It’s nearly impossible to escape humility this time of year. We sing and celebrate Emmanuel, the Creator uniting himself with his creation. I know there’s no need to elaborate how humble that Christmas event was. Let’s just say he arrived in poverty—socially and financially; not with the drama many of us would have planned.
But that isn’t necessarily the case; the truth actually is that we wouldn’t ever have come at all. Even if our arrival were met with “divine” proportions of pomp & circumstance. Why? Because creation would be beneath us, in our pride it would never cross our minds to enter the world to save it. We do something far more convenient, like throw away this old broken world and start all over.
This is where Christmas, or I should say, Christ’s ethic changed the world.
Just think about today, if you live in Europe or the States the ethic of humility has deeply shaped who you are, even if you’re an atheist. Prior to Christ, in the West power and strength were the cultural good. Weakness was seen to display dangerous vulnerabilities.
Humility was evil, never noble. Not until the Noble King came as a babe, lived in obscurity, and died for the world on a torture device did humility and compassion become virtuous. And we see the effects of that today; we find secularists and atheists with no belief in Christ offer care to refugees fleeing a place where power and strength reaped destruction.
God has clearly demonstrated that the power of his self-less (or humble) love has changed the world. Such charitable actions would not be part of our culture without Jesus. Humility, weakness, selfless love has powerfully altered the world.
This brings me to the main point of this blog. Too many Christians in the West seem not to believe that weakness or humility can change the world.
Why do I say this? Well, do you hear many preachers boast of their weaknesses? I mean real ones, not just “safe” ones. True weakness is reserved for our prayer journals or for our closest confidants. We present ourselves with having it all together. We don’t want anyone to know (even though they probably already know) where we’re weak.
We would boldly celebrate and thank God for our weakness if we actually understood its power, nor feared its “costs.” And I, for one, want to go there.
From my closest family members to those who have known me for any length of time typically describe me as “passionate.” Now some of my greatest compliments and achievements have come from my zeal for what I believe and my love for Jesus. Even before I was a Christian, passion and zeal was a fruitful characteristic of mine.
But, some of my greatest failures and sin have been directly related to my passion and wearing my heart on my sleeve. My greatest strength is clearly my greatest weakness.
I’ve known this for a long time now, ever since my wife pointed it out to me in the early days of our marriage. All too often my unruly passion can be as destructive as it can be productive. I’ve hated this; it has been a significant source of sin in my life. I’ve asked God numerous times, in all kinds of ways, to take this from me. And my wife would attest the answer to that prayer has been a resounding “No.”
Here’s why I’m starting to think God has kindly said no to me. As I’ve fixed my eyes on Jesus by giving him thanks in all circumstances, I’ve discovered all circumstances include “passionate” moments of weakness.
This doesn’t mean I’ve just given myself an excuse for this weakness in my life and disregard the sin it reveals. Rather, I’m thanking God that I need him in my weakness. Especially when having passion is a positive quality for me—and potentially an “impressive” strength. Instead I find even the positive features of passion remind me of my weakness and my dependence.
I believe only from this place of dependency can we hear the Spirit’s voice communicating the Father’s heart, “I love you, I’m with you, I’m for you, I got this” in moments my passion may be destructive. Only here does the Spirit’s fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control grow from us. Here the destructive forces of sin in my God given areas of strength are thwarted.
Strength is made perfect in weakness. Without the weaknesses in our strengths we’d most likely never actually discover our need for God. We’d become conceited and live as though we don’t need him or anyone else. This is where Paul boasting in his weakness begins to become real and applicable to all of us (2 Cor. 12). Rather than something that we don’t get and so move on; I mean who’s going to boast, “Hey, I’m unkind … don’t you think that’s great!” No one! And it’s not great.
Our weakness in our strengths creates a great opportunity to depend on God in all moments of life. So it’s possible that no matter how much I ask God to take away my uncontrollable passion he’ll reply to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So with Paul I conclude, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Cor. 12:9).” I’m thankful for “when I’m weak, then I am strong (1 Cor. 12:10).”
Hating weakness and sin in our life is just one of the beginning fruits of loving God. But I’m beginning to realize that hating sin isn’t enough. Actually I could easily use that hate to autonomously attempt to fix myself. Hating sin just means you don’t accept it any more. In thankfulness comes dependency and humility. Thankfulness says you’re God, I’m not, and I trust you’ve got this.
To end where I started, God said to Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness,” don’t we see that in Emmanuel? The Word of God became the perfect Savior through suffering and humility, and in this “weakness” he defeated the prince of this world with all the darkness and power that goes with him (Heb. 3:10; 5:8-10). God made in the West humility & compassion virtuous, and brute force evil. I’m not only thankful for Emmanuel for giving me life, but I’m thankful for the weakness that ever keeps me in need of him. May you join me in this adventure of being thankful for weakness and being strong in Christ.