by Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin
In the face of the Corinthians’ critique of and open opposition to his authority, we might expect Paul to have marshaled a persuasive defense, silencing the Corinthians with an overwhelming display of his authority as an apostle of Christ. Or, at the very least, we might expect him to have hidden the weaknesses that were cause for criticism. He faced the potential of losing the Corinthian believers to a false gospel (2 Cor. 11:1–6), and the stability of the church at Corinth largely rested on how Paul would respond to the critiques of his apostolic authority. Rather than meeting the Corinthians’ expectations, however, Paul shone a light on the very weaknesses that caused him criticism, putting his weakness front and center (2 Cor. 1:3–7; 6:2–10; 11:16–12:10).
Radically, Paul embraced the very things that the Corinthians rejected, identifying these weaknesses as signs of his true apostleship. He argued that his weakness was actually verification of the power of God working through him, and he rejected the Corinthian view of power as worldly success, bravado, and status. For Paul, the power to dominate and win was antithetical to the nature of the gospel. This is not merely a question of what leadership “style” you like, but a question of whether you embrace the way of Jesus. The high point of Paul’s defiant response to the Corinthians’ lust for power is found in the passage we began with: “ ‘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, so that the power of Christ may rest upon. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
For a culture so fixated on power, it is hard to imagine how paradigm-shifting these words were, and how difficult they would have been to hear. But, of course, our own cultural context mirrors the Corinthian context in nearly every way. In a culture boasting of personal accomplishment and success, Paul’s response was to boast in his weakness. Why did he do so? So that the power of Christ may rest upon him. Paul viewed an embrace of weakness as an embrace of strength, because in weakness he could depend upon the might of God. His weakness was the source of his power.
Paul did not anchor his life as a follower of Jesus in his ability, talent, gifting, résumé, or strength, but in the grace of God alone. To marshal these skills or achievements in his flesh would have been to embrace power from below and thus reject the gospel. Paul wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17). Incredibly, Paul argued that to embrace the Corinthian way—to put ourselves forward, emphasizing our strengths and seeking our own power—was to empty the cross of its power.
The way of life to which followers of Jesus are called entails discovering that power is found in weakness. As an apostle, Paul modeled what the Christian life should look like. The proclamation of the gospel is not only heard in his teaching, but is observed in his manner of living. Following Paul’s example is not simply mimicking certain ethical behavior, but is embracing his way of life.