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 12:10 ESV)
As a minister, I have seen this passage embodied by so many faithful men and women over the years. Those who boldly face the end singing hymns, praying, and showing concern not for their own situation, but for the struggles and trials others are facing. There is something about weakness, about being confronted by our mortality, that in many instances provides great clarity. There is something about faith in Christ that causes us to be the most at peace, when the world thinks we should be the most disturbed. While I have seen this truth lived out several times in the lives of others, it was only recently that I realized that strength comes through weakness not only for individuals, but for churches as well.
As I spoke on the phone with a brother from another congregation, I could sense the uneasiness in his voice as he described the scene. Soaked hymnals discarded on a pile of trash and debris. Pews that had to be sawed in two so they could be dragged out of the sanctuary to join the hymnals on the trash heap. He told me how disturbing it was to throw out books of sacred songs, to destroy pews, and to rip out the walls of a church. It just wasn’t something he thought he would ever do, and yet it was necessary. Like much of south Louisiana, the church had taken in three feet of water during flash floods that devastated entire communities. When I arrived a few days later, the church’s three buildings were mere shells. Carpets, sheetrock, furniture—it had all been removed and unceremoniously piled by the street for the collection.
And yet, on the bare concrete floors tables had been set up. On the tables were various types of cleaning supplies—bleach, bleach wipes, mops, and rags. They were the instruments necessary for the task that everyone in Denham Springs and the surrounding area was facing, cleaning up the mess. In the back were stacks of boxes that had just arrived from Churches of Christ Disaster Relief that contained not only cleaning supplies, but food to feed a family for a week. I could not help but be impressed that, despite having a flooded church building, despite around 75% of their members’ homes being flooded, the church had become an epicenter of generosity, hospitality, and the kindness of Christ.
Watching a church serve its community during a time of weakness reminded me that as Christians, an awareness of our own weaknesses should inform our attitude and actions. For instance, when dealing with a fellow Christian caught in sin, Paul suggests that “you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal 6:1 ESV). Being mindful of our own sinfulness fosters the gentle spirit necessary when confronting the sin of another. Similarly, we serve one another with the knowledge that there are times when we ourselves are in need of being served. As he continues his message to the Galatians, Paul implies that it is the calling of Christians to serve one another with a mutuality that concerns itself with the burdens of others: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2 ESV). An awareness of our own sinfulness creates the proper mindset to confront a brother or sister consumed by sin. The struggle of bearing our own burdens, provides the compassion necessary to help someone else bear theirs. When viewed properly, our weaknesses can actually strengthen our ability to minister to others.
Normally, we want everything to be perfect before extending a special invitation to the community to join us for an event. Maybe that’s why the community doesn’t join us more often. Perhaps we should become more comfortable with our weakness, and understand that we will never bless our community because of our own perfect planning, but because there is one living within us who makes us strong, even when we are weak. As communities meant to embody Christ, it would be worth remembering that Christ did the most for humanity when he was at his weakest on the cross.