Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands. I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 11:29-12:1 ESV
Paul has just finished saying, “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28b ESV). He felt a strong sense of responsibility for all those in whose salvation he had played a part. He saw himself as their spiritual father and held a special place in his heart for them. He went out of his way to relate to them and to share in their lives. In his first letter, he described his attitude toward ministry:
When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:21-23 NLT
He echoes that same sentiment in the verses above. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” Paul had a deep desire to meet people where they were and to minister to them empathetically and compassionately. He wasn’t some academically-minded, theologically-focused professor who loved to dump information, but had no idea how to relate. Paul was incredibly intelligent, but also remarkably relational. He loved people. And he loved to come alongside them in their weakness and help them grow.
A lot of pastors and teachers have a hard time relating to people. They are afraid to open up and expose their own failures and weaknesses. They feel the need to present themselves as somehow more together and on top of their spiritual game. They seem to fear that if they let people know their struggles, they will lose their respect and admiration. But Paul was willing to brag about his weaknesses. He was an open book. His life was a powerful testimony to God’s power made visible through man’s weakness. Which is what will lead him to write, “I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).
While his adversaries, the false apostles, are busy bragging about their qualifications and attempting to set themselves up as somehow superior to Paul, he quietly and confidently gives another example of his “weakness.” One time, while Paul was ministering in Damascus, the governor had the city surrounded in an attempt to seize him. In order to save himself, Paul had to escape by being lowered in a basket outside the city walls. This event took place just days after Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Once he had regained his sight, it hadn’t taken him long to get to work fulfilling the commission given to him by Christ. Luke records:
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. – Acts 9:19-25 ESV
In other words, it didn’t take long for Paul to discover that his commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles was going to be difficult and dangerous. He was a driven individual with tremendous giftings and capabilities, but he would quickly learn that his natural attributes were no match for the spiritual warfare he would face as a spokesman for God. He was going to need spiritual power to fight what was a purely spiritual battle. It seems that in Damascus, not only the governor was out to get him, but the Jews as well. He found himself in deep trouble and had to resort to a clandestine escape via a basket. But he lived to share the gospel again.
Paul was just a man. But he was a man who had been saved by Christ and given a job to do. He was flawed and had a sin nature just like everyone else. He struggled with indwelling sin and his fleshly desires. And yet, it was in his weakness that he found the strength of God to do what he had been called to do. His ministry was solely the work of God. He had to rely on God’s provision just to meet his daily needs. He had to trust in God’s power to protect him from enemies of all kinds. He had to rely on the peace of God to fill him and calm his fears and doubts. He had to constantly depend on the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit to motivate him and minister to him. For Paul, weakness was not something for which he felt ashamed. He wore his weakness light a badge of honor. The more weak he felt, the reliant he became on the power of God. His weakness was not a detriment to God’s work. It was an essential prerequisite to being used by God at all. As Paul had told the Corinthians in his first letter, God has a habit of using the weak and seemingly worthless to accomplish His will in the world.
God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NLT