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Various authors share about experiencing God's wonderful presence by knowing Jesus Christ personally through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Power Through Weakness

by Brian E. Trenhaile, MTh
October 12, 2009

Table of Contents


I.       Paul’s Motives

II.      Realizing Weakness

         Cultural Weakness

         Environmental Weakness 

         God’s Prescription for Weakness

III.    Realizing God’s Power

         Unlocking God’s Power in Our Personal Lives

         Releasing God’s Power in the Church

         Unleashing God’s Power on the World



Power through Weakness


Strength coming through weakness is a theme that permeates both I and II Corinthians.  These letters establish that true strength comes through a linked process.  The first link is we must be aware of our own inherent weaknesses and the weaknesses of the world’s system.  The second link of this process involves putting our reliance totally upon God and His power.  The Corinthians are inexperienced Christians, so Paul advises them in depth on this fundamental process.  Other Biblical authors have conveyed these principles, but Paul is the one who expounds on this matter.

I. Paul’s Motives

Paul feels like a father who is giving away a bride.[1]  In this case the church is his daughter and the bridegroom is Jesus.  He wants the bride to be perfect and pure for the honored bridegroom.  But Paul is alarmed because he sees that sin is ensnaring her.  Paul is deeply hurt by the church’s accusations against him, but never the less he gives her wise and loving instructions on how to break away from defiling influences.

The Corinthians, as well as many in the church today, are not aware of the dangers that stem from wrong attitudes.[2]  With great love and concern, the apostle Paul makes a very curious statement near the end of II Corinthians:

Perhaps you think we’re saying these things just to defend ourselves. No, we tell you this as Christ’s servants, and with God as our witness. Everything we do, dear friends, is to strengthen you. For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. Yes, I am afraid that when I come again, God will humble me in your presence. And I will be grieved because many of you have not given up your old sins. You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure (II Cor. 12:19-21, NLT).

Paul said he is actually writing for their benefit; his purpose is not to defend himself.  What is he trying to get them to understand?  Obviously he wants them to stop sinning.  So this is “what” that he wants them to do.  But did he tell them ‘how?’   He did indeed tell them ‘how’ implicitly through his defense and in his asking them to follow his example.[3]  In his defense he repeatedly chains together the concepts of weakness and strength.  Understanding these linked concepts are keys to the ‘how’ for walking away from sin.

II. Realizing Weakness

As is today, many hurdles stood in front the Corinthians.  Many misconceptions came as a result of their cultural upbringing and other difficulties that arose out of their environment.

Cultural Weakness

Greek culture in Paul’s day reflects our modern culture which places high emphasis on appearance and entertaining speech.  The following quote shows how intensely the Greek culture was enamored by the flesh and its abilities.

The Greek world admired physical beauty and leisure, while despising imperfection and manual labor.  In terms of Greek values, Paul the tentmaker, of amateurish speech and doubtful appearance, had little to commend him.  Before becoming a noted orator, the young Demosthenes was subject to ridicule in Athens on account of his poor physique and weak voice.  This had to be rectified by a long and rigorous program of physical and vocal exercises.  He corrected his lisp and indistinct articulation by holding pebbles in his mouth while reciting long speeches … and he strengthened his voice by running or walking uphill … reciting speeches … in a single breadth.  This indicates the seriousness with which physical bearing and public speaking was viewed in the Greek world.  To Greek eyes Paul was very inferior (Barnett, 161).[4]  

Corinth was an infamous center of intellectual pride and moral laxity (cf. Prior, back cover) Christians quite naturally fell into some dangerous traps.  Paul wrote his letters to help them break free from these deceptive traps.  They did not realize that very things that they accused Paul of were the very things that they needed to be in order to grow spiritually.  Desired things of the spiritual world are often opposite in the carnal world.  Paul brings this out as follows:

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (I Cor. 1:27-28)

Environmental Weakness

Corinth was a prosperous bustling seaport filled with all the temptations that large cities normally have to offer.  This city was infamous for prostitution and homosexuality (cf. Prior, 11-13).  In fact it was one of the most despicable cities in Greece.   If one Greek wanted to insult another Greek, he would simply call him a Corinthian.  Corinth also hosted the Isthmian Games, second in importance only to the Olympic Games (cf. Prior, 11).  It was similar to today’s society in its worship of sex, wealth, entertainment and sports. 

Corinth was not an easy place to be a Christian.  The temptations there motivated Paul to state the following encouragement: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).

God’s Prescription for Weakness

God’s prescription for our weaknesses is His Son Jesus.  Matthew wrote: “And thus He fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, He Himself took [in order to carry away] our weaknesses and infirmities and bore away our diseases (Mat. 8:17, AMP).”  Matthew is quoting the Old Testament scripture: “Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down.  And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! (Isaiah 53:4, NLT).”  Both testaments have exactly the same remedy for our weaknesses.

The Greek word for “weakness” in Matthew 8:17 is “asquineia” (or transliterated as astheneia)[5].  It means lack of strength, weakness, infirmity.  It can be a weakness of the body like frailty or sickness.  But it can also apply to a weakness of the “soul” which comprises our intellect, will and emotions.  It can be applied to an inability to understand.  It could be applied to inability to do great and glorious things or to restrain oneself from corrupt desires.  It could mean weakness to bear trials and troubles.  These verses say Jesus carried away our weaknesses.  In the following quotation Andrew Murray gives some practical advice on applying this concept.

In Him we have everything … I must begin every new day with the thought, I have Jesus to do all for me (John 15:5; Rom. 8:37; I Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:3; 2:10; Phil. 4:13; 2 Tim. 1:12).  In all weakness or darkness or danger, in the case of every desire or need, let your first thought always be, I have Jesus to make everything right for me, for God has given Him to me” (Sumner, 138).

III. Realizing God’s Power

Once weakness is properly understood, a platform is provided for God’s power to be unleashed.   This section describes how weakness can be used as a platform for power to be released in the personal, church and secular spheres of a believer’s life.

Unlocking God’s Power in Our Personal Lives

Welcoming weakness is totally illogical to the carnal man.  But mature spiritual men welcome weakness.  This welcoming by Paul, is demonstrated in the following iconic verses:

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (II Cor. 12:8-10, NKJV).

Barnett describes why Paul rejoiced.  He says “The ‘thorn’ from God kept Paul from imagining himself as a spiritual superman and revealed to him the reality of his human mortality and weakness despite his extraordinary revelations.  The ‘thorn’ also kept Paul pinned close to the Lord in trust and confidence” (Barnett, 178). 

Paul also said “We don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them (II Cor. 13:9, MSG).  Another author states, “We have the opportunity to experience God to the fullest.  Obstacles become challenges.  Threats become adventures.  With God as our source we can meet life on different terms” (Richards, 179).  The apostle James said, “Count it all joy when you experience various trials” (James 1:2, NASB).  The apostle Peter stated “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you … keep on rejoicing” (I Peter 4:12-13, NASB). 

Understand that Jesus – Jesus Himself – is the Savoir from sin.  It is not you who must overcome sin with the help of Jesus, but Jesus Himself, Jesus in you (Deut. 8:17-18; Ps. 44:4, 8; John 16:33; I John 5:4-5).  If you want to become free from sin, if you want to enjoy full salvation, let your life’s one endeavor be to stand always in full fellowship with Jesus.  Don’t wait till you enter into temptation before you turn to Jesus.  Let His nearness be your one desire … Yes sin is driven out and kept out only through the presence of Jesus.  It is Jesus, Jesus Himself, who, through His giving himself to me and through His living in me, is salvation from sin (Sumner, 149).

Like Andrew Murray states above, relationship with Christ is exactly where Paul was directing them.  We need to go to Christ with our weaknesses.

Releasing God’s Power in the Church

Weakness in the flesh does not necessarily mean weakness in the Spirit when dealing with church issues.  Paul said the following to the Corinthians:

I have already warned those who had been sinning when I was there on my second visit. Now I again warn them and all others, just as I did before, that next time I will not spare them. I will give you all the proof you want that Christ speaks through me. Christ is not weak when he deals with you; he is powerful among you.  Although he was crucified in weakness, he now lives by the power of God. We, too, are weak, just as Christ was, but when we deal with you we will be alive with him and will have God’s power (II Cor. 13:2-4, NLT).

Paul was not the only one through whom these principles were given.  The apostle John relays that the risen Lord proclaimed something similar to the lukewarm church at Laodicea.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.  `Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.  `He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne (Rev. 3:19-21, NASB).

So we are not to trust in our possessions or accomplishments as the Laodiceans and the Corinthians did.  John’s message also points to the same solution – a closer walk with Jesus.

Unleashing God’s Power on the World

The lack of reliance on self and reliance upon the Holy Sprit are crucial for effective evangelism.  Paul illustrates this principle beautifully with the following classic statement:

 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan.  For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.  I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.  I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God (I Cor. 2:1-5, NLT).

Peter had similar sentiments regarding the crippled man’s healing at the Temple.  In Acts 3:12 and Acts 4:10 Peter said “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? … let it be known to all of you … that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by this name this man stands before you in good health.” Basically both Paul and Peter are saying the same thing: Please don’t focus on our meager abilities.  Be like us and become reliant upon God, the only true source of power.  They repeatedly employed this effective technique when sharing the gospel.[6]


Many of our corporate and individual problems occur because of the environment in which we live, and because we have improper attitudes in which we are depending on people or things rather than God.  Many of these problems will disappear once we start walking in close relationship with God and start depending on Him alone.  Then based on our own experience we will really have Good News to share, and we can effectively move out and help others to overcome similar problems.

Death to self reliance and total reliance upon God are the keys to transforming one’s self from striving in weakness to walking in the wonderful power of God.  God’s solution to our weakness is Himself.  When we walk in close relationship with Him we experience His power flowing through and in our lives.  Paul put it best when he said “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (II Cor. 3:7).


Barnett, Paul.  The Message of 2 Corinthians – Power in Weakness.  Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Prior, David.  The Message of 1 Corinthians – Life in the Local Church.  Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985.

Mays, Gerald G., M. D.  Addiction and Grace –Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions.  New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

Richards, Dr. James. Escape from Codependent Christianity.  Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: Destiny Image Publishers, 2003.

Sumner, Tracy M., ed.  The Essential Works of Andrew Murray.  Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publications, 2008.

“Matthew 8:17 – The NAS Strong’s Version.”  NSN Study Bible Online.  Salem Web Network,  2 pg. 9 October 2009. <>.

“Asthenia – NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon.”  Salem Web Network,  2 pg. 9 October 2009. <>.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.

Scripture references marked NKJV are taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION, Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, by The Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Scripture references marked NASB are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.” (

Scripture references marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. NIV ®.  Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society.  Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.  All rights reserved.

Scripture references marked NLT are taken from the NEW LIVING TRANSLATION ®. NLT ®.  Copyright © 1996, 2004 by the Tyndale Charitable Trust.  Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.  All rights reserved.

Scripture references marked MSG are taken from the THE MESSAGE ®. MSG ®.  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.  Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.  All rights reserved.

[1] In Paul’s own words: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ (II Cor. 11:2-3, NIV).

[2] In fact Paul stresses that every thought needs to be brought captive to the obedience of Christ (cf. II Cor. 10:5).

[3] He says “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ (I Cor. 11:1).

[4] You can see this in their constant criticisms of Paul, they said “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible (II Cor. 10:10, NASB).  

[5] See “Matthew 8:17 – The NAS Strong’s Version.” and “Asthenia – NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon” in Bibliography.

[6] In Galatians 4:13-15 Paul says he shared the gospel in weakness to the Galatians and that they received it with joy.