SERMONS, OUTLINES, ILLUSTRATIONS, AND PREACHING IDEAS

The Truth about Weakness

by Dave Furman

We value human strength and earthly perfection. We admire people for “being strong” when they’re mourning a loss. We are proud of friends for “standing tall” in the face of adversity. We put images of our most talented athletes on the covers of magazines. Weakness is looked down upon as unnatural and subpar. It’s not something to be exalted, but to be rejected. Only the strong survive.

However, in God’s way of doing things this couldn’t be further from the truth. This is why I love the ancient Japanese form of art called Kintsugi. It involves joining together broken pottery pieces with gold or another precious metal. Kintsugi literally means “golden patchwork,” which is what this art is all about. The artist takes the broken pieces of pottery—such as cups, bowls, or plates— and puts them together again to form the original items. Rather than hiding the flaws of the pottery, the artist highlights the cracks by sealing them with gold. Brokenness is not hidden but showcased for all to see. The reason why Kintsugi is found in museums throughout Japan is because the “broken” art is given more value and revered as more beautiful than a cup or bowl that is unbroken.[1]

God’s ways are not our ways. His ways are more like the art of Kintsugi than how we normally think about strength and weakness. In his perfect plan, God has chosen to use broken people to do extraordinary things. He has planned to use pain and suffering for our good and his glory in ways beyond our wildest imaginations. In God’s plan, weakness is the way.[2]

Jars of Clay

Kintsugi reminds me of 2 Corinthians 4, where Paul writes:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Cor. 4:7–10)

What an astounding truth! Paul had just spent the previous verses talking about the glorious good news of the gospel. He tells us this is our greatest treasure—“the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Christ died to save sinners. Yes, we have this amazing treasure, but we carry it in jars of clay—our frail and broken bodies. Paul contrasts this gospel treasure with the weakness of those who carry it. The two are very different. The gospel is beautiful, unbreakable, of infinite worth, and powerful. Jars of clay are easily breakable and inexpensive. Our bodies are the same way—easily hurt and subject to disease and decay. Powerless.

One interesting thing about these jars of clay—our bodies— is that they are no accident. Our frail bodies are not a mistake. Our frailty is not a surprise to God nor are we weak as a result of him being powerless to give us stronger bodies. The fall brought disease and death, but through our weakness, God shows off his all-surpassing power—to us and to the world. No one can mistake the jar of clay for producing or having anything to do with the treasure being exalted inside it. It is the pleasure of the jar to hold within it the great treasure, but the glory is not the jar. God wants to make it abundantly clear that the power is not from inside us but from outside of us. If we were steel vessels without blemish or weakness, we might be tempted to think we have no need for God. However, God uses weakness to show our need for dependence upon him.

The Glory of Jesus’s Broken Body

God’s power being made perfect in weakness is most perfectly displayed in the cross. In Revelation, when John catches a glimpse of heavenly glory and sees Jesus risen from the dead, the marks on his hands and feet are magnificently visible: “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain . . . and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” (Rev. 5:6–7). Jesus was and is the sacrificial Lamb slain for our sins. These marks are not a deformity, they are not a result of an accident or a defeat. They are the most beautiful scars in all of history. Jesus’s broken body is our only hope and salvation. Now it is our privilege to point to Jesus through our scars. Our broken bodies can be a beautiful picture of God’s glorious redemption.

Similar to the Japanese art of Kintsugi, our rough edges and cracks are filled in with gold to point to the greatness of God. The philosophy behind the art is not to build a new piece but instead to understand its history and repair the old piece. It looks similar to the old form but is now more glorious. This is what God does in our trials. We can embrace God in our trials with faith that God is doing a work in us beyond our comprehension. Our scars are not things to run from or to hide from others. Through them we exalt the one who is conforming us more and more into the image of Christ. Paul points us to this reality as he closes his second letter to the Corinthians:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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. 12:7–10)

The apostle Paul, the greatest church planter of his time, constantly struggled with brokenness and trials of many kinds. It was his everyday life. He had some kind of “thorn” in the flesh that he often asked God to spare him from. We might wonder what Paul could have accomplished if he didn’t have that thorn. But the reality is, everything Paul accomplished was done by God—not in spite of the thorn but through the thorn. The gospel was preached and churches planted not in spite of Paul’s weakness but through his weakness.

Hurting friend, hope in the God who uses the weak. This doesn’t make our suffering trite or easy. It is difficult. There is nothing good about pain itself. But I know God will use my adversity in ways I cannot see right now. If only we could jump ahead ten or fifty years or into eternity and see all that God will do.

Friend, trust God—he will do more than you can envision in the dark moments. When we are frail and faint, let’s boast more gladly in our weaknesses so that God’s power may be made manifest in us. Let us be content in our circumstances, knowing that when we are weak, then we are strong.

Content taken from Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials by David Furman, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

[1] I first read about Kintsugi from a newsletter sent out by Community Arts Tokyo, which pointed out this very truth about weakness (January 2016).

[2] For an extraordinary treatment of this concept please see J. I. Packer’s book by the same title: Weakness Is the Way (Wheaton, IL: Crossway,  2013).

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