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By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the most incredible biographies ever written is that of Robert Babcock.
As a young boy he made a bomb out of some powder he found in his father's barn.
He had a hard time getting it to go off, but when it finally did, it blew up in his face and he was instantly blinded, and remained so for the rest of his life.
His parents, realizing there was not hope of his sight being restored, took him to an institute for the blind in Philadelphia.
Robert did so well, and had such a strong will to become independent, that even as a youth he traveled home to Michigan by himself on a train.
He went on to college, and every year was near the top of his class.
In 1869 at the age of 18 he began to study at Ann Arbor Medical College as the first student to ever begin the study of medicine as a blind person.
You would naturally assume that he did not go far, but the fact is, he went all the way.
He went to Chicago Medical School, and there had to dissect a body, which students with good eye sight find to be a difficult task.
Sightless though he was, he passed the test to the astonishment of the examining board.
After further study in New York, he was licensed to begin to practice in Chicago.
It took him ten years to build up a strong practice, for obvious reasons.
His reputation grew, however, until he was made Professor Of The Chicago College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Many other honors were bestowed upon him, and he wrote three important books that made him a world figure among doctors.
His thorn in the flesh was no stumbling block, but was a stepping stone to greater heights of service.
His life is an excellent illustration of the philosophy of life that Paul expounds in our text.
The paradox that Paul proclaims here is that a handicap can be a help.
A painful problem can be a powerful promoter of what is good.
A weakness can be an asset and a strength.
No one knows for sure just what Paul's thorn in the flesh was, but there is much evidence to believe those scholars who are convinced that his problem, like that of Dr. Babcock, was with his eyes.
Paul was not blind, but there is reason to believe he never could have passed the eye test for a drivers license.
On the day of his conversion Paul was struck blind by the glory of Christ, and remained sightless for three days.
He regained his sight, but there seems to have been a weakness left, for in Gal.
4:15 he says that the Galatians would have plucked out their eyes to give to him.
It is, as if he were saying,they recognized his greatest need was to have some decent eyes.
In Gal.
6:11 he wrote, "See in what large letters I am writing to you."
This implies that his authentic writings can be known by his large letters, the letters of a man who cannot see smaller letters.
Besides this evidence, it seems so fitting for the purpose for which God allowed the problem Paul had with his great visions.
He was in danger of being overwhelmed with pride.
It would be very humbling for him to hardly be able to see, and then try to boast of his great visions.
People who saw him having to put his nose to a book to read, and to put his hand out to keep from running into the city gate, would laugh him to scorn, if he spoke of his great visions.
The skeptics would mock him.
An eye problem would definitely keep Paul humble about his visions, and prevent his boasting in himself.
Regardless of what it was, Paul was impressed by the fact that God could use a weakness to make him strong.
There is power in weakness Paul learned; a power that cannot be made available in any other way.
Paul is the great expert on weakness.
Out of 33 references to weakness in the New Testament, Jesus used the word once, Peter used it once, and all the rest are from the pen of Paul.
Keep in mind that Paul was a strong opponent of Christ before his conversion.
He despised the weak Nazarenes, those followers of that weakling who perished in disgrace upon the cross.
He attacked them and demonstrated what strength could do.
When the Lord appeared and struck him down in blindness, he had a radical change in his thinking about the relationship of power and weakness.
He learned by experience that it was his force that was really weak, and Christ's weakness was really powerful.
The result was, the paradox in power and weakness running all through Paul's writings.
I Cor.
1:25, "The weakness of God is stronger than men."
I Cor.
1:27, "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong."
I Cor.
15:43, referring to the resurrection of the body Paul writes, "It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power."
II Cor.
13:4, "For He was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God."
The cross is the greatest illustration of the power in weakness, for by that experience of going like a helpless lamb to the slaughter, Jesus conquered all the obstacles in the way of man's salvation.
Paul not only learned to accept the truth of power in weakness, but he tells us he learned to boast, and even be glad for his weaknesses, for they became potential channels through which the power of God could be manifest.
In II Cor.
11:30 he writes, "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."
This seems to be contrary to all logic.
Everyone preaches that God uses our gifts, but when do we hear that God uses our weaknesses?
Yet, if we take Paul seriously, his greatest power was not in abilities, but in his weaknesses.
In I Cor.
2:3 he says, "And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling."
We picture Paul as a dynamic ball of fire erupting from a volcano like stature, but the facts are, he was small in weak in appearance, and by his own testimony, full of fear and trembling as he preached.
Paul was a handicapped man, and the reason God used this, far from perfect, specimen of manhood to proclaim the perfect Savior, is stated by Paul himself in I Cor.
2:5, "That your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."
If a powerful, talented, dynamic man moves people to respond to the Gospel, one never knows how much of the movement is generated by the power of personality.
But if a weak and handicapped person is used to motivate people, one can see that the power of motivation must come from the Holy Spirit.
If this be a true understanding of the way God works, the logical conclusion is that the typical American way of witness is not necessarily the best and Biblical way.
The American way tends to exalt the strong and ignore the weak.
Get the top athlete, the most popular movie star or singer, and the finest politician or author, and let them tell the world what Christ means to them.
Only a blind man would deny that this bears fruit, but I wonder if it does not rob us of the greatest resource in the church, which is the masses of adults and youth who are not strong, but weak, handicapped and in large measure ungifted.
Is it possible that the fruit of the spirit growing on weaker branches might be even more impressive, at least to those God wants us to reach in our community?
Can our very weaknesses in any way be an asset to the kingdom of God?
Let us keep this question in mind as we continue to explore this paradox of power in weakness.
As a principle for natural life we can see how it holds true, for weakness is what has made man strong.
It is the very fact that man cannot protect himself against other creatures who are stronger, that has forced him to develop weapons of strength.
Man is so weak he can only jump a short way off the ground, and that weakness has driven him to develop ways to fly, not only around the world, but beyond the world.
Weakness leads to power when the weakness motivates men to find a way to offset that weakness.
This is certainly involved in what Paul is saying.
It is only the Christian who is fully conscious of his weakness who will depend upon God, and seek for God's power.
The strong and talented Christian can easily become self-sufficient and independent.
That very strength can become their weakness.
And honest awareness of weakness, therefore, is the starting point in the spiritual quest for God's power.
You can only really seek with all your heart after that which you are fully aware that you lack.
They only find God's power who fully realize their own weakness.
Spurgeon said, "God helps us most when we most need his help."
If you are strong and feel no need of God's help, then you are weak.
When, however, you are weak and know it, and so depend upon God, then you are strong.
Paul's paradox is not strange at all, but a fact of life we all experience.
When we can grasp the words of Christ, "Without Me you can do nothing," then we are in the state of weakness where we can say with Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
The stronger a Christian is the greater is his danger of depending upon his own abilities.
It is possible for believers to rely on their own power to live the Christian life.
God has built a paradox into the divine-human relationship.
It is only when man surrenders to God that he conquers.
It is only when he submits to be dependent upon God that he becomes a channel of divine power.
Gideon had to learn this paradoxical truth.
Gideon had too strong an army, so God made him send 32,000 of his men home.
He deliberately made his army weak in order to demonstrate the divine power in weakness.
They could have won the battle with a stronger army, but their very strength would have led them to boast of their own power, and that would have been their weakness.
God said He made them weak in Judges 7:2, "Lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, mine own hand hath saved me."
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