Strength in Weakness

Reading: Psalm 41
A few years ago I saw a video series by Focus on the Family. Among the many helpful pointers James Dobson gave on child-raising, he noted that our world values strength, beauty and intelligence. Very few people have them all, but it is a sad situation for the person - young or old - who lacks all three.

When we read Jesusí Beatitudes (Mt. 5.3-10), we see that the Kingdom values - Godís values - are very different from those prized by society. The poor in spirit, those who mourn... hardly seem candidates for blessedness - ultimate happiness. The meek, the merciful... suggest a weakness which we despise.

Someone has suggested that the Beatitudes could be rendered, "To be congratulated..." or "To be envied" To be pitied, surely! Yet the theme is repeated again and again throughout Scripture.

Paul wrote that "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him" (1 Cor. 1.27-29).

He had been drawing attention to the biggest example of this, "Christ crucified" (v. 23). Modern crosses - smooth, symmetrical, polished - mask the stark ugliness of Roman crucifixion. Yet the ugliest human act has become a thing of beauty. The vilest human hatred has come to express the pinnacle of divine love. In the ultimate human rejection, we see the open arms of Godís invitation to welcome us into his family.

The opening verses of Psalm 41 illustrate the principle that the merciful obtain mercy. "Blessed is the one who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble" (v. 1). Such a person will know protection and security, and will be sustained and restored in illness (vv. 2-3).

David goes on to express the other side of this principle. Those who take advantage of the afflicted will rightly experience the judgment of God. David is able to illustrate this from his own experience.

He had been been sick and was praying, "O Lord, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you" (v. 4). His enemies took advantage of the situation, spreading malicious, slanderous lies about him, suggesting he would never get better - he would die and everyone would forget about him (vv. 5-8).

"Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" (v. 9). These words were quoted by Jesus in the upper room as be began to talk to the disciples about his betrayal (Jn 13.18). The words then were about Judas who would betray him and then in remorse would go out and hang himself. But here in Psalm 41, David had in mind the treachery of his friend Ahithophel who had betrayed him and then went out and hanged himself (2 Sam. 16.20-17.3, 23).

"I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever" (vv. 11-12). He had experienced in practice the principle set out in v. 1. Living in integrity before God, he had known the Lordís deliverance.

The Psalm ends with the words, "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen" (v. 13). This is the end of Book 1 in the Psalms. Each of the books ends with a special expression of praise to the Lord (as also in 72.19; 89.52; 106.48; 150).

A society may well be judged on how we treat the weak. Major issues like abortion and euthanasia are often viewed in terms of convenience and preference. Stem-cell research and proposed "therapeutic" cloning are justified on the basis of medical research to find cures for human ills. Sounds good, but underneath there is a despising of the weakest and most vulnerable of all and a manipulation of the precious gift of life.

Paul had a "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12.7) - the Good News Bible calls it "a painful physical ailment." Three times he "pleaded with the Lord" for healing. But the Lord said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (v. 9). He concludes that "when I am weak, then I am strong" (v. 10c).

God calls us to trust him - to know our own weakness and fallibility and to depend on his strength. He also calls us to active and positive care for the weak - supporting them in many practical ways and helping them to know Godís strength in their weakness.

Prayer: Eternal Father, you hold us in your love. You never give up on us. There are times when our sense of weakness and failure overwhelms us. Sometimes others take advantage of our weakness - even suggest you do not care! Grant us to know and depend on your sufficient grace and the strength that comes from you alone. Enable us to serve others in their weakness with true compassion and encouragement. In Jesusí name, Amen.


Too often
we face
a battery
from lifeís
and rat race,
the opinions
of the opinionated,
the criticisms
of the critical,
the pounding
of the power-brokers,
the constant
into our lounge
from the television -
until we cry,
Leave me alone!
Turn it off!
I canít stand it
any more!"

But through
the jangling noise
and conflict
that buffets us
a quiet
insistent voice
that says,
"My grace
is enough for you,
my strength
is made perfect
in your weakness!"
Yes, Lord -
it is enough!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin BlueCare Devotions, 18 February 2003.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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