Weaknesses

Jesus’ ministry on earth involved a lot of miracles that were intended to persuade the children of Israel that their Messiah had finally arrived. Matthew’s gospel linked one incident in particular to a prophecy that verified this aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew stated:

And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. (Matthew 8:14-17, KJV)

The Greek word that is translated infirmities, astheneia (as-then’-i-ah) is typically used in referenced to different types of physical ailments, but the primary implication of this word is moral frailty or weakness (G769). A word that is related to astheneia is asthenema (as-then’-ay-mah). “This word is found in the plural in Romans 15:1, ‘infirmities,’ i.e., those scruples which arise through weakness of faith. The strong must support the infirmities of the weak (adunatos) by submitting to self-restraint” (G771). From this standpoint, Jesus taking our infirmities upon himself means that his moral strength makes it possible for us to live godly lives. Paul talked about this in his final warnings to the Corinthians. Paul said:

I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:2-4)

Paul contrasted Christ’s human weakness with the power of God in order to point out that we have the same weaknesses that he did as well as the same power of God when we accept Jesus as our Savior. The word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 13:4 that is translated weakness is astheneia. Jesus experienced moral frailty because he lived as a human being and had a sin nature. In other words, just like us, Jesus had a natural tendency toward rebellion against God, and yet, Jesus lived a perfect life and therefore, overcame this weakness completely. Hebrews 4:14-16 talks about the example that Jesus set by living his life according to God’s commandments. It states:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

In order to draw near to the throne of grace, we have to understand Jesus’ role as our great high priest. It is explained to us in Hebrews 5:7-10 where it states, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” This verse indicates that Jesus was being made perfect. The Greek word teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) means to complete in the sense of being mature (G5048). In 1 Corinthians 13:10, teleios is used to refer to “the complete revelation of God’s will and ways, whether in the completed Scripture or in the hereafter…One who is teleios has attained the moral end for which he was intended, namely to be a man in Christ” (G5046).

Paul concluded his discussion of his sufferings as an apostle with the statement, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Paul understood that suffering was a part of the process of reaching spiritual maturity. The way that Paul seemed to view his weaknesses was that they were opportunities for him to grow in his faith. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained that our weaknesses are transformed into supernatural power when we are resurrected from the dead. Paul stated:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

According to Paul, the weaknesses of our earthly bodies will result in miraculous power that will benefit us throughout eternity.

One of the things that Paul made clear in his second letter to the Corinthians was that his weaknesses had kept him from thinking too much of his personal accomplishments or becoming conceited about his special position as an apostle of Christ. Paul shared his experience of being caught up to the third heaven in such a way that it couldn’t be misconstrued as a claim that he had somehow already been resurrected from the dead. Paul said, “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. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me” (2 Corinthians 12:1-6). Paul went on to say that because of this experience, he was given a physical affliction that plagued him the rest of his life. Paul said:

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.

Paul’s personal message from the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) was most likely intended to encourage him in his spiritual growth. Paul may have been thinking about giving up on his goal of reaching the farthest regions of Asia because of the pain that his thorn in the flesh was causing him, but the Lord told Paul that his grace was sufficient to get him through. The Greek word that is translated sufficient, arkeo (ar-keh-o) is related to the word airo (ah’-ee-ro) which has to do with the expiation of sin with regard to the effect of atonement on the believer’s life (G142) which is moral purification (G2512) or in Old Testament terms, becoming clean (H2891) and therefore, consecrated to God.

The distinction between clean and unclean things made it difficult for the Israelites to remain in fellowship with God. Something as natural as her menstruation cycle could keep a woman from being able to come into the presence of God (Leviticus 12:4). The most extreme case was the disease of leprosy which could cause a person to be permanently separated from loved ones and quarantined for weeks at a time (Leviticus 13:4-5). Leviticus 13:45-46 describes what happened when the priest determined that a person had leprosy. “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Jesus demonstrated that he had the power to make a leper clean. In fact, one of the first miracles Jesus performed was the cleansing of a leper. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus later explained to his disciples that a person becomes defiled or you might say spiritually weak by the things that come from inside the person’s heart. Mark’s gospel states:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)

Paul made it clear in his letter to the Corinthians that he wasn’t ashamed of the thorn in the flesh that was given to him as a result of the surpassing greatness of his revelations. Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul looked at his weaknesses as an advantage in getting God’s attention. The Greek word that is translated rest, episkenoo (ep-ee-skay-no’-o) means “to spread a tabernacle over” (G1981). Paul may have been thinking of the way that God dwelt among the Israelites when they were in the Sinai Desert before they entered the Promised Land. Exodus 14:19-20 describes the protection that God’s presence provided the Israelites when they were fleeing from Pharaoh’s army. It states:

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was a cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

Moses indicated that the pillar of cloud moved from the front of the Israelite camp and to a position behind it in order to create a barrier between them and the Egyptian army. Psalm 51, which was written by King David after his sin of adultery was exposed, talks about the presence of God being associated with a clean heart and a right spirit. David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12). The Hebrew word that David used that is translated clean in Psalm 51:10, tahowr (haw-hore’) is used six times in Leviticus 13 in reference to a leper being pronounced clean. Tahowr means “pure (in a physical, chemical, ceremonial or moral sense)” (H2889). According to the Mosaic Law, “Clean things were considered normal; unclean things were considered polluted, but they could be restored to their state of purity (Leviticus 11-15)…God expected his people to be morally pure and to imitate Him (Habakkuk 1:13). This word served to express this state. Clean hands merited God’s favour (Job 17:9), and pure words were pleasing to the Lord. God judged a sacrifice’s value by the quality of the offerer’s heart (Psalm 51:10[12]); thus, David prayed for a pure heart.”

Paul told the Corinthians, “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 12:10). Paul’s statement, “when I am weak, then I am strong” may have been designed to make his listeners aware of the fact that God’s power is available to us on an as needed basis. If we think we are powerful enough to do something ourselves, we are not going to rely on God’s ability to intervene on our behalf. Paul said that he was content with his weaknesses, meaning that he accepted them and had no problem admitting that they were affecting his ability to do the work that God had assigned to him. Paul’s attitude made it possible for God to do extraordinary things through him and resulted in his ministry becoming a focal point of the book of Acts. Paul’s defense of his ministry included an explanation of how he was able to accomplish so much when his bodily presence was considered to be weak and his speech of no account (2 Corinthians 10:10). Paul said:

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:1-5)

Paul’s reference to using divine power to destroy strongholds and destroying arguments by taking every thought captive was linked to spiritual warfare. Paul indicated in his letter to the Ephesians that the key to defeating our adversary the devil is to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).

God’s supernatural ability

It’s not unusual for everything that God does to be considered a miracle because he is a supernatural being. On the other hand, humans have a limited amount of strength and ability that they can rely on and therefore do not typically do extraordinary things on a regular basis. The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt demonstrated that it is possible for people to live miraculous lives by relying on God’s power to accomplish things that they cannot do themselves. Most of the miracles that happened in the desert were a result of God working through Moses to perform supernaturally feats (Exodus 15:25; 17:6, 11), but the construction of the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was a collective effort that showed God’s supernatural ability could be distributed among the people in such a way that everyone could play a part in getting the job done. Moses started by asking everyone to “take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece” (Exodus 35 5-9). Basically, everything that was needed to construct the tabernacle and its contents had to come from the Israelite’s personal belongings. Moses asked everyone who had a generous heart to give up their possessions so that their material wealth could be used to benefit the LORD’s work.

A generous heart is not something that comes naturally to human beings. For the most part, the Israelites were selfish with their possession just like most people are today, but Exodus 35:20-29 tells us:

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

The freewill offering to the Lord was characterized by spontaneity. “This term can denote that state of being which allows a person to offer a gift or a favour to someone else without any thought of return or payback. The favour is not given out of any obligation owed by the giver; rather, it is the result of an overflow from an abundance within the heart” (H5071).

In addition to the materials that were needed for the tabernacle to be constructed, there was a need for laborers as well. Moses asked the people to give up their time and talent too. He said, “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded” (Exodus 35:10). Exodus 36:2-7 states:

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Moses indicated that the Lord had put skill into the minds of every craftsman, “everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work” (Exodus 36:2). The Hebrew word that is translated stirred up, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). This seems to suggest that the people whose hearts were being stirred up were believers that wanted to participate in the process of salvation that God was enacting.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was focused on his ministry of spreading the gospel which God had entrusted to him by way of supernatural revelation (Ephesians 3:3). Paul said, “Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose hart. But we have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). Paul emphasized the fact that God’s word was able to affect the minds of believers because it was the truth. The Biblical definition of truth is something that is real, it conforms to the nature and reality of things, therefore it is credible and not to be rejected (G227). An open statement is an expression of truth that makes something visible or observable to you that might otherwise go unnoticed (G5321). Paul’s mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles was necessary because it was a mystery that they were “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6). Paul said that he had “commended himself to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he was leaving it up to God to convict and convince the people that he was preaching to that his gospel message was indeed the truth.

The conscience enables people to see things from God’s perspective. It is a “faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the former and avoid the latter” (G4893). Paul said that his gospel message was veiled to those who were perishing because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul referred to Satan as the god of this world because everyone that has not accepted Jesus as their Savior is under his dominion. Paul told the Ephesians that “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 5:10-11) and identified the word of God as a sword that can be used offensively to defeat Satan’s army (Ephesians 5:17). The Greek word that is translated strong, endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’) means “to empower” and is used metaphorically of the mind being strengthened by God (G1743). Endunamoo is derived from the Greek words en and dunamoo. Dunamoo comes from the Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to God’s ability to do miracles (G1411).

God’s supernatural ability is transferred to believers, at least in part, through our minds and in particular through our understanding of his word. Paul told the believers in Corinth that he had not tampered with God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he hadn’t mingled the truths of God’s word with false doctrines (G1389). Paul had kept his opinions to himself and only conveyed to the Corinthians what God’s Spirit had prompted him to. Paul said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). Paul used the metaphor of light shining out of darkness to show that God’s word is not constrained by the limitations of our human comprehension. Paul went on to say, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). The surpassing power that Paul was referring to was dunamis. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411). Paul thought of his gospel message as a treasure that had been placed in jars of clay in order to show that its effectiveness was linked to God’s supernatural ability rather than Paul’s preaching.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked a lot about the foolishness of preaching the gospel. He said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul used the word dunamis to describe the power that God uses to save people. The word of the cross is basically the gospel message which states that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul indicated that this message was considered to be folly or an absurdity (G3472) to those that were destined for destruction (G622). Paul explained that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spiritual discernment is the ability to understand that which is non-physical by nature (G4153). Paul went on to say, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul’s statement corresponds to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). Then Jesus stated:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

Jesus bracketed his teaching about the power that is available to believers through God’s word with a commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This seems to suggest that we are expected to refrain from using God’s word as a tool to hurt others, but rather as an instrument of encouragement and support. Paul eluded to this in his explanation of why he was suffering even though he was doing God’s will. Paul said:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Paul hinted at that fact that God’s supernatural ability was at work in his life when he said that even though he was afflicted in every way, he was not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). The contrasting language that Paul used made it clear that his ability to preach the gospel had not been diminished by the trouble he had gone through. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he was still strong in his faith and was determined to accomplish the mission that was entrusted to him. Paul’s statement that death was at work in him (2 Corinthians 4:12) was meant to convey the idea that there was a cost associated with undertaking the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul encouraged the Corinthians by stating:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The outer self and the inner self that Paul was referring to were the physical and spiritual aspects of mankind. The Greek word that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) is generally used to designate a human being without reference to sex or nationality and in distinction from God and animals. In this phrase, “the inner man means the regenerate person’s spiritual nature personified, the inner self of the believer…as the sphere of the renewing power of the Holy Spirit” (G444). Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength included a petition for power through the Holy Spirit. He said:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Being filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) has to do with the process of sanctification which leads to our oneness with Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Paul indicated that this process is driven by the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16). Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper and said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is to help us remember God’s word and to teach us spiritual lessons.

Paul’s prayer concluded with an acknowledgement of God’s supernatural ability. Paul stated, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Paul used the superlative “far more abundantly” to express the infinite degree to which God is able to do what we ask of him. The point Paul was trying to make was that we can’t deplete God’s resources. His supernatural ability is beyond what humans can even think or imagine him doing. Paul made it clear that believers can access God’s supernatural ability through the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work within us. What Paul likely meant by the statement “according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) was that dunamis, miraculous power and/or ability, is not available to believers on an as needed basis, but it can be stored up or put to use at any time. An example of this is the parable of the talents which Jesus told his disciples not long before he was crucified. In this parable, the servant that received five talents was commended for using them to gain five more talents by putting them to work (Matthew 25:21). The servant that received one talent was rebuked because he didn’t even bother to invest his talent so that his master could gain something from the resources that had been entrusted to him (Matthew 25:26-27). Afterward, the talent was taken away from him and given to the servant that had ten talents (Matthew 25:28). Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29)

God’s power

The LORD’s deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt involved a unique display of what God described as “signs and wonders” (Exodus 7:3). He told Moses, “Then, I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment” (Exodus 7:4). “God’s ‘hand’ is another term for God’s ‘power'” (H3027). The signs and wonders that Moses performed in Egypt were meant to be evidence that God was directly involved in what was happening and that his power was superior to all others. The Hebrew word that is translated wonders, mopheth (mo-faith’) “signifies a divine act or a special display of divine power” (H4139). The first occurrence of mopheth in the Bible is in Exodus 4:21 where it says that the LORD transferred his power to Moses, making it possible for him to do miracles without any divine assistance.

The first two miracles that Moses performed were duplicated by Pharaoh’s magicians, but when “Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast…The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not…Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God'” (Exodus 8:17-19). The expression “the finger of God” was most likely meant to convey God’s handwriting or a signature that confirmed God’s identity. The magicians were letting Pharaoh know that Moses and Aaron were authentic representatives of a divine being with supernatural power. Exodus 8:19 states, “But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” Pharaoh’s disregard of Moses’ miracle was based on the condition of his heart. The Hebrew word chazaq (khaw-zak’) means to be strong. “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points too the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all the avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Psalm 67 links God’s saving power with his grace and indicates that God’s method of saving people was designed to make him known around the world. The psalmist states, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:1-2). The Hebrew word that is translated way in Psalm 67:2, derek (deh’-rek) means a road and is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). Jesus’ life was not filled with a random set of events, but a fixed course that he was expected to follow that would end with his crucifixion. Several times, Jesus warned his disciples of what was ahead. Matthew’s gospel states, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:1-4).

On several different occasions, Jesus was asked to perform miracles as an indication of his divine authority and power. Matthew recorded one such incident this way:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:38-42)

Jesus was eluding to his death and resurrection when he said the Son of Man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. On another occasion he likened his body to the temple of God and said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus indicated that he would raise himself from the dead and likely specified when his resurrection would occur as additional validation that he was able to control the circumstances that were involved in his death. The chief priests and the Pharisees seemed to think they could prevent Jesus from exiting his tomb by sealing it and placing a guard there. Matthew tells us:

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)

The purpose of sealing Jesus’ tomb and setting a guard outside was supposedly to make sure that no one could get in or out, but really the only thing that it guaranteed was that it would be impossible for someone to enter the tomb without the guards knowing about it. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus exited his tomb while the sealed stone was still intact. Matthew said:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:1-7)

The fact that no one was present when Jesus was resurrected suggests that he didn’t want there to be any confusion about the source of his miraculous reanimation. Whether it was God the Father or God the Son or a combined effort between the three persons of the trinity that caused Jesus to come back to life, the thing that is clear about Jesus’ resurrection is that there was no human involvement and the miracle itself was performed behind closed doors so to speak, somewhat like God’s creation of the universe which was witnessed only by angels (Psalm 148:1-2).

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicates that God’s plan of salvation began before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and resulted in Christ being seated at God’s right hand after he was raised from the dead (Ephesians 1:20). Paul indicated that believers benefit from the working of God’s power that was exercised when Christ was raised from the dead. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:19) as a result of Christ being seated at the right hand of God “in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:21). Paul went on to say, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Paul’s reference to the immeasurable greatness of Christ’s power and the fact that he is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion was intended to make it clear that there is no longer any competition between Christ and Satan. Jesus’ victory over death put an end to Satan’s attempt to overtake God’s kingdom.

The goal of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was to bring unity to mankind and to reconcile everyone to God. Speaking directly to the Ephesians and indirectly to all non-Jewish people on earth, Paul stated:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

Paul described non-Jewish people as those who have no hope and are without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). The Greek word that is translated without God, atheos (ath’-eh-os) means atheist, an individual that is void of any true recognition of God and is therefore excluded from communion with God (G112). Paul further clarified this by stating, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17-19).

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel so that everyone would know the truth about God and would have an opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. He told them:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus said that he had been given “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) has to do with privileges that one has obtained through delegation of power. “From the meaning of ‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases, it passed to that of ‘the ability or strength with which one is endued,’ then to that of the ‘power of authority,’ the right to exercise power, e.g. Matthew 9:6;21:23; 2 Corinthians 10:8; or ‘the power of rule or government,’ the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others, e.g. Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Jude 25; Revelation 12:10; 17:13; more specifically of apostolic ‘authority,’ 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10” (G1849).

Paul described Satan as the prince of the power of the air and indicated that everyone that is not committed to Christ is under his influence. Paul told the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The Greek word pneuma (pnyoo’-mah), which means a current of air and is translated spirit in Ephesians 2:2, is rarely used of wind, but when so used it is known for its strength, vigor, and force” (G4151). Paul used the word pneuma figuratively to represent the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience because Satan’s demonic forces have the ability to affect the inner workings of people’s minds and can cause us to act in ways that we might not want to due to our sinful human nature.

Paul learned through experience that spiritual warfare was a part of doing God’s will. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “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 6:13). Paul’s instruction to take up the whole armor of God implies that it is up to us to protect ourselves from Satan’s spiritual onslaught, but it could be that Paul was talking about something that is available to us and yet, deemed to be unnecessary. Paul may have been referring to the power that is at believers’ disposal, but rarely accessed because of our tendency to try and do things in our own strength rather than in God’s power. Paul said, “Finally, 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” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

In the same way that Christ was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, we can stand against the schemes of the devil by exercising God’s power. Paul said that we are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). The Greek word endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’-o) which is translated strong means to empower (G1743). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (doo’-nam’is) which refers specifically to miraculous power. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours” (G1411). The Greek word translated strength, kratos (krat’-os) generally refers to might or power and is spoken of God with regards to his ruling control and dominion (G2904). The Greek word that is translated might, ischus (is-khoos’) refers to forcefulness of both body and mind (G2479) and is used to describe Christ’s potency and preeminence in Ephesians 1:19 where Paul talked about the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”

Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” was followed by this assuring statement, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus’ reference to being “with” his disciples might seem like he was assuring them of his constant presence because the Greek word meta (met-ah’) denotes accompaniment, but meta is “often used in composition, in substantially the same relations of participation or proximity, and transfer or sequence” (G3326). It could be that what Jesus meant by being “with” his disciples was that it would seem like he was still doing all the things that he had been when he was living on earth. The same power that Jesus used to perform miracles, including being raised from the dead, would be at work in and through his disciples. God’s power was transferred to Jesus’ disciples so that they could carry on with his ministry. Paul eluded to this when he said that God put all things under Christ’s feet “and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).

The Greek word that is translated fullness in Ephesians 1:23, pleroma (play’-ro-mah) refers to God, in the completeness of His Being and “the church as the complement of Christ, Ephesians 1:23” (G4138). The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) which is translated fills means “to make replete, i.e. (literally) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (figuratively) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish ( a period or task)” (G4137). Paul said that the fullness of Christ fills all in all (Ephesians 1:23) with regards to the church acting as his body to carry out his will on earth. From that standpoint, all of the power that was available to Christ while he was living on earth is available to Christians that are making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded us. The way that we access God’s power is to “take up the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13). In other words, we have to rely on Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and believe that it applies to us.

An amazing turnaround

The night that Jesus was betrayed in the garden of Gethsemane Matthew reported, “Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled” (Matthew 26:56). The Greek word translated forsook, aphiemi (af-ee´-ay-mee) is used in 1 Corinthians 7:11-13 of a husband divorcing his wife and in Matthew 4:22 of James and his brother John leaving their ship and father behind to follow Jesus (G863). Therefore it seems likely, when Jesus’ disciples abandoned him in the garden of Gethsemane, they didn’t expect to ever see him again; but after several days of consecutive appearances, the disciples became convinced that Jesus was alive again, and that their mission to take his gospel to the whole world was once more their number one priority.

As the book of Acts opens, Luke describes the scene in Jerusalem as being completely turned around from the previous weeks when Jesus was arrested and crucified. After the apostles saw Jesus taken up to heaven, Luke said, “Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Luke 1:12-14).

The phrase Luke used “continued with one accord” (Acts 1:14) means that everyone was in agreement about what they were going to do next. Today we might say, everyone was on the same page. Luke’s use of the Greek word homothumadon suggests there was an emotional element that connected the group of believers that were gathered together in the upper room. One of the components of the word homothumadon, thumos (thoo-mos´) denotes passion and can be translated as wrath. Thumos is described as “incipient displeasure fermenting in the mind” (G2372). It’s possible this group had banded together to formulate a plan of civil disobedience in order to turn the tide against the Jewish authorities that had plotted to kill Jesus.

One of the factors that changed the circumstances of Jesus’ followers was the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). Jesus used two different words to describe the power of his Father and the power that his disciples would receive through the Holy Spirit. The Father’s power, exousia means ability or the authority to do something (G1849). The power that would come upon the believers was dunamis which means force or more specifically, “miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)” (G1411).

The connection between exousia power and dunamis power can be found in the root word dunamai (doo´-nam-ahee) which means “to be able or possible” (G1410). Jesus used the word dunamai when he asked two blind men that wanted him to show them mercy, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28). After they responded yes, Matthew reported, “Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29). On another occasion, Jesus told the father of a demon possessed boy, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to wait for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5) meant that they had not yet received the power that was going to be available to them. As they sat huddled in their upper room, thinking about what they were going to do next, Jesus’ apostles probably had no idea that the Holy Spirit was about to turn their world upside down.