Book Review: Weakness is the Way
Packer's short book seeks to "deprogram" us from our hunger for power. Our tendency is to earnestly avoid giving off the impression that we might be weak in some way. And yet in his letter to the Corinthians Paul boasts of his weaknesses. He seems convinced that the very points of weakness for which he is criticized are the points at which God's strength is most clearly magnified through his life.
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. 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.
This basic paradox of the Christian life—"for when I am weak, then I am strong"—is incompressible apart from the gospel. How is it that weakness may be regarded as strength? Are not the two antithetical to one another? And yet God's economy reverses the value we normally attribute to weakness and strength.
"The way of spiritual strength, leading to real fruitfulness in Christian life and service, is the humble, self-distrustful way of consciously recognized wakens in spiritual things" (p. 16).
Packer offers these meditations on Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, to make the point that human weakness becomes the stage on which divine strength is demonstrated. He turns to 2 Corinthians because this letter “exhibits Paul to us at his weakest situationally—consumed with a pastor’s anxiety, put under pressure, remorselessly censured, opposed outright and by some given the brush-off, and living in distress because of what he knew, feared, and imagined was being said about him by this rambunctious church at Corinth” (p. 96). But it is these weaknesses in Paul’s life through which the cross of Christ is seen as glorious.
We must recognize that power will be exhibited in us "in the same way in which it was expressed in Jesus: in cross-shaped humility. Only in cruciform sufferings like his can the Lord perform his powerful work, introducing glory into an age of darkness, salvation into a world of despair, a new age with the old life and power to more and more people" (Timothy Savage, Power Through Weakness, 189).
Weakness, which Packer defines as “a state of inadequacy, or insufficiency, in relation to some standard or ideal to which we desire to conform” (p. 49), is inherent to our life in this world. It is inescapable. And the Christian must learn to rely on Christ in the midst of weakness rather than seeking self-exaltation through power plays of one sort of another.
Please consider purchasing Packer's book and dedicating a couple hours to reading it. Though it won't take long to read, it will provide for countless hours of meditation on 2 Corinthians and the theme of weakness. Especially if you're in the 2 Corinthians Bible study this fall, you'll find this book an excellent companion to your study in Paul's letter.
- Nik Lingle's book review on J. I. Packer's Weakness is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength (Crossway, 2013, 128 pages). You can purchase Packer's mediations on 2 Corinthians online.