My wife had recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl. I was explaining to a person at our church why my wife was not able to meet up to a certain expectation they had of her. And the reply came, we need “strong women” in ministry. If I were to make a list of things not to say to a woman who recently gave birth, that might top the list. In one sense, the comment is true. In another sense, though, it is totally and utterly false.
The paradox of strength and weakness is a key theological truth for Christian growth. We walk a razor’s edge in our faith when we try to sort this out. It is very crucial that we understand the balance between strength and weakness God has established for healthy Christian growth.
On the one hand, Christians are called to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13).
I mean, talk about a call to war. The Christian life is not for sissies. Yet at the same time Christians are also called to embrace weakness as a crucial tool in God’s work of molding and fashioning us into the image of Christ. Paul also says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 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” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Or, as Matt Boswell and Matt Papa put it in Lord from Sorrows Deep I Call:
For so long I’ve pled and prayed.
God, come to my rescue!
Even so the thorn remains,
Still my heart will praise You.
There you have it. The paradox could not be clearer. We are responsible to take up the armor of God and stand firm, and yet we are utterly dependent upon God to do what we must do in the Christian life. How can we make sense of this paradox?
We make sense of the paradox by realizing that in both cases our help comes from God. Notice Ephesians 6 again. It is jam-packed full of references to being strong in the Lord and taking up the armor of God. In 2 Corinthians 12, we boast of weakness so that the power of Christ may rest upon us. The Christian life is one of faith in Christ, whether in weakness or in strength.
And you will have days where you feel strong. You will have days when God gives you the grace and courage to fight and surmount seemingly impossible obstacles. But you will also have days when battle seems unbearable. The enemy rages and your strength seems sapped. Hope is almost gone. But not in Christ. In Christ, you have the ability to thrive both in weakness and in strength. You are not called to put on some sort of façade of spiritual strength. You can actually glory in the weakness because it exalts Christ. The beautiful paradox of strength and weakness in Christ means you are fully equipped for the spiritual battle no matter what comes your way.
So yes, we need “strong women” in ministry. But we need weak women, too. We need strong men, and we need weak men. We need faithful Christians who recognize that, no matter what the circumstances, we can thrive in Christ, and Christ alone.