"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might."
Overconfidence loses sight of weakness.
Over the years, there’s a biblical hero that I’ve often skimmed over because I’ve known his story since childhood. Samson, the long-haired, mighty warrior of God is someone many have heard about in children's books and Sunday school. What happens to the brave warrior? When he has long hair he is strong, but when he has his hair cut off, he’s weak.
However, there’s a lot more to the story than meets the eye. Who was the source of Samson’s great strength? God was. God set Samson apart as a Nazarite when he visited Samson’s parents before he was born. We see in Judges 14:6 that the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him and allowed him to tear a lion in pieces with his bare hands. The Spirit also helped Him strike down 30 men of Ashkelon to do the Lord’s work of helping Israel (Judges 14:4;19). A third time, the Spirit of the Lord enabled him to strike down 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges. 15:14-15).
His demise came when he got a little too confident and allowed Delilah to wear him down to the point that his soul was vexed to death. Before this, he had been a powerful judge in Israel. After he revealed that his hair was tied to the Spirit's empowering work, he met his demise. The man who could destroy lions and slay thousands couldn’t resist a single woman’s persistence! Sadly, "he did not know that the LORD had left him" when he was finally kidnapped by the wicked Philistines.
This is a good reminder for us to find our strength in the Lord. Matthew Henry, commenting on Samson’s fall, says:
"Satan ruins men by flattering them into a good opinion of their own safety, and so bringing them to mind nothing, and fear nothing; and then he robs them of their strength and honour, and leads them captive at his will. When we sleep our spiritual enemies do not."
We need to know we are weak.
As humans we are more physically needy and weak that we like to admit. We need sleep, food, water, shelter, medication, vaccinations, etc. We battle with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD, and other mental and psychological ailments. We struggle to control our anger, manage our sadness, and choose to mask our struggles with entertainment, alcohol, work, or drugs.
We are also full of spiritual weakness and sin. We sin against God, ourselves, and one another. Humans in general are unrighteous (Romans 3:9-20) and enslaved to various passions and pleasures (Titus 2). We frequently choose the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life over Christ. Ultimately, we are spiritually dead and must depend on God for salvation. This is depressing and humbling, but it should point us to Christ.
In Christ, though, we still need God for spiritual vitality and growth (Eph 2:1-5). God doesn't just make us alive and save our souls (Col. 2:13-14), but he also sanctifies us and makes us more Christlike (Gal. 3:3:). Paul’s biggest frustration with the Galatian church was self-reliance: “Did you rely on the Spirit to get saved and now you’re relying on yourself for sanctification?” (my paraphrase). That’s ridiculous! If you’re going to grow in Christlikeness, it will never be by your own good deeds or works of the law. You have to lean in and trust Christ!
Our weakness draws us to the strength of God.
In Ephesians 6:11-14, Christians are called put on the whole armor of God in order to stand against the schemes of the devil. We take up the whole armor of God, in order to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. We are called 4 times in this passage to stand in the strength of God. We must never lose sight of this!
Our strength to stand and remain in the faith amidst intense spiritual warfare, worldly hatred, demonic attacks, and internal battles is found in the Lord, not ourselves. To “be strong in the Lord” is a passive command in the Greek. In other words, we are not the ones strengthening ourselves. Rather, we are putting ourselves in the position for God to strengthen us. It’s like saying, "Get your hair cut". It’s not usually assumed that we will cut our own hair. We are putting ourselves in the barber’s chair so that he can do the cutting. Similarly, we are putting ourselves in a position to be strengthened by God. That requires humility!
Do you recognize your weakness?
1. Do you think you have no need for God? Here's a word of exhortation from Scripture. Every drop of God’s furious anger resides on you if don’t repent. And you’re not some innocent person who doesn’t deserve it. You’ve broken His law. You’ve chosen your own path. You’ve said, “away with God and His rules. I’m doing things my way!” You must turn and repent! Though God is patient, His wrath is quickly kindled and once the forest is on fire, it’s too late to call for help! Come now!
2. Do you look back at your religious deeds and think you're good to go? You’ve never had a sense of need for God because you think you've had it all together. You may feel guilty on occasion, but you muster up enough "good deeds" tomorrow to soothe your guilty conscience. You may even create a worldly sort of guilt and shame in your mind that make you think, "surely these tears and this sorrow will warrant my forgiveness!" On the day of judgment when God asks where you belong, will you answer that Christ was enough or will you give a laundry list of excuses and try to justify yourself based on all that you’ve done? Enough of that! It’s time to cast that off and trust Jesus! Believe Jesus! Rest in Him!
3. Are you self-righteous? When you remember where you came from, you have to fight to see the grace of God and His goodness. When you look at your spiritual growth, you need to fight to see that it was the Holy Spirit who convicted you the last time you were in sin. It was He who showed you the way of escape in your last temptation. It was his power that helped you put that sin to death. And if you’re going to breathe another spiritual breath or take another step in your faith, it is He who will guide you into the truth.
4. Do you wallow in self-pity? Maybe you know where you came from and how much you struggle, but you can’t get your eyes off yourself and your sins. You can’t see past yesterday's failures to have hope for today. You, too, need to humble yourself and realize that it’s not in your strength that you’ll be able to pick up and move on. God will carry you. You’re not too messed up or too bad for Jesus. But, as a Robert Murray M'Cheyne once said, take ten looks at Jesus for every look at yourself. Cast your burdens on the Lord, for He will give you the strength to endure.
Learn from my mistakes
In college, I was an All-American triple and long jumper. During my freshman of college, I pulled my hamstring at indoor nationals. It was one of the most painful events in my life. I could barely put on my socks or even sit without pain. Even days later it was still painful to stretch or walk. A few weeks later, though, it felt great. I could stretch it, walk with no pain, and even do some light jogging.
I was amazed at how fast the hamstring healed. With the advice of the trainers, I went out and practiced. The warmups went great, the strides were painless, and I felt like I was finally getting up to speed! I was able to do some high knees, high skips, and even one-legged hops. By the time I got to the long jump pit, I was warmed up and ready to go.
Little did I know, my hamstring wasn’t ready. I stepped to the back of the runway and geared up to jump. I got a few steps into my run-through and felt like my old self. A few more steps and I felt the pop. Again. The dreaded hamstring tear became a full reality. I limped off the track in utter defeat and shock, barely able to stand again. This time it was torn and I was done for a year.
My torn hamstring wasn't the random result of a fateful day. Rather, I had not strengthened my hamstring to withstand collegiate sports. I had been strong enough to win state titles, break records, and find success. However, when the rigor of college track and field came, my muscles were too weak. I didn't recognize my weakness and it took a major injury to prove that I wasn't strong enough. I was relying on yesterday's success for confidence today. In hindsight, I should have been doing strength training all along.
Spiritually, I have often limped through life because I failed to recognize my weakness. In those moments, God graciously withdrew His strength and allowed me to fall. I say graciously because I learned that when I'm weak, He is strong. I am gradually learning the importance of small, daily habits to build my faith. God has called us today to stand firm in Him so that when the evil day comes we can withstand Satan. Abide in Him. Dwell with Christ. For apart from Him, you can do nothing.
How have you seen your own weakness? When you're weak, where do you run for strength?
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