2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “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.” This verse comes in the context of Paul discussing a “thorn in the flesh” that was given to him to keep him humble. God told Paul that His grace was enough to help Paul through this trial. Paul responded that he would boast in his weaknesses so that people would see God’s power at work through him, rather than attributing anything good to Paul himself.
So what does it mean for Paul to “boast” in weaknesses? Boasting typically has a negative connotation – it means to speak with excessive pride about one’s accomplishments or abilities. But that is not the kind of boasting Paul is talking about here. To understand this verse, we have to redefine “boasting” in the way Paul means it. For Paul, boasting in weaknesses means:
- Acknowledging openly the areas where we are limited, flawed, and dependent on God.
- Proclaiming God’s grace and power which operate through our limitations.
- Glorying not in our own abilities but in Christ working through our frailties.
Paul is saying that when he is weak, he can most clearly demonstrate the power and sufficiency of Christ operating in him. His weaknesses showcase God’s strength. This upside-down boasting is counterintuitive – our natural inclination is to hide our flaws and pretend to be strong and self-sufficient. But Paul says that it is precisely when we are weak that God can display His strength through us to others.
1. Weakness Highlights Our Dependence on God’s Grace
Boasting in weakness begins by openly acknowledging our limitations. True humility isn’t denying that we have weaknesses, but rather admitting them. Paul had some sort of unspecified “thorn in the flesh” which he asked God to take away three times (2 Corinthians 12:8). Paul was open about this thorn and the fact that it demonstrated his weaknesses and made him suffer.
Paul’s thorn kept him dependent on divine grace. God told Paul that His grace was sufficient and that His power operated best in Paul’s weakness. When we are strong in ourselves, we may be tempted to rely on our own power and sufficiency. But when we are conscious of our flaws and vulnerabilities, we turn to God’s empowering grace.
Our weakness highlights for us how much we need the unmerited favor and enabling strength of Christ. Where we lack, His grace abounds all the more. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “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.” Because God’s grace is enough for us, we can be content even in the midst of great weakness.
2. Weakness Shows That God’s Power is Made Perfect in Us
The second aspect of boasting in weakness is that it displays God’s power working through us. God told Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). His strength reaches its fullness and highest purpose when it operates through our human frailty. Our weakness provides an opportunity for the magnitude of divine strength to be more clearly seen.
Imagine a powerful beam of light shining through stained glass. The light is most brilliant and beautiful when its radiance shines through something imperfect. In the same way, the power of Christ emanates most brilliantly through our flaws. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” The glorious gospel treasure shines more clearly through weak, earthy vessels.
Our humanity provides a backdrop that can better display the divine. God’s Word through stammering Moses, courage through fearful Gideon, healing through blinded Paul – His power made perfect through human weakness. When we boast of our weakness, we point people toward this perfect power.
3. Weakness Calls Attention to Christ’s Strength in Us
The ultimate purpose of boasting in weakness is to call attention to the sufficiency of Christ at work through our limitations. Paul says he will boast in his weaknesses “so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). His flawed vessel makes it clear that anything good being accomplished is Christ’s doing, not his own.
Paul wants people to see Jesus when they look at him, not to be impressed with Paul. He says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul’s old sinful identity has been crucified and he now lives a new life empowered by Christ.
When we boast in our weakness, deflecting any praise toward Christ, people around us are able to more clearly see and appreciate Christ’s empowering presence in our lives. Rather than hiding our flaws, we point to the sufficiency of His grace. Our humble dependence gives opportunity for His strength to shine.
Weakness in Paul’s Life and Ministry
Paul frequently boasted in his weaknesses so that people would see the power of Christ working through him. What were some of the specific weaknesses Paul faced? Looking at Paul’s life, we see:
- Persecution – Paul was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked for the sake of the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Yet God’s power sustained and protected him through it all.
- Physical affliction – Paul mentions his “thorn in the flesh,” along with an illness in Galatians 4:13-14. His body suffered yet he persevered by God’s grace.
- Inadequate speaking skills – Paul acknowledges he lacked eloquence and skillful speaking (2 Corinthians 11:6). But the Spirit empowered his preaching.
Paul also faced opposition from “super-apostles” who dismissed him as unimpressive and weak (2 Corinthians 10:10). But Paul embraced his weaknesses so that the impressive nature of the gospel would be recognized, not the eloquence of the preacher. The treasure of the gospel was shared through weak, earthy vessels so God would get the glory.
How to Apply Boasting in Weakness to Our Lives
How should we live out the biblical principle of boasting in weakness in our own lives? Here are some key applications:
- Admit our flaws honestly. Like Paul, humbly acknowledge areas we are weak, limited or need growth rather than covering up our flaws.
- Pray for empowering grace. Ask God for grace and strength to persevere and thrive in areas of weakness.
- Lean on divine strength. Rely on the Spirit’s empowerment to accomplish good things beyond our natural abilities.
- Give God the glory. Deflect praise toward God’s empowering grace. “Not I, but Christ in me.”
- Share vulnerably. Openly share our story of weakness and God’s empowerment so others are encouraged.
- Develop deeper trust. As we experience God’s help in weakness, our faith and intimacy with Him grows.
While living with flaws can be discouraging, Paul says we can actually boast in weaknesses because of Christ’s proven power and sufficiency. Our limitations can serve a good purpose when they cast us more fully on divine strength.
Examples of Boasting in Weakness
What does boasting in weakness look like in everyday life? Consider these examples:
- A man struggling with alcoholism admitting his powerlessness over addiction and testifying how through his recovery program he is experiencing freedom, strength and progress he never thought possible.
- A woman who stuttered as a child and was bullied finding her voice as an advocate for special education students, emphasizing that though she lacks eloquence, God can still powerfully use a “voice like mine.”
- An artist with limited mobility utilizing simple resources to create magnificent paintings, glorifying God’s ability to convey beauty through modest means.
- A teacher who is visually impaired demonstrating passion and skill in the classroom, focusing students on what can be done rather than what a blind person cannot do.
- A pastor who recently lost his mother witnessing to God’s comfort and hope in the midst of his profound grief and sense of weakness.
In each case, the person’s weakness provides an opportunity to more vividly display God’s gracious power at work in their limitation. They call attention not to their own strength, but to Christ’s.
Biblical Examples of Boasting in Weakness
In addition to Paul’s example, we find other biblical characters openly acknowledging their weaknesses and glorifying God’s power:
- David – Though anointed as future king of Israel as a boy, David first served in obscurity and endured scorn and persecution from King Saul. Yet he boasted in how God was preparing him through these weaknesses (Psalm 18).
- Jeremiah – This Old Testament prophet felt unqualified to speak God’s word due to his youth, but God touched his mouth and empowered him (Jeremiah 1:6-9).
- Gideon – Called to lead Israel against the powerful Midianites, cowardly Gideon could only do so once God whittled his army down to just 300 men (Judges 6-7). His weakness highlighted God’s power.
- Esther – A Jewish peasant girl in exile, Esther courageously risked her life approaching the king to save her people. Her weakness gave occasion for divine courage.
The biblical hall of fame recognizes that human weakness provides opportunity for God’s strength and sufficiency to shine most brilliantly. When we embrace this biblical model of boasting in weakness, we become living testimonies to His grace.
Boasting in Weakness in Church History
Throughout church history we find inspiring examples of Christians who embraced weakness to showcase Christ’s power:
- Augustine – This influential 4th century theologian highlighted his youthful sin and lust in Confessions, boasting in Christ’s forgiveness and transformation.
- Francis of Assisi – This 12th century monk championed simplicity, poverty and reliance on God to perform miracles of ministry the institutional church couldn’t.
- John Wycliffe – This 14th century reformer, though persecuted as a heretic, boasted that God needed no earthly power to spread His Word through common people.
- Joni Eareckson Tada – After becoming quadriplegic as a teenager, Joni has spent 50 years broadcasting Christ’s grace that “shines brightest in our weaknesses.”
- Nick Vujicic – Born with no arms or legs, Nick points to how God uses his inabilities to display divine sufficiency and empower him.
These courageous figures refused to hide their flaws, but allowed their weakness to spotlight God’s provisions of grace and strength. They are inspirational models of this biblical view of boasting.
Responding to Possible Objections
Some may raise objections to the notion of boasting in weakness. Here are some potential concerns and thoughtful responses:
Objection: Isn’t boasting wrong and prideful?
When we boast in ourselves, yes that is sinful pride. But boasting in weakness is actually expressing humility, self-awareness and dependence on God. It gives credit to Christ, not self.
Objection: I don’t want to just excuse or enable my weaknesses.
Agreed, we should work to grow and overcome flaws over time through God’s power. But boasting in weakness means maximizing them for God’s glory in the meantime while we work to improve.
Objection: Nobody wants to hear people talk about their weaknesses all the time.
It’s true we don’t want to be complainers obsessed with our flaws. But appropriate vulnerability that points to God’s redemption can encourage others in their struggles.
Objection: Isn’t God more glorified through our strengths, not weaknesses?
Our strengths can certainly glorify God too when used rightly. But Scripture says God intentionally chooses the weak to reveal the true source of power is from Him.
Conclusion: Embracing the Biblical View
Boasting in weakness runs counter to the way the world thinks about power, image and success. But it aligns with the upside-down wisdom of the Bible. When we embrace this biblical mindset, we can experience:
- Greater intimacy with Christ as we lean wholly on Him.
- Growth in humility and self-awareness as we admit our limitations.
- A compassionate solidarity with others who struggle.
- Opportunities to see His power working through us.
Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 remind us that boasting in weakness leads to a life overflowing with grace, closer to the heart of Jesus. We can live as broken vessels through which God’s redeeming power flows most brilliantly.