Glory of Weakness Part 1
This message will be on the glory of weakness, and I want to begin with the scripture that Walt quoted, this is II Corinthians chapter 12. To get the context I'd like for us to begin at verse 1, "I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the LORD. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know - God knows," by the way, you'll notice that there are three heavens; he's caught up to the third heaven. God just seems to stick these little things in there, just at the neatest places. "Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know - God knows. And I know that this man - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows - was caught up to paradise, he heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so that no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say. To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a minister of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the LORD to take it away from me. 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."
Now you have heard, based upon this scripture, you have heard a theory of passivity advocated and it's almost as if what has been advocated as a result of this scripture is kind of a limp wristed Christianity. 'I'm just weak, just be weak,' almost Eeyore, 'Tigger bounced me, I was bounced, just leave me alone, I'm gonna go ahead and live my life.' You've heard almost that kind of view based upon this scripture. And the idea is that if you are passive in your resistance, then by being passive, when someone is violent in their aggression against you, it highlights the nature of violence and you actually win because violence compared to passivity is so unattractive. Now let me assure you, this is not what the scriptures are teaching because passivity may be the ultimate manipulative tool. If you could pull it off to be passive, may be the ultimate tool of manipulation.
Now I'll give you an example. So he's clearly not speaking of passivity as weakness, as the glory of weakness; that's not what he's talking about, he's talking about something else and we'll see that. But I want to show you first how this scripture has been presented.
Mahatmas K. Gandhi, at the end of World War II, began to change India by a theory of nonviolence by the political application of the theory of nonviolence which he had picked up from a book written by Leo Tolstoy in 1895. Leo Tolstoy wrote a book called the 'Kingdom of Heaven is Within You', I have a copy of it at the house. The book was first written in German, though Tolstoy was a Russian. And in this book he advocated, Tolstoy advocated, the overthrow of czarist Russia by nonviolence. Gandhi was intrigued with this book, the book is called 'The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You'. It was first published in German and it was translated into English. Gandhi got a copy of it and took it with him for the eight years that he was in South Africa, and he practiced it when he returned to India after his stint in South Africa and brought down the British rouge in India.
I had the occasion about, I think it was now 3 years ago (times goes by quickly), I was meeting with some rebels who overthrew Milosevic; we were meeting in the city of Belgrade. That's one of those things we were talking a while ago, about some of the spheres of things I do. That's just like saying, 'And I rode the bus to Aztec, New Mexico and I was talking to some Indians on the side of the road.' To me it's just as readily that, it sounds great and glorified, but it's my life and I don't look at my life as some extraordinary walk through time, it's just what I do.
So one cold day in February, right about this time of year, three years ago; I was with a group of brothers from the United States in Belgrade and Milosevic had just been overthrown about a month before that. And we knew that they were rebuilding the nation, so God gave us an instruction to go and talk to the Serbs about the Christian heritage that they had. And talk to them about how the nation ought to be rebuilt considering the principles of the kingdom of God and we knew that they were not familiar with western writers because they have 40 years of Tito, of communism and when Tito was overthrown Milosevic came to power for ten years and he practiced genocide and had just recently been overthrown. So we knew that their exposure to the world outside of the orbit of Russia was very limited so we selected Tolstoy because we figured 'Their Russians, they're Serbs, close relationship to Russia, that they'd understand that.'
So we met with them in their headquarters in Belgrade and the LORD gave us an approach to them. I began with essentially the same approach that I have, with explaining passivity and non violence. So I was explaining to them who Gandhi was, well they knew who Gandhi was, and who Martin King was, and how they used nonviolence to political ends. And I said, "You fellows are the last in the line of current people who have used nonviolence." And I said, "Nonviolence is not a political principle; nonviolence is a principle with a greater context than just politics, it has as its context the kingdom of God. And we referenced Tolstoy's work and we took copies of Tolstoy's book with us. And they were amazed, the leader smiled and he said, "Well we knew it wasn't a political principle, but it works." So we said, "It belongs in a broader context, which is the kingdom of God, and we've come to talk to you about the kingdom." He pushed his chair back, folded his arms like this, looked at us and said, "You've come from America to talk to us about the kingdom of God?" I said, "Yeah." They said, "Tell us about the kingdom of God." And for an entire afternoon we spoke to the leadership of Serbia about the kingdom of God as they were considering how to reconstruct the nation.
So that's a little bit of experience that I've had with this thing about nonviolence. One of the things we pointed out to them was, nonviolence was not an end within itself. Apart from the concept of the kingdom that gives it its shape and its form, nonviolence may become the most manipulative tool of all. If you have the courage to pull it off, you know it may cost you broken bones, it may even cost you your life. But if you're alive to pull it off, it's something that has probably the greatest capability of manipulating masses of people to a result, whether the result that you want is right or not.
See if you respond to violence with nonviolence, you never get to the substantive discussion of whether you are right, or the ones opposing you are right. You don't have to get there because people are moved by the pathos of watching somebody suffer - you all may have remembered the scene in Cool Hand Luke where he's just beaten to a pulp and he keeps getting up and you want to say, 'Quit beating him!' or, 'Stay down Luke!' or to the guy who's beating him, 'Quit beating him, don't you see that he's stronger than you by getting back up?' But if you do that you never get to the question of whether Luke was right or not, history has proven that Gandhi was wrong; I mean, India is a basket case. Gandhi did not improve a lot of Indians, and in fact he had one of the bloodiest results that came from the partitioning of India. We don't know very much about that here in the West, but when they created the divisions of Bangladesh and Pakistan and there's a mass migration of people across the continent, there were savage murders at will, there was a huge fiasco. But when you make a movie out of it, you know, and it wins the Oscars - Gandhi is not well respected in India. I discovered that last year, I was there. Nobody thinks that Gandhi was the father of India, they think that he belonged more in the Anandashram than he did in Delhi. Westerners have a whole different view.
My point is, the scriptures are not speaking, when they speak of weakness, of nonviolence; they're not. Yet in liberation theology and other forms of theology that look to this, they glorify a limp wristed Christianity but this is not what the bible is talking about. Well if it isn't talking about nonviolence, what is it talking about? Well look at the context, Paul said that 'he gloried in his weakness because Gods power was made perfect in weakness.' And it's in that context that he inserts this thing that we've thought about and wondered about for a long time, and that is: What was his thorn in the flesh? He says, "There was a thorn in the flesh given to me, a minister of Satan," his thorn in the flesh was a demonic spirit. He was clearly not saying that the thorn in the flesh was he had something stuck in his flesh.
The expression 'a thorn in the flesh' simply means 'an irritation'. In the Fall I was working in the garden, and we had roses and I got a thorn stuck in my finger. Now I didn't think about it until I rubbed it, every time I rubbed it it irritated my flesh. It didn't threaten to kill me; it was just something that irritated me. So it was a figure of speech when Paul said, "There was a thorn in my flesh." We have internalized that to mean maybe it was his eyesight or maybe there was something wrong with him. No, a minister of Satan, a demonic spirit that follows you around creating trouble for you, isn't killing you, but is a thorn in your flesh. It's bothersome to you.
Did we ever see any indication of this thorn in his flesh, a demonic spirit that got him in trouble fairly regularly? Sure. In the 16th chapter of the book of Acts they came to Philippi, after he had seen the man from Macedonia when he was in Troas, he saw the man from Macedonia saying, "Come over and help us," and he went across to Philippi and began the acean minister. Well as he came to Philippi, he and Silas and timothy met this woman who was syndicated because she could tell fortunes. For three days this demon followed him crying out, "These men are the servants of the Most High. Paul would not have put up with a demon for three minutes let alone three days. Because he knew it was a setup, that spirit followed him saying things to get him in trouble. What happened the moment he drove the spirit out? They arrested him, threw him in prison. Paul came to be in a Philippian jail because the demonic spirit that taunted him in this woman. That he responded finally, had mercy on the wretched woman, drove the demon out, and it landed him in jail. That was his greeting, that was his welcome to the acain ministry. Paul was put on the earth to preach the good news to the gentiles. The first place in which he began to preach to the gentiles-you know, this was the starting of the ministry for which he was born.
Until that time he largely spoke to the Jews and a few gentiles among the Jews. But when he dusted the dust off his feet, God launched him into the purposes for which he was born; he was born to be an apostle to the gentiles. Cross from Troas to Philippi and he lands in jail as the result of and the work of a demonic spirit. There was a thorn in his flesh, it didn't kill him but it got him landed in a motel in Philippi in which there were specialty accommodations for him: He was in stocks, they put his head in a vice, his hands in a vice, his feet in a vice and set him on the floor. And he didn't especially want to do that, it didn't kill him but it was a thorn in his flesh. He cried out to God three times, "God why do I have to entertain this spirit, why do I have to endure this spirit?" and God said, "I've allowed you to endure this spirit because I want to teach you of the sufficiency of My grace."
Do you suppose Paul had a particular need to be taught that it was in Gods strength in which he was to envoy against the devil? Who was Paul? This was the ultimate soul man. Paul had a soul that allowed him to be able to sit there with the clothes of people across his knees and at his feet while those people stoned Stephen and he was orchestrating the death of a man who simply disagreed with him. Paul didn't just do that, he got letters from the authorities in Jerusalem. Paul became a political diplomat for religious ends. He got letters of authority from the rulers in Jerusalem and it was actually a combination of authority from the Romans through the temple that the temple folks got the Romans to approve of letters of authority from the governor in Syria. Syrenes was governor in Syria earlier on and the authorities in Jerusalem got governmental permission to allow Paul to go to Syria Damascus to hassle and persecute Christians and to imprison them there.
This was a very motivated fellow. Now if he had not been taught that it is God's grace that is sufficient for him, then he would have gone up against the demonic in his own strength. And everything that he was attempting to do would have failed. Now I've taken it up to that point, let me backtrack and spread out the background to all of this and then we'll come back and hook the two things together.
Here's a question: Did Jesus overcome Satan on the cross? What do you think? Well your answer should be, "But of course He did." I mean you know it, but I think you're waiting for the other shoe to fall. Jesus overcame Satan on the cross obviously. If Jesus overcame Satan on the cross, are we at war with Satan? The answer is, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Clearly we're at war with Satan. But if Jesus has already overcome him, what is the war about? If Jesus has already overcome him, we're not called to overcome him again because that would mean Jesus overcame him for Himself, but each one of us has to overcome him now for ourselves. Clearly can't mean that because the victory of Jesus over Satan was for our benefit, not for Jesus' own. He didn't have to go through anything that He went through. He didn't have to go through anything He went through, He did it for us. You're buried with Him by baptism into death, you're buried with Him, what He has accomplished you may participate in.
So if Jesus has already overcome Satan on the cross, which He did, and we don't need to overcome him again, what is the war about? We clearly are at war, what is the fight about? Let me show you. This is from the book of Ephesians chapter 3. Beginning at verse 8 Paul gives us this answer. And by the way, I will just point out to you that this is Ephesians 3, the quote about spiritual warfare is in Ephesians 6. So he's building up to Ephesians 6 at Ephesians 3; so we're right in the flow of what he's saying, "Although I am less than the least of all Gods people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent (Gods intent) was that now, through the church (that's us), the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms." - - That's who we're fighting against, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."- -"Should be made known to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our LORD."
So what he's telling us is this: God devised a plan by which God would establish the justice of God over the demonic realm that had opposed God in Gods choice of humans as His heirs, and not angels; this is a combination of this scripture and Hebrews 1. God chose humans as His heirs, the angels that did not respect Gods choice, rebelled against Him. God could have, by force, destroyed the resistance to Him. But force, like nonviolence, does not determine what is right. Neither violence, nor the lack of violence, decides what's right. If God had simply squashed Satan, the question of whether or not God made the right choice would still have been unresolved. The mere fact that you're stronger does not mean you're right, just like the mere fact that you choose not to respond with violence, doesn't say you're right. The substance of the issue was always what had to be resolved.
Now, God exiled the enemy into the second of three heavens. So he's "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms"; the highest of the heavens is the heavens of God; the second of the heavens is the seat of the demonic realm; and the lowest of the heavens are the heavens that surround the earth. So the heavens around the earth are the natural heavens, the other two are the spiritual heavens; they're dimensions away, they're not necessarily distance away, they're dimensions away. Creatures from these realms come into the realm of time and space and when they do, they're frighteningly powerful; they're incredibly powerful, these creatures.
Think about the advantage that a demonic spirit has when he comes into the realm of humans. For one thing, he's been around for the entire duration of human habitation on the earth. He knows every trick in the book because he knows how to tempt you, that's why his temptations are so irresistible, unless they're resisted by the Spirit of God. That's one of his abilities. Another ability of the demonic against humans, is they used to be in the presence of God, so they understand the protocols of heaven. In the book of Daniel you'll find this statement. The angel Gabriel came to Daniel and he said, "Daniel I've been sent to tell you that which is written in the book of truth." Some of these angels obviously had access to the book of truth.
That's why the scriptures say God didn't write down His response anywhere, not even in the book of truth; God hid it in Himself for long ages past. For aeions, God knew how He was going to bring about the triumph of justice, as opposed to the triumph of force. And Gods intent was that, first He would bring that about through Jesus, He would bring about His plan for demonstrating the rightness of Gods judgments. He would bring it about through Jesus, and then He would demonstrate it to the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms, He would demonstrate His justice through the church.
Now this is a huge subject and it is one of those borders of truth, foundations of truth, that when we don't have we really show the lack of not understanding in the way we deal with the demonic. The demonic understands the protocols of God because they used to be angels. When they come into the realm of time and space, they enjoy huge advantages, such as the advantage of being invisible; such as the advantage of knowing the nuances of human behavior; knowing such things as humans operating out of their souls rather than out of the spirit. Crafting ways of entrapping humans because humans are drawn by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. And Satan has created something of which he is the god called the world, which has in it the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Exactly what you are drawn to he has created to draw you. This is by the way is first John beginning at chapter 2 verse 15, "Love not the world or the things of the world or the things that are in it, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life come not from the Father but from the world."
I'm synthesizing vast tracts of scripture for you that I could lay out, and I typically do lay out every place where I find whatever I tell you. A great English jurist observed this fact: That you're not proven to be right by the force of arms; justice is served by the inevitable triumph of the right. Which means that God, when God simply is God, over time the rightness of God is seen because it cannot fail to triumph. God does not have to squash Satan to be proven to be right, God simply has to give Satan enough time and allow his own plan to unfold and it will run Satan down and corner him and bring him to justice in the earth. And it pleases God to bring Satan to justice by the righteous acts of the saints because we are the creatures over whom the dispute arose.
Satan said, "They're the wrong choice." God could have said, "Remove yourselves from existence, My choice is right." But the question would not have been answered according to the requirements of righteous justice. So God says, "I will let the ones whom you have said are not worthy, I will let them judge you." That's the scripture that says, "And don't you know that you will judge angels." I'll show you how in a moment, I'll show you what this means.
God did not create angels with the capability of loving; angels are not creatures that love, angels were created to serve. So their choice is not 'love' or 'not love', their choice is 'serve' or 'not to serve'. They have freedom of choice but it's not in the matter of love. Humans, however, have a freedom of choice, you're 'free moral agents' as some would say, but your freedom is to love or not to love. That's why there's only one commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you," that's Gods standard. Now I won't go in and develop the new commandment, just to say that it's a standard that applies to God and man alike.
Now when the creature loves as God loves, "Love one another as I have loved you," for a companion study to this whole matrix of ideas, I would like to recommend to you the teaching that I have on the new commandment. If you've already heard that, then this should fill in the gap. The end of this matter is, when humans love as God loves, then they're said to be born of God; they're the children of God. It's not appropriate for me, at this juncture, to open up another whole discussion as to how that happens, but I would like to reference the teaching on the new commandment, it will fill in this gap for you.
Now let's move over to the side. Satan has concluded that God is wrong, God chose the wrong heirs. God on the other hand has chosen to allow the heirs of God, humans, to be the ones who judge the angels. And it is in the fact that they come to be like God, and that is measured by the way we love, that God is able to show to the demonic that His choice was the right choice.
Now how do we love as God loves? The love of God is, that God loves humans at the expense of Gods own life. Jesus, when He died on the cross, loved us more than He loved Himself. When we love one another as Christ has loved us, then we are showing the same quality of character as God Himself demonstrated. And when we do that, God brings judgment on the enemy. The alternative is for us to think that somehow we can do something for God. When our approach is to try to do something for God, the enemy is well able to entrap us because anything we can think of to do for God, will not come from God as a revelation from God to us about what He wants, it is just what we can think up out of our traditions that we think will please Him. Now the enemy knows how to entrap us in that form of behavior because he knows that everything we do, that does not come from the Spirit of God to our spirits, he knows that it has to come out of our souls. And Satan perfectly understands the workings of the soul, perfectly. He knows how to regulate and entrap and capture humans whenever they are operating in their soul.
Now what would you say was the strength of Paul's soul? Was Paul a pretty strong fellow in his soul? Listen, if you could sit there and hold the clothes of people who were murdering an innocent man, if you had that kind of focus to pull that off, then your soul was stronger than mustard gas; your soul was exceedingly strong. Paul was setup to do the things of God in the same way he advocated Judaism. How did he advocate Judaism, what did he do? I mean he sat there and presided over the murder of Stephen, he took letters to Damascus to arrest Christians and to imprison them. If he had not changed, if he had kept on going in the way that he had started out, the enemy would have defeated him routinely because Paul's soul was so strong, he was so addicted to what he could do, that it would have taken him years to be able to untangle himself from Satan's schemes. One of the greatest schemes of Satan is to convince you that you can do the will of God apart from the Spirit of God. When you have that idea, you will do anything and everything that you think will please God.
Now God had this plan which He hid in Himself for long ages past and He revealed that plan when Jesus came and died. And now the plan resulted in Satan's defeat on the cross, I haven't told you what the plan was but I'm simply saying that the plan resulted in the defeat of Satan on the cross. Because God defeated Satan on the cross of Jesus, the intent of Christ is now, through the body of Christ, to demonstrate to the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms, to demonstrate to them what God had accomplished in Christ, and He intended to demonstrate to them through the church what God had accomplished in Christ.
So the war is not about overcoming Satan, the war that we have with Satan is for us to demonstrate the triumph of Christ over Satan by being like Christ. It's when we're like Christ that we prove that Gods choice of His heirs was the right choice. I'm recognizing that I can't really get away from explaining the new commandment, because it's the heart and soul of this understanding. So let me explain it. And I'll pull it back together-you know sometimes when you walk into something you realize that God means to give you a whole lot more - believe me I actually try not to speak very long about subjects, I really do. Our problem is that the whole landscape has to be redefined. Otherwise if you add - the scriptures are plain, you can't put new wine in an old wineskin. We think that just means you can't sing new songs in the old Pentecostal church. No, it means you cannot put the revelation of God into the form in which previous revelations have been received. That's why you have to redefine everything for people, so that we know what to do with what we have.
So let's take a look at the new commandment. Jesus said, and you will find it in John 13:32 and its spoken again in John 15:12. He said, "A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another." So He's given a new commandment and the new commandment is 'love one another', the measure or standard of the new commandment is 'as I have loved you, so you must love one another'. And then in John 15:12 He says, "And by this shall all men know that you are My disciples, that you love one another," which means the command is 'love one another', the standard is 'as I have loved you', and the purpose is 'by this shall all men know you are My disciples'. This is what you do when you create a command: you say what the commandment is, you explain the standard, and then you explain the reason.
If this is the new commandment, what was the old? Because new is a comparative term. The old was, "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, mind, soul, and strength.