength. But the Christian life isn’t from weakness to strength-in-ourselves. It’s from weakness to weakness-relying-on-the-strong-Lord. This is weakness we’re not trying to turn to strength because, “strong people simply do not depend on the Lord like weak ones do.” (4)
1. Peter Cassey, Davie Angell & David Lee; Philip Mackenzie, 2 August 96, Season 3, Episode 5, TV show Frasier, "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.", NBC
2. Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 997.
3. John Hindley, Weakness Our Strength: Learning from Christ Crucified (Bridgend, Wales: Union Publishing, 2023), p. 60.
4. Hindley, p. 60.
Benjamin Lucas trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and has an MA in Theology with the University of Wales. He is married to Emily and they have three children. He is the Associate Vicar at All Saints' Lindfield.
Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.