“He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me. Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 WEB (R))
“And those who passed by derided (Jesus), wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.” (Matthew 27:39-44 ESV)
Wow. Just wow.
Here’s something to think about: to walk in the Spirit of God, the Spirit of “power and love and self-control,” a requirement is that the flesh be “weak,” meaning “without energy.” Our flesh should be so “malnourished” that it has no power. This is not a metaphor or suggestion, but a universal law, expressed many times in scripture. For instance, in 2 Corinthians 12, quoted above, Paul says he was being beaten up and weakened by a “messenger of Satan” so that he would not become arrogant or self-righteous. He asked God to take this away, but God chose to leave it, telling Paul that His (spiritual) power is only matured where there is weakness (of flesh). This does not refer to the physical body. The “flesh” is a nature, which was birthed when Adam ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The flesh is always fearful and self-focused, because it is based on the illusion that man has goodness, worth or even existence in and of Himself, apart from the Spirit. Paul understood this and concluded: “when I (flesh) am weak, then I (Spirit) am strong.” Again, I believe this is a universal law, not a suggestion or an ideal.
It’s a well-known mystery in Christian circles that the first “church,” particularly for the short time following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, walked in spiritual power and radical love far beyond what we usually see today. Perhaps the reason for this discrepancy is simply that we have failed to truly embrace weakness of flesh? As stated in Acts chapter 2, the first group of believers, at the direction of and under the power of the Spirit, renounced individual ownership of everything they had. Everything was seen as belonging to the body of Christ, not the individual member, so if one member lacked, others would gladly give. They truly practiced the exhortation Paul would later write to the believers in Phillipi: “…make my joy full, by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…”1
Today, I see so much of the opposite. I see many believers (including myself many times) being far more “generous” toward and occupied with themselves than others. How can this be reconciled with “love your neighbor as yourself“? I hear talk of violent response to persecution, despite the fact that Jesus taught against it. Obviously, I want to live in peace, free from an oppressive government. That’s not a “bad” desire, but the bigger question isn’t “good or bad,” but “flesh or spirit.” God doesn’t just look for “good” and only reject “bad.” He recognizes and looks for spiritual, and rejects fleshly. I don’t understand things perfectly, but is it possible that the earth is in the shape it’s in not because we haven’t killed enough bad people, but because believers have walked in the flesh without realizing it, and have thus remained spiritually immature and unable to share or impart Truth and Life? What I am simply trying to do here is remind us of a spiritual law which has largely been ignored, resulting in a lack of power. The law is this: spiritual power is matured only in fleshly weakness.
Consider this scenario: What if God isn’t so much looking at us as believers individually, but as His (corporate) Son, the entire body of Christ? What if, just like Paul (and Jesus himself? see Hebrews 5:7-9 below)2, many members of the body of Christ need suffering to shock them into seeing how deeply the tentacles of the “flesh” have infiltrated every part of their life and thought? If God is aiming to weaken the flesh (which He sees as death) in order to allow for the maturity of the Spirit, then such hardship and suffering would actually be an act of mercy and love, because the deceptive flesh is keeping believers from their inheritance in God’s Kingdom!
Here’s where the rubber meets the road: if THE BODY needed such harsh treatment, would you INDIVIDUALLY embrace it for the sake of others, or would you resist it? Would you gladly lose your comforts and pleasures if it meant the maturity of OUR body3 and the establishment of the Kingdom of God? If not, then the love of the world is in your heart and you are not seeing and living according to the spirit, the New Covenant, and love. That’s not a condemnation, just a statement of fact and something to address. Most believers are not in such a place right now, and I’m not all the way there myself. If nothing else, let’s be willing to be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Let’s seek the One whose love and Spirit are within us and are able to make us willing, from the heart, to suffer gladly for the sake of others. Although the flesh was put away and made obsolete at the cross of Christ, many of us to this day still know it as our “life,” so letting it go is impossible in the flesh, which is why self-examination and religious piety are useless. What’s needed is for the flesh to be ignored altogether, good or bad, and for us to set our minds and hearts on the revelation of the Father and the maturity of His spirit within.
Good and evil are the two sides of the coin known as “flesh,” but there is a different way altogether, known as “the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.”4 The term “flesh” can encompass everything born of Adam/Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than of Christ/The Tree of Life/the Spirit. On the other side of embracing (not causing) the “death” of the flesh is true Life – not a better existence on earth, but the inward reality of all the things the scriptures speak of – Love and glory and all the fruit of the Spirit. Our Father is patient and kind, and will provide what we need (though not necessarily what we selfishly want or are accustomed to) by the power of the Spirit. If you see a “shaking” coming or experience it, realize that the only thing that can be shaken is the flesh. Therefore don’t fear, but rejoice! The flesh being weakened/malnourished will allow for the Spirit to mature. See it as an opportunity to practice true discipleship and follow the Lord, and realize hardship and oppression may not be something to resist but embrace, because the stage is being set for the Spirit of God to truly work in His body once again. Amen.
Philippians 2:2-7 WEB (R)
(Hebrews 5:7-9 WEB (R)): He, in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered. Having been made perfect, he became to all of those who obey him the author of eternal salvation…
Romans 8:2 WEB (R): For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.