The gospel is crazy!
I hope I’m not offending anyone here. I simply mean that in the upside-down Kingdom Jesus calls us into, we often scratch our heads in disorientation.
In part one of this series, we learned that the gospel-principle of power through weakness allowed the Apostle Paul to accept and even embrace his weakness as a friend.
As if that’s not enough to shake our equilibrium, Paul drags us a step farther:
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 of my weaknesses… – 2 Corinthians 12:9
While we’re still grappling with embracing our weakness, Paul concludes, “If power comes through weakness, then I’m gonna front my weakness for everyone to see so that I get more grace!”
Simple logic; complex practice.
We need wisdom in the complexity of boasting in our weakness. We desire to obey Jesus at this point because we love Him (Jn. 14:15). Yet we also fear oversharing and reducing the proclamation of the gospel to a sob-fest that draws attention to us.
How do we as pastors and planters boast in our weaknesses in a way that helps the cause of the gospel rather than hinder it?
Considering how Paul boasted “all the more gladly of [his] weaknesses” in 2 Corinthians will provide a starting point.
Let’s look at Paul’s first boast in weakness:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death… – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
How many of us would sign up for ministry if “Death sentence” was at the top of our job description? Paul received such a call to ministry, and here he lives it (Acts 9:15).
For many leaders, the thought of proclaiming our pain like Paul unnerves us. Paul shared about affliction in Asia. He stated and defined weakness for us—to be “burdened beyond [your] strength” (2 Cor. 1:8). And he spoke of depression, darkness and death.
Paul refuses to give the biography of the strong Apostle the Corinthians wanted (and if we’re honest, that we want too). What self-disclosure!
However at second glance, we realize how little Paul actually shares. We have no idea what the afflictions were in Asia. We don’t know the specifics of his weakness that pushed him beyond his strength. And we aren’t privy to the details of his struggle with depression or his thoughts of death (how long? how dark? how serious? etc.).
So, here’s one answer to boasting in weakness—Be open but general.
The problem is we run into 2 Corinthians 11 and read:
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:21-28
In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul was generally open; here Paul is painfully specific.
Paul exemplifies two options for boasting in weaknesses. So, our original question remains only with more clarity—How do we as pastors and planters know when to boast in our weaknesses with generalities or with specificity?
Like most of ministry, this requires wisdom beyond our years. With the question before us, here are a few suggestions.
1) Define Your Weaknesses
We can’t boast in our weaknesses if we’re fuzzy on where they begin and end.
On multiple occasions after teaching on weakness, someone has come up to me asking, “What if my weakness is my sin?” This is not an uncommon view on weakness.
These brothers were describing besetting struggles with sexual sin. What needs to happen is a distinction between particular inclinations toward certain sin (weakness) and the acting out on the temptation (sin).
Temptation is not sin.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. – Hebrews 4:15
Notice the connection between weakness and temptation and the sinlessness of Jesus. Being drawn toward certain sins is not sin.
Before we ever start boasting in our weakness we need to name it. We can start to identify our weaknesses by considering the five areas of weakness shared in part one of this series—intellectual, emotional, sexual, physical and spiritual weakness.
Where do you feel burdened beyond your strength?
Here are some examples:
- Intellectual – Your memory fails you more each year. This effects your study of God’s and your relationships with others.
- Emotional – You swing from top of the world delight to bottom of the barrel depression. This means you need more alone time to process your emotions with Jesus so that they don’t rule you.
- Sexual – Your proclivity toward sexual sin constantly nags at you making it hard to get through a day without feeling like you’ve gone through the fight of your life. The shame makes you feel broken and isolated from God and others.
- Physical – Your body fails you with health issues that hurts your ability to be present to others, either the pain distracts you or you literally need to stay home.
- Spiritual – You doubt more than others in your small group at church. You want to trust Jesus, but skepticism and distrust is your default mode.
These categories bleed into one another, but it’s a helpful starting point for considering the weaknesses particular to each of us.
2) Surrender Your Weakness To Jesus
Paul hints at how to proudly boast in weakness in 2 Corinthian 12.
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9
So, you’ve defined your weakness, you’re eager to step into a new kind of boasting and you’re ready to tell everybody so that Christ’s power might be seen. Be careful at this point, my brothers! We need wisdom not to overshare.
How do we know if we’re over-sharing? Here’s a principle for us: Sharing weakness should build and not destroy trust in those we lead.
The difference-maker for trustworthiness is if “the power of Christ” rests upon us in the area of our weaknesses. This doesn’t mean perfection, but it does mean acceptance of the struggle as a means for Jesus to be seen as our only hope (Mt. 26:36-42; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).
We must boast of our weaknesses to Jesus before we ever boast of weaknesses to others. We must cry out of our neediness and cling to Him for strength.
Here’s two examples of building and destroying trust through boasting in weakness:
Preacher number 1 preaches Matthew 5:27-30 and shares of past seasons with sexual temptation. He also shares how Christ’s power in his weakness carried him. While sharing vulnerably, he emphasizes Jesus’ power. This builds trust because it displays Christ’s work of redemption in His life.
Preacher number two preaches the same text and says, “You know, gang, I was prepping my sermon last night, and Satan really got in my head. I debated for hours if I should look at porn or not. Finally, by God’s grace, I chose not to.”
While an extreme example, the point is clear—preacher number two destroys trust by proclaiming weakness alone. He shared unwisely because he needs immediate help from Jesus and a few trustworthy friends at this point, not his entire church!
Our lives are parables of the gospel. Yet walking parables of weakness alone don’t help others; walking parables of clinging to Christ for strength do.
We must accept, embrace and surrender our weaknesses to Jesus in order to experience His transforming power in our lives. At that point, we have a lot to boast in! If we haven’t done business with Jesus, then we’re not ready to share our business with others.
3) Get Counsel
For those with common sense, the lust-driven example above is a no brainer. But what about not-so-clear examples—depression, emotional wounds, physical abuse, night terrors, personal abandonment, panic attacks, infertility or any other complex weakness?
How do we know when to share in generalities or with specificity?
Here’s another principle for us: Sharing weakness should not reverse God-given roles.
If a pastor or planter hasn’t surrendered his weakness to Jesus, he withholds parts of his life from Jesus. And if a man pushes Jesus away, he may very well look to people to provide the healing only Jesus can offer.
When we overshare, people become big and God becomes small. When we disclose within wise parameters, our brokenness is seen as well as the Savior’s magnificence.
Let me give you an example of this.
Could it be appropriate for a young church planter to share his past physical abuse with his small launch team?
If he has processed it and received healing from Jesus, then sharing could point others to Christ’s delivering power. On the other hand, if he shares prematurely, then the group could feel awkward wondering if they need to pastor their new pastor.
Please don’t hear me saying to only boast in your weaknesses as a strong person on the other side of the struggle. I am encouraging you to be wise about the amount you share.
People need open leaders who openly trust Jesus. They need weak men who demonstrate faith in the power of Jesus—no matter how small that faith might be because it’s not the amount of our faith but the object that matters.
Oversharing creates a burden our listeners must bear rather than helping them see the One who bears our burdens.
The complexity of this topic requires us to get counsel. We need other leaders alongside us who can speak into the appropriateness of what we share.
Recently, I planned to share a family struggle in a sermon. I asked my wife how she felt about me sharing, and she said to go for it. Then, I sent my sermon to my fellow pastors for input. One of my pastors hopped on the horn with me and asked some good questions.
Those good questions led to good conversation with my wife, and we realized we weren’t ready to be that specific in public—the pain was still too raw. My fellow pastor helped me see that specifics (in that situation) would put more attention on us than Jesus. I shared more generally and did my best to direct folks to the power of Christ.
Looking back, I see that without counsel I would have crashed and burned that sermon with a painful look-at-me-moment. We’re too close to the subject of us not to get counsel.
Pastors and planters should be proud—proud of the message we get to share and proud of our own stories that are walking parables of weak men upheld by Jesus.
To summarize: How do we boast in our weakness?
Be generally open with all, and be more specific when boasting:
– Builds trust in Christ’s work
– Supports God-given roles and
– Makes more of Jesus’ power than our weakness
Boasting in weakness really has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with being proud of Jesus. Fronting our weaknesses in the store window of our image shows people power through weakness because it shows them Jesus.
If you choose this way of ministry, you can be sure that people will be uncomfortable. They will try to talk you down, correct you and show you you’re not that weak. Remember they are uncomfortable with you boasting in weakness because they’re uncomfortable with their own weakness.
Shepherds of the flock of God, you are weak and need Jesus. The church you lead does too! They need examples of how to handle their weakness. They need a leader to show them the way to boast in Jesus.
Will you help them?
Join me next time as we consider how to lead out of our weakness.