Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Blessing of Having Weaknesses

It is a wise brother who knows when to correct a sin and when to cover a weakness.

We are all sinners. That means that we are all losers. We are saved not by our fortitude, intrepidity, strength, honor, or cunning. As sinners, we have no strength. Since God is all-mighty, any strength we have was given by Him.

Moral instruction prior to salvation does nothing but let us know what failures we are. If we are led to believe that we can do good things without God, then the message of salvation is moot because the focus is on what we can do.

Moral instruction after salvation has as its purpose the joy of imitating the holiness of our Father through the sacrificial work of Christ. But until the resurrection, our works are still tainted. It is blessing to be corrected by one so humble as to recognize the difficulties in their own struggle with sin.

Too often Christians confuse correction with condemnation. Sometimes this plays out as someone who condemns a brother out of their own self-righteousness. Sometimes, a brother who sins misinterprets the loving correction of that sin as condemnation. Paul never advocates the condemnation of a brother. Even when church discipline is required for sin, the purpose for putting someone out of fellowship is eventual reconciliation – never outright condemnation.

But sometimes Christians confuse weakness as sin. Sin is no mere weakness, but death. But there is weakness without sin. This weakness is actually a blessing from God. But it takes wisdom to know this. First, let’s investigate strengths and weakness by dispelling some misconceptions foisted on us by our culture.

The common idea is to be strong in ourselves and discount the weaknesses of others. We need to be able to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” “make our own way in life,” “pull our own weight,” etc. We are told not to show any sign of weakness. Men certainly pay attention to this because we all know women are attracted to “strong men” who can “hold their own.” But women like to be strong too, especially to dispel the notion that women are the weaker sex.

“Show no fear.” Don’t be a Loser.” “Come out on top.” “Fight to win.”

Phrases like these sum up the sociological expectations of this world. Winning is everything. Being the one with power is always best. Everyone has an opinion, but whoever can get other people to buy into their opinion or manipulate people to act on their opinion is worthy of leadership. People who are confident in themselves can cause others to have confidence in them as well. These people are the winners in this world.

Parenthetically, there is a trend to water down success by rewarding losers for simply participating. This may be an effort to stifle the greedy complaints of losers for not having anything for themselves since the winners took everything for themselves. It’s true that we need to be responsible and contribute where we can. Hard work is good. Appropriate rest is also good. But we know that our individual gifts are given by God, and He does not give gifts equally. There’s a reason for this.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV)
Every brick in a wall has at least one weakness: no brick is large enough to be the whole wall. Bricks in a wall are not separated by their strength because determining the strength of a brick requires breaking the brick, which takes its strength from it. So, all bricks are capable of bearing the weight of the wall in the lower courses, not alone but as a team. The bricks in the upper courses are capable of bearing the same weight at the lower courses, but they are not used as such.

Some bricks must indeed be broken in order to be used. They have only half the strength they were created with, but their special purpose is to complete the wall at the edges with a finished line so the house can be properly sealed against the elements.

Bricks are stacked so that they interlock. Interlocking helps to hold the wall up by tying one stack of bricks into adjoining bricks. If the bricks are not interlocked, the mortar will split between columns of bricks and the columns fall independently. Why would one column fall and another one not, or one fall one way and another fall another way? Because bricks are not perfect. A single column of bricks may have a tendency to buckle in the middle or fall from some point at the bottom. The taller the stack, the more evident the imperfections of the bottom-most bricks. Interlocking bricks allow neighboring bricks to cover each other’s weaknesses.

But bricks are not the only things that go into the construction of a wall. There is mortar that joins the bricks together. There is rebar that can be used to strengthen the wall. There are metal plates or wooden frames that can be used to include openings for windows and doors. For large buildings, there is a special sealing substance that is used between wall sections to compensate for expansion and contraction.

And so the brick wall is not called a wall of one brick, but that the brick is Christ. He is the cornerstone on which the construction of the whole building is determined. But we are individual bricks. Alone, we are utterly weak. Together, as Christians, we are strong. We are strong, not because we condemn each other’s weaknesses; not because we stand around and complain about each other’s weaknesses and wait on each other to fix our own weaknesses so that we can get on with the business of being the Body of Christ. We are strong when we first recognize our strengths and weaknesses and as a result use our strengths to cover each other’s weaknesses.

That is the blessing of God in the weaknesses He gives us. Where the world suggests that we be individually strong and take advantage of other people’s weaknesses for self gain, God builds his people up by nominal strengths and weaknesses so that He is glorified in His strength. He rewards us for participating, not for being individually successful. For we participate in the victory that He has already won.

But the message for us is not that we seek to reward each other, but that we seek to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses so that we can use our strengths to cover the strengths of others. It requires that we are not too proud to accept the help of another to cover the weaknesses we each have with the strengths of others. Likewise, we must recognize the unreasonable expectations we place on others and deal with each other in love and patience rather than anger and frustration – for that is sin.

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