Challenged to Change
Strength Made Perfect in Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:9
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
The lady [Dr. Irene O’Neill, Pastor’s wife] has a phrase that says, “Life can be trying can’t it? It really can. I mean, I was not able to get my baking sugar this Christmas again.” But still, in spite of the fact that she uses it kind of casually, yet we would probably say ourselves, “Life can be trying, can’t it? It really can. I mean, it can try you beyond what you can bear.” And I think, the gross error that we make is, we then try; that’s what we do. Life does try us, and so we try, and we try, and we try, because we are convinced that “with a little help from our friend,” we can do it.
And we miss the whole point of life. Life is meant to be trying. This life is meant to drive us beyond ourselves. But, we have sin so deeply built into us that, “we will keep on trying.” However trying life is, we will try. And really, the whole purpose is that “Sin may become exceedingly sinful.” Because actually, sin is not doing wrong, sin is trying to live life by your own strength without God.
I think, that’s why so many of us end up with Jesus as kind of ‘our helper’. We ask him to help us. To help us, to be like him, and to help us do what he and his Father want us to do, and to help us overcome the trying circumstances of life. And then we get continually and repeated exasperated with ourselves, because we can’t do it. And we will often say that to each other, we will say, “I can’t do this. The good that I would I cannot do, and the evil that I hate, that’s the very thing I do. And it doesn’t matter how much I try, I simply can’t do it. I ‘want’ to get up at the right time and pray and to read the Bible; I want to. I want to be what Jesus wants me to be to the others in this family. I want to be what he wants me to be, at work. But I can’t; I don’t seem able to do it.”
And we’re like blind people; we’re like people who are blinded by sin, because we are convinced that what we should do is keep on trying to do this, “And surely with a bit of help from Jesus we will do it; with a bit of grace from the Holy Spirit we will manage it.” And we’re continually missing the point and the whole purpose of life. The whole purpose of life is to show us that in us, that is, in our flesh — our flesh is human nature independent of God. “In our flesh there is no good thing.”
But we are – it made me think of super glue. You know how you try to get super glue on to the thing you’re trying to repair, and before you know it you have your thumb and your finger stuck together, and you can’t get them apart, and you can’t get the glue where it needs to be. When you get it on to the wrong place it’s impossible to pry it loose. It’s likes static electricity, and you’re trying to get the fluff off your suit or off your dress and it won’t go, and you can’t get clear of it. It’s like that with ‘self’! But we keep thinking, “Oh no, no. It’s not. No, self is not so clingy as that; it’s not so deceptive as that; it’s not so identified with me as that; it’s not so part of me as that. I can get free of it with a little help from Jesus.”
The fact is, it’s like super glue, and it’s like static electricity. It is so built into us that the more trying live becomes, the more we try. And the more we try, the more sin is exceedingly
sinful, and we begin to see there is no way here; there is no way out of this. And that is the purpose of life; that is the purpose of life, to drive us to the point where we cannot do it ourselves; to drive us beyond ourselves; to drive us to the place where we grab for Jesus in desperation, and we put our arms around him, and we cling to him. That’s it.
I can describe it to you this morning, and you can say, “Yes, yes I understand that;” and it will always be unreal to you, until you come to that point and that place. And I don’t know; if you say to me, “Will you have to be 80 or 85?” I would have to honestly say I don’t know, because some of us are incredible; we’re unbelievable, and we’re brought up in a world that is so independent of God, that it seems we can keep worming our way around this one like little serpents for years; keep believing that, “With a little help from our friend, with a little grace from Jesus, with a little aid from the Holy Spirit, we’ll be able to do it.” And we don’t see that it is a deadly thing, that “His strength is actually made perfect in our weakness.” But we like to think that that will come about in an academic kind of way. “I have a little weakness in this area, so I do need a little grace there, Lord. I am a little weak in witnessing, so I do need a little bit of an anointing there.”
Foolishness! Foolishness! Clowning! Play acting. That’s not weakness; that’s human strength, admitting that maybe it needs a little aid here. His strength is made perfect in absolute weakness, where you collapse before Christ, and you grab for him and he becomes everything to you every day. Really going back to what we said, you remember, one Sunday, “And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” And that’s the foolishness of it; you are able to see me, because Christ’s power is in your eyes. And if he withdraws that power for a moment you are blind, and you cannot see me. You are able to sit there at this moment; I am able to stand here, because Christ’s power and life is in me holding me up, holding your backbone stiff, holding your arms in a certain position. So we owe everything to him. We are utterly dependent upon him. But then we get up on our stupid hind legs, and we pretend that we are doing it. And so we do not live, consciously leaning on him, second-by-second. And the purpose of life is to bring us back to that.
That’s why it’s so important of course, not to sink below the level of life that he describes to us here. That’s why it’s so important not to compromise with the voice of conscience within you. That’s why it’s so important not to rationalize sin. That’s why it’s so vital not to lower the standards that he sets when he says, “Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” It’s vital; that is our only hope. If we ever lower the standards that Jesus has set in his own life and in his Word to match our lives, we’re finished. The only hope we have is that we will see that, and we will know that that is what we were meant to be, and we will yearn for that, and see our own hopeless inability to live that way, and we’ll grab for Jesus.
But I have to say honestly, I don’t know how. I can’t bring you to that point and you can’t bring me to that point. But that is the purpose of life. And it’s only when we grab for Jesus in that way, and hang on to him every moment of our days, that his life begins to flow through us. Up till then it’s a kind of a nice, sophisticated, civilized, cooperation with God that we operate on.
Actually, if you pushed me and said, “Why are you not filled with the Holy Spirit?” that is what I would say. If you pushed me and said, “Why am I not filled with praise when I come into his church, so that the prayer time is filled with the praises?” Actually, I’d say that’s it. We all are too dependent upon ourselves, and not desperate enough for Jesus. And when we are desperate enough for him, we stand up here like an idiot and say these things. That’s it. When we’re desperate enough for him, then his life bubbles through us, you see.
So it is – it’s not the baptism of the Holy Spirit; it’s not tongues. That stuff, that’s silly. But all of that comes to those who are ready to want Christ and him alone, and to see that only he can live his life in us — and that we are utterly dependent upon him anyway, for all that we have; “That from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” And at this moment he waits to bestow that grace upon us.
So that’s why he says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” But he does not mean, “Come kneel nicely and politely, drink a little wine, eat a little bread, and pray a little prayer.” It’s not that, see. It’s a dear Savior who has bled and died for us, who has bled out his life for us, and given his flesh for us. And he is only experienced and received by people who cannot do without him, who cannot live without him. And there’s a vast gulf between those who live “with a little help from God,” and those who are — as that old preacher said, “Who are beggars who expect to live off the wealth of God.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They are the beggars who expect to live off the wealth of God.
So that is what we’re engaged in this morning. And even if one little heart here will desire Jesus like that, that one little heart will become a fountain of life for him. Let us pray.