It's not what we think.
Strength is one of those words with a long, detailed dictionary definition but is basically relative in conversation. Really, what it means depends on who you ask. At the gym or spa strength is biceps, muscle power, and endurance. Over in the corporate world it is the corner office, keys to the executive wash room, or clout. On the campus it is degrees, academic standing, perhaps publishing success. Political strength is about votes, influence, and the odds of being re-elected. And, the list goes on! A young woman was talking to a friend. She bragged that her husband was indeed very strong, then conditioned it by adding, "But, odor isn't everything!". Yes, of a truth.
It's a cultural icon, personal strength. Few life disciplines are looking for models of human weakness. Spines of steel are heroic in just about every venue. Sure, Mr. Jello gets a laugh or two in most media. But, we all know Only the Strong Survive (note the 1968 Jerry Butler hit), in the mean streets these days, whether in love, the business world, education, the Mr. America contest, or even in church. And, that is a problem, that the secular connotations of strength have slipped into Christ's church. Today even congregational life is measured by concepts of strength---authority, statistics, decision making, finances, ministry and mission, facilities, position, worship, and service are taken as emblems of strength or weakness. Sad!
Human strength was a critical issue in biblical times as well. Moses tried to opt of God's calling to lead Israel out of Egypt because he wasn't a strong voice. Israel's history was marked by the constant challenge of their military weakness. They wanted kings who were strong in stature and could lead their armies in battle. In the New Testament period people rejected Jesus because he didn't call down armies of angels to rescue him from the death on a cross. The Twelve wrestled with who among them would be the greatest in Christ's kingdom. The Apostle Paul, once a mighty Pharisee spoke of a thorn in the flesh and his own human limitations. And, as usual, there were many other people and incidents that confounded their culture about the meaning of genuine strength.
Jesus clearly reversed the ideals of strength and weakness while teaching the multitudes, and especially in his training of the Twelve. Make note of his words---
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John
the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Matthew 11:11, NIV
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell
you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom
of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the
kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18: 2-4, NIV
The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matthew 23:11-12, NIV
There are many other references as well. The truth is that Jesus portrayed strength in the Kingdom quite differently than cultures definition of it.
Under the influence of Christ Saul of Tarsus adjusted his ideal of strength to the Kingdom standard. Paul wrote---
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
2 Corinthians 11: 30, NIV
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in
weakness.” Therefore I will boast 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.
2 Corinthians 12: 9-11, NIV
Paul's concept of strength and weakness was made new when the Holy Spirit revealed the grace of God through Christ to him. He wrote about this kind of strength many times as well---
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to
pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
Romans 8: 26, NIV
For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are
weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you. 2 Corinthians 13:4, NIV
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4: 13, NIV
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-
2 Timothy 1: 7, NIV
So, what is the deal here? It is simply the truth that strength and weakness aren't what we tend to think. And, perhaps the poor standing of the Christian church in contemporary culture derives in part from our total misunderstanding and pursuit of society's view of strength and weakness rather than that God's.
You see, it's not what we think. IT'S A MATTER OF THE HEART|GOD'S AMAZING PLAN FOR PERSONAL STRENGTH.
More this week.