While we may tend to rely on our own strength to enable us to lead a Christ-like life, scripture teaches us that the Father is not looking for men and women who place confidence in their own abilities. He is looking for men and women who will place their trust in His strength.
I am not able
When Moses was called at the burning bush to go and save Israel, he asked God, “Who am I that I should…bring forth the children of Israel?” (Ex. 3:11). Later he observed, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Ex. 4:10).
Jeremiah, when called to go and speak to Judah, said, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child” (Jer. 1:6).
These men recognised their own shortcomings. They realised that they did not have the strength to do the tasks that their God was giving to them.
That God is looking for people who do not rely on their own strength is clear. The reason for this choice is evident — He wishes those in His service to rely on His strength. Thus when Moses was about to die and Joshua had been appointed to take Israel into the land of Canaan he is encouraged with the words, “Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee” (Deut. 31:23).
This is the same encouragement that Joshua received directly from God, “Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them” (Josh. 1:6).
Again, Jeremiah was encouraged by his God to “Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (Jer. 1:7).
These two examples demonstrate that those whom He chooses need not rely on their own strength, because God is with them to fulfil His will.
It is against this Old Testament background that the apostle Paul encourages the Corinthians and us: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (I Cor. 16:13) — that is, to be strong in our confidence in our Father.
I will be with thee
Our Father’s servants are able, despite their own weakness and shortcomings, to do His will because of the assurance of His care. Moses was assured, “Certainly I will be with thee” (Ex. 3:12). In a like spirit, the God of the Exodus will be with His people in their trials; therefore we can take to ourselves the spirit of, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Isa. 43:2).
This is not a promise that the servant of God will have no problems during his pilgrimage. However it is an assurance that God will not forsake such an one.
Our sufficiency is of God
We are being taught not to place reliance on our own strength but on God’s. Thus we are advised, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” (II Cor. 3:5). So we are learning the lesson which the apostle Paul learned: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9).
We are encouraged to acknowledge our own weakness and our inability to save ourselves. It is only through developing this mind that we are able to rely on His strength.
When I am weak, I am strong
Faithful men and women acknowledge their weakness as being their strength and can say with the apostle Paul, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities…for when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Cor. 12:10). Men and women of faith are strengthened through their faith in the operation of God in their lives for the apostle says,“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of…who…out of weakness were made strong” (Heb. 11:32-34).
Words that strengthen
On one occasion, when David was a fugitive from Saul, Jonathan came to him and “strengthened his hand in God” (I Sam. 23:16). While we cannot know what Jonathan said to David, we know that Jonathan was familiar with the promises that had been made to David about the kingdom, and can imagine how Jonathan would strengthen David by reminding him of God’s promises.
We can take the word of the prophet, “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31). The fullness of this promise awaits the kingdom, yet it has application in our lives today. Waiting on the Lord contrasts with trusting in ourselves.
So we can understand the prayer of the apostle Paul for the brethren at Ephesus when he said: “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). We see he is praying that the brothers and sisters would recognise their own weakness that they might rely on God. He could thus exhort them, “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10). In similar words, Paul exhorts his son in the faith,“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 2:1).
These were not theoretical exhortations from the apostle. At his final answer, he was forsaken by all his brethren; he was, however, able to say, “The Lord stood with me, and strengthened me…and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (II Tim. 4:17).
There hath no temptation
When we consider our own trials, we need not despair at our failings. We are told, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13). Realising this, we understand we are not being asked to grit our teeth and struggle, as if we can in our own strength overcome. We have seen that we are strengthened by the Word. It is our responsibility to strive to fill our minds with the word of God that we may be able to withstand.
Accordingly, the assertion of the apostle, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13) is not the bold claim of a “strong” man but is the confidence of a man who has learned that God’s “strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9).
This is our confidence. It requires us to place no confidence in the flesh, for Paul tells us, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
Jesus — our example
In this context, we ask, “What do we think of Jesus? Was he strong or was he weak?” The natural man might think of Jesus as a man who overcame through his own strength. We know otherwise. Indeed the apostle Paul tells us, “For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God” (II Cor. 13:4). He then continues to speak of us saying, “For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you” (II Corinthians 13:4).
God’s strength is made perfect in weakness
We see, then, that even the Lord Jesus placed no reliance upon his own strength. He trusted completely in the strength of his Father.
With confidence, we can take to ourselves the prayer of the apostle, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Col. 1:9-11).