In Kelly Clarkson’s hit song, “Stronger,” she uses a famous phrase from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The song promotes overcoming life’s obstacles and adversity. Many people find this phrase inspirational and have used the quote as their personal motto.
However, Nietzsche, the man who coined the phrase, viewed Christianity as a weakness and an obstacle to people being stronger. The question then arises as to what strength is and if it can be found in weakness. For life does hit hard at times, and people are left feeling broken and wounded.
Based on the Bible, the paradoxical truth is that weakness is where strength is found (2 Corinthians 12:10). Like God so often does, He flips ideas and perceptions on their head. In the weakness of humans, God’s power and strength are exalted, because the focus is on Him, not human ability.
Worldly philosophers may assert that Christians are weak for trusting in God, but only when a person depends on Jesus are they strong. The Savior of the world, Jesus Christ exemplified this truth in His death and resurrection.
Similarly, the Apostle Paul followed Christ’s example and boasted in his weaknesses. Today, Christians can continue to find power from God despite their brokenness and hardships.
Jesus’ Example and Teachings
Jesus perfectly exemplified the truth that strength is found in weakness. He did not assert Himself and strive to overcome the suffering of the cross. Instead, Jesus willingly gave His life to bring salvation to all who place faith in Him (1 Corinthians 15:2-4).
Christ is God, but He became a servant and died for the sins of humankind (Philippians 2:6-8). As Scripture says, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
While Friedrich Nietzsche would probably label Jesus as weak because He died, Christ is forever exalted and has the Name that is above every other name (Philippians 2:9-10). Every person including the unbelieving Nietzsche, will one day acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:11).
In the weakness of human death, Jesus brought the greatest gift to the world: the offer of salvation (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). He was resurrected and overcame the power of sin and death (2 Timothy 1:10). Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior and King, sets the standard for weakness being strength. The “weakness” of the cross is the strength for all believers.
Just as Christ gave His life, He calls His followers to lay down their lives (Matthew 10:39). Believers are called to die to themselves so that they can live the way Jesus wants (Matthew 16:24; Luke 14:27).
Like their Savior, Christians are not to pridefully promote themselves, but take the attitude of a humble servant (Matthew 23:11; Mark 10:44-45). Strength is found when followers of Christ find power in Him instead of within themselves.
The Lord uses the weak things of the world to shame the wise because He receives the glory (1 Corinthians 1:26-28). People of the world see such strength in weakness as foolishness, but the “weakness” of God is greater than man’s strength (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Boasting in Weakness
In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul describes a “thorn in the flesh” that he received from God (2 Corinthians 12:7). Theologians have offered many different theories as to what this “thorn” is, but Scripture indicates that the apostle suffered under some sort of physical affliction. The Lord provided this “thorn” to keep Paul humble and to remind him to rely on divine strength instead of human ability.
As Paul states in his letter, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Well-acquainted with hardships, the Apostle Paul had his share of sufferings during his ministry. Earlier in this epistle to the Corinthians, he boasts of his weaknesses by describing the troubles he had endured. Paul suffered whipping and beating by the Jews and Romans (2 Corinthians 11:24-25).
He had been stoned, practically to death, in Lystra (Acts 14:19; 2 Corinthians 11:25). The apostle experienced a storm at sea and a shipwreck (Acts 27:9-44; 2 Corinthians 11:25). Furthermore, he faced constant dangers during his missionary journeys, which brought multiple threats and personal hardship (2 Corinthians 11:26-27).
Despite the trials he had gone through, Paul praised God and boasted about his weakness (2 Corinthians 11:29-31). The hardships he endured enabled him to trust in God for strength. Christ was exalted in Paul’s weakness because the apostle found strength in his Lord instead of himself.
In this way, Paul was imitating Christ, since Jesus had allowed Himself to be crucified in human weakness, but now “lives by God’s power” (2 Corinthians 13:4). Likewise, Paul and other followers of Christ, who are aware of their human weakness, will one day live with Him because of the power of God.
Not by My Strength, but God’s Strength
When someone depends on God, they are made stronger. However, they must first recognize their inherent weakness as frail and needy human beings. Despite the messages of the world that tell people they are strong and independent, in need of nothing and no one, Scripture reveals the weakness of humans.
All humans easily fall into temptation and sin. Every person who has ever lived has sinned against the Lord (Romans 3:10, 23). The only Person who has not sinned is Jesus Christ, but this is because He is completely God and perfectly man (1 Peter 2:22).
Like a mist, people are alive one day and gone the next (James 4:14). Even those who seem secure are not assured of the future, for their life is but a breath (Psalm 39:5). Not even the “strongest” of people can outrun death.
Furthermore, humans are naturally needy. David expressed this sentiment well when he said, “I am weak and poor, O Lord, but you have not forgotten me. You are my savior and my God —hurry to my aid!” (Psalm 40:17, GNT).
Many people consider David a “hero” of the faith. However, he recognized his weakness and knew He needed God’s help (Psalm 18:1-2). In his own strength, David would not have survived the tumultuous events of his life. Only with God was he able to learn and grow through the difficulties of his life.
In times of suffering and hardships, believers can find strength by leaning on Christ. Christians may feel weak and incapable, but they are strong when they trust in God. Weakness is viewed negatively in the world, but only in a person’s weakness and brokenness are they aware of their need for the Lord.
He is glorified and exalted when people cry out to Him for help. Christians should boast in the Lord, just as Paul did, declaring “not by my strength, but God’s strength.” As Psalm 28:7 states, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”
Finding Strength in Weakness
Thus, followers of Christ will experience hardships that weaken them, but they can find strength in Jesus, whose grace is sufficient in times of difficulty. The world will continue to pride itself in its own strength and capability, but Christians will boast in the Lord.
In seeming weakness, Jesus laid down His life to die the death of a criminal as the atoning sacrifice for the world’s sins. However, He rose to life and gives eternal life to all who believe in Him. Christ calls believers to follow Him and to find strength in weakness, for His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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