This week I have been grieved at heart. My heart grief does not come from any personal tragedies. Personally, it has been a week rich with blessings. The heart grief comes from knowing what is happening in the lives of some Christian friends. It arises from seeing what continues to happen in our society. It arises from seeing how desperately people need help.

A Christian friend called me this week. After spending most of his life as an agnostic, he was converted about two years ago. He has an exception mind, a hungry mind. He reads two or three books at once, and he reads thought provoking material. It has only been in the last couple of years that he has learned how to read the Bible in a way that produces understanding.

Recently he was in a Bible class that discussed 2 Corinthians 5:10. "We must all appear before Christ's judgment seat. We will be rewarded according the to deeds we have done in the body." That verse ran over him like a huge truck loaded with bricks. He consumed with thoughts of accountability without any awareness of forgiveness. That thinking helped plunge him into deep darkness. He could not stop thinking about all the terrible things he had done in the past. He concluded that God could not possibly love a person like him.

In my friend's mind there are two kinds of people: good people and bad people. Good people are strong. Bad people are weak. For the bad who are weak, it is hopeless.

Though he probably does not know where he got that idea, I am confident it was formed by some church or religious group in his past. That perception of strength and weakness threatens to devour him.

  1. We must allow the New Testament to create our perceptions about strength and weakness.
    1. If I asked you to nominate someone in the New Testament that you regard to be a truly strong Christian, who would you nominate?
      1. Take a moment--think of a specific person that you would nominate.
      2. I am sure several people would be nominated, but I think two persons would be nominated more than anyone else.
      3. I think Paul and Peter would receive the majority of our nominations.
      4. From the typical criteria that we use to define spiritual strength, both of these men were exceptionally strong Christians.
      5. While I could use either man to share something that I want you to see, let me use Peter to illustrate the fact that even the spiritually strong are weak.
    2. As one of the twelve disciples, Peter's strengths were impressive.
      1. He literally walked off his job and left his means of financial support to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16-18).
      2. After he became Jesus' disciple, Jesus gave him a new name (John 1:42).
        1. He named him Cephas (Aramaic) or Petros (Greek) or Peter (English) which means "rock."
        2. Jesus renamed Peter--Jesus called him "rock."
      3. Peter's credentials as one of Jesus' twelve special disciples is impressive.
        1. He was of the first disciples that Jesus called (Mark 1:16-18).
        2. His name always is the first name to appear in the listing of the twelve disciples.
        3. Commonly he was the spokesman for the twelve.
        4. He was one of three disciples who formed an inner circle, one of the three closest to Jesus.
          1. Only these three saw the act of Jesus raising Jarius' daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37).
          2. Only these three saw Jesus change from his physical body to his spiritual body (Mark 9:2).
          3. -Only these three were invited to go with Jesus into the garden where he prayed just before he was arrested (Mark 14:33)--they were the only persons Jesus had near him when he was deeply troubled.
          4. Always, Peter was one of the three.
    3. Jesus made a promise to Peter that he made to no one else--Peter and only Peter received this promise in Matthew 16:13-20.
      1. Jesus asked all twelve the same question: "Who are people saying that I am?"
      2. All them answered.
      3. He asked all twelve again, "Who do you say that I am?"
      4. This time only Peter answered: "You are the Christ, the Son of God."
      5. Jesus replied, "You are blessed, Peter. God has revealed this to you. I will build my church upon this truth that you understand. Death will not prevent me from building it. And I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven."
      6. Peter would be the person who opened the church to people, who opened the gates that permitted people to be citizens in God's kingdom.
      7. He promised Peter, and later the rest of the twelve (Matthew 18:18), that whatever they bound or loosed in the kingdom would be bound or loosed in heaven.
    4. Peter's devotion to Jesus could hardly be exaggerated.
      1. Only Peter dared to climb out of a boat and walk on a stormy sea because Jesus told him that he could do it (Matthew 14:29).
      2. It was Peter who said, "If everyone falls, I will not fall" (Mark 14:29)
      3. It was Peter who tried to defended Jesus against as many as 600 soldiers who came to arrest Jesus (John 18:10).
      4. Peter was loyal, committed, and determined.
    5. On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, Peter confronted his weakness.
      1. He would have gladly died for Jesus defending him with that sword, but he had to die his way, not Jesus' way.
      2. When Peter put down the sword, he moved away in the darkness, and followed the arrest party from a distance (Luke 22:54).
      3. He then quietly appeared at the Jewish trials of Jesus, but just being there soon put him in the spotlight, and he denied that he knew Jesus, not once, but three times.
      4. After his third denial, the roster crowed, just as Jesus had predicted, and Jesus looked at him, and Peter fled into the night weeping (Luke 22:61,62).
      5. The first forty days after Jesus' death was a horrible period for Peter.
      6. Perhaps the worst moment was when Jesus appeared and asked Peter three times if Peter loved him (John 21:15-17).
    6. Then Peter recovered and became stronger, wiser, and more mature.
      1. He assumed leadership of the disciples again and took the lead in appointing someone to take Judas' place (Acts 1:15)
      2. On Pentecost, as the leader, he became the principal speaker who opened God's kingdom to the Jewish people (Acts 2:14).
      3. From that day and that moment, the strong Peter exploded on the scene in Jerusalem.
        1. He healed a lame man at the temple (Acts 3:4).
        2. He and John were arrested, and he told the highest court in Israel, "There is salvation in no one else..." (Acts 4:8,12).
        3. He confronted the Christians, Ananias and Sapphira, for lying to the God, and they died instantly (Act 5:1-11).
        4. He was so respected that people lined the streets with the sick in the hope that Peter would pass by and his shadow would fall on the sick and heal them (Acts 5:15).
        5. When all the apostles were arrested, Peter told the same court, "We must obey God instead of man" (Acts 5:29).
        6. When the church sent Peter and John to Samaria, the Christian Simon tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, and Peter condemned him to his face (Acts 8:20).
        7. In Joppa Peter raised the Christian woman Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:39-41).
        8. The stronger-than-ever Peter seemed to be untouchable in the city of Jerusalem.
      4. Then events were set into motion by a command from the Lord that again would bring Peter face to face with his weakness.
        1. The Lord sent Peter to Cesarea to open the kingdom of God to non-Jews, and he did--he taught and baptized people who were not Jews (Acts 10).
        2. Though he did what the Lord told him to do, the Christians in Jerusalem strongly disapproved, and they confronted him when he returned (Acts 11:2).
        3. He finally proved that the Lord approved of what he did, but things were never the same--he is not mentioned again in a leadership capacity in the church in Jerusalem.
        4. In fact, some time after that, the untouchable Peter was arrested and put in jail to await execution by the government--only the intervention of the Lord saved his life (Acts 12).
      5. All of this had a powerful, painful impact on Peter.
        1. Later he was visiting the non-Jewish congregation in Antioch of Syria (Galatians 2:11-14).
        2. When he first arrived, he was fellowshipping non-Jewish Christians freely and openly.
        3. Then a group from the Jerusalem congregation came, and Peter was afraid of them.
        4. So, in his fear, he broke fellowship with the non-Jewish Christians and even was successful in influencing Barnabas to do the same.
        5. Paul confronted Peter publicly to his face and declared, "This is wrong!"
        6. And Peter stared straight into the eyes of his weakness again.

  • We all have some false perceptions of strength and weakness.
    1. Those false perceptions exist in many forms.
      1. "People who are spiritually strong never do 'X'."
        1. Have an affair.
        2. Get a divorce.
        3. Get hooked on drugs.
        4. Have a problem with alcohol.
        5. They never have family problems.
        6. They don't make serious mistakes.
      2. "The spiritually strong are the people who have the same convictions that I have."
        1. They have come to the same conclusions I have reached.
        2. We are agreed on what is right.
        3. We are agreed on what is proper.
      3. "The spiritually strong use their heads, their logic, and their knowledge--they are not emotional; feelings and emotions are certain signs of weakness."
        1. The spiritually strong reason, they don't feel.
        2. The spiritually strong build their spiritual foundations on the mind, not on the heart.
    2. It is such false perceptions of strength that too often betray us, that actually move us away from Jesus Christ.
      1. How? False perceptions of being strong deceive us by convincing us that:
        1. We must have everything figured out religiously--that is being strong.
        2. We must have all the right answers--that is being strong.
        3. We must hide behind the institution instead of hiding behind the Cross.
      2. False perceptions of spiritual strength convince us that we must keep 100% of our attention and focus on all the evils "out there."
        1. Keep our attention on what is wrong in the ungodly world.
        2. Keep our attention on what is wrong with society.
        3. Keep our attention on what is wrong in other religious bodies.
      3. Why do false perceptions of spiritual strength do that to us?
        1. As long as I am so focused on and consumed with what is wrong "out there," I never have time to look at what is wrong "in here."
        2. I never have to look at my own weaknesses, I never have to examine the reasons for my weaknesses, so I can deny that I have any weaknesses.
    3. Because of false perceptions of spiritual strength, I must pretend that I am strong.
      1. Because of our false perceptions, we are scared to death to see or admit our weaknesses.
      2. We are convinced that if anyone ever discovers our weaknesses, we will be rejected.

    The apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh. It was a real handicap. It made him feel ineffective and limited, and it made him look weak . The powerful Paul who had so many spiritual gifts, who could do so many miracles begged the Lord three times to take the weakness away. Do you remember the Lord's answer?

    My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

    Why are we so certain that strong Christians do not have weaknesses when the Lord perfected power in apostles through weakness?

    Even the strong are weak. That is why every person's salvation comes from the grace of God, not from human strength.

    David Chadwell

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Morning Sermon, 9 February 1997

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