We talk often of “heroes of the faith,” and indeed, there is a great “cloud of witnesses” that spurs us on and encourages us to a higher reality of communion and discipleship. But in truth, there are no “great” men or heroes, only fragmented vessels who have learned to glory in weakness, so that the strength of a great God might be manifested.
Hear Ben Witherington III on this text:
Paradoxically enough, Christ’s power is completed or comes to fullness in the midst of human weakness. When it is evident that Paul is weak, it will be equally evident that the power and miracles and conversions could not be coming from a human source but from Christ working in and through Paul. Thus weakness makes Paul most translucent so that one can see the source of the real power and light.
An interesting verb is used in v. 9. Paul says the power “made its home” in him, or “came to rest” on him. He is probably drawing on the image of the Shekinah coming down, the divine presence that conveys power. Because it has come on him, he is content with whatever weaknesses or verbal or physical abuse he has to undergo, because Christ is better revealed when it is apparent that the power and help are not coming from a human source. When he is weak, it is then that he is strong, because then he must rely totally on the Lord.
(BW3, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians; Eerdmans, 1995; pp. 463-464)
Paul knew the secret of true faith; namely, that the strength and will of men must necessarily fail. He knew that a moral life cannot be carried out in the flesh, much less a ministry that would demonstrate the reality of God. So he gloried in his weaknesses, and when he did, the very nature and power of Jesus Himself shone through.
When you glory in your weakness, the power of God will rest upon you, and you will find the grace to overcome sin, walk in truth and love, and follow the Lamb wheresoever He goes. It’s the self-sufficient believer, who relies on his knowledge, his history, or his reputation, who will fall flat in the hour of trial. The weak ones, who are continually casting their souls upon the Lord, are the ones who will see the Day of His power, and volunteer freely therein.