I am a man of many weaknesses and failings, but I’ve learned to boast of them. Nevertheless, I’d love to be rid of them, but at the same time, I know that they are my faithful tutors (Gal. 3:22-24).
As an anxious, irritable, impatient, and angry male, I hate to drive in a car. Every yellow light becomes a personal challenge; every red light becomes a personal rebuke. Needless to say, I receive many “rebukes” in the course of a trip, and my response differs little from road-rage. When the traffic is backed up in front of me, every car is a mortal enemy.
I am a Bible teacher, and my reactions are a great embarrassment to me. I have been on the phone, while surrounded by such “enemies.” My reaction has often caused me to forget that I had been talking on the phone, as I lapsed into profanity. How humbling!
I wish I could say that I am making great strides against my sins. However, my humiliation is compounded as I pray to the One who can deliver me. Even with Him on the “phone,” within seconds, I lapse, convinced that I am the world’s greatest spiritual failure. I cannot “keep watch” for a minute.
Consequently, Paul’s prayer has become very real to me:
· What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25)
How true! In my sinful nature (“flesh;” NASB) I am a slave to sin, while Jesus is my only hope. But isn’t there deliverance in Jesus? Wasn’t it Jesus who promised deliverance?
· To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
However, He also said:
· “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Okay, I get the point. I know that it’s all about Jesus, and He has His own timing. But where’s my deliverance? I am tormented by my sins and failings. However, Paul was also tormented by a “messenger of Satan,” even after he walked faithfully with his Lord for many years. However, he came to understand that this torment was necessary to keep him humble:
· To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10)
I too have learned to delight in my weaknesses, convinced that I need these horrid afflictions. I even counteract the shame with transparency, boasting that He has created great strength through them. King David confessed:
· Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees…It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:67-71)
If David needed to learn through His afflictions, perhaps we also must be afflicted. Indeed, my Lord has taught me so much through my afflictions that I am now grateful. He has opened my eyes to the great threat of self-contentment, self-trust, and self-righteousness – the things that happen to us when our Lord allows us to go our own way. He has also shown me how destructive this threesome is to the life of the church. In His wisdom, He has placed us under His law to reveal to us our moral failures and our need for Him:
· Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
We so desperately need to become “conscious of [our] sin.” Without this, it is inevitable that we will look down on others and exalt ourselves. However, even worse, we will take our Lord and His glorious gift of righteousness for granted.
Exalting self and its complement - diminishing God - are our human default position. It’s what comes most naturally! If this is the case, we require constant reminders of our need and brokenness.
This is why I exult in my neediness. I flaunt it in front of others – whatever it takes to exalt my God, my chief delight and passion. I also think that this helps others to accept their own spiritual failures. However, this is a passion that couldn’t be, as long as I remained passionate about myself. Paul also learned to disdain self-passion:
· But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philip. 3:7-9)
Paul didn’t dismiss his education and his zeal for the Law. Instead, he was dismissive of any self-trust regarding these! A fruitful relationship with our Savior and a fervent embrace of His righteousness depends upon realizing that we are entirely lacking of any righteousness of our own, earned with our good deeds. Therefore, whenever this self-aggrandizing temptation arises, we must be quick to expose it for what it truly is – “rubbish.”
I pray that my Lord will deliver me from my afflictions. However, I know Him and therefore know that if He leaves me with them, He has a good purpose for this.