I fear we often have an unrealistic image of the Apostle Paul. We tend to think of him as if he were some combination of a Navy Seal and a Super-Hero. And yet, Paul knew what it was like to experience human weakness. When he described his ministry in the city of Corinth he said that he was with them “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). I don’t need to tell any of you what it is like to feel weak and inadequate and overwhelmed. But here is the good news: The gospel can strengthen you! The gospel can empower you! The gospel can supply you with whatever you need to remain faithful to the Lord and to accomplish whatever he’s called you to do.
How, you ask? I’ve got a lot of answers!
Consider your suffering. The only way you can suffer unjustly without growing bitter and resentful is tied directly to the way Christ suffered for us and did so without reviling those who reviled him – “when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23; see 2:18-25; 3:17-18).
Or take humility as another example. When you are battling pride, remember that the basis for Paul’s appeal that we “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than” ourselves is the self-sacrifice of God the Son in becoming a human and submitting to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:1-5 in relation to 2:6-11).
Husbands, do you feel weak and inadequate to love your wife? If so, remember that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25-33). Think deeply and often on his sacrifice for you and you will find the power of the Spirit to sacrificially love your bride.
Do you struggle to be generous and sacrificial with your money? Do you battle greed? If so, remember what Paul said: “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9; 9:13). Do you see from this how the truth of the gospel is designed to motivate and empower you to be generous?
Do you struggle to love the unlovely? Do you struggle to love those who won’t love back? Again, go to Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 where he says that we are to “walk in love” toward each other, “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Again, it is the truth of the gospel that strengthens us to love when we would otherwise prefer to close our eyes to the unlovely and walk away.
Do you find yourself unwilling to serve one another? If so, reflect deeply on how Christ served his disciples by washing their feet and eventually suffering in their stead (John 13:1-20).
If that were not enough, there are dozens of instances in the NT where we are directed back to the reality of the gospel and what Christ has done for us through it as the primary way to combat those false beliefs and feelings that hinder our spiritual growth. So, for example, . . .
When you don’t feel loved by others, meditate on Rom. 5:5-11; 8:35-39.
When you don’t have a sense of any personal value, read Matt. 10:29-31; 1 John 3:1-3.
When you struggle to find meaning in life, study Eph. 1:4-14; Rom. 11:33-36.
When you don’t feel useful, consider 1 Cor. 15:58; 12:7-27.
When you feel unjustly criticized, rest in the truth of Rom. 8:33-34.
When you feel excluded by others, rejoice in Heb. 13:5-6.
When you feel you have no good works, let Eph. 2:8-10 have its effect.
When you are constantly asking the question: Who am I? take courage in 1 Peter 2:9-10.
When you live in fear that other people have the power to destroy or undermine who you are, be strengthened by Heb. 13:5-6; Rom. 8:31-34.
When you don’t feel like you belong anywhere, take comfort from Eph. 4:1-16; 1 Cor. 12:13.
When Satan accuses you of being a constant failure, remind him of 1 Cor. 1:30-31.
When Satan tells you that you are an embarrassment to the church, quote Eph. 3:10.
When you find yourself bitter towards the Church and indifferent regarding its ministries, reflect on Acts 20:28.
When you find yourself shamed into silence when confronted by non-Christians, be encouraged with 2 Tim. 1:8-12.
When you find yourself experiencing prejudice against those of another race or culture, memorize and act upon the truth of Rom. 1:16; 2 Cor. 5:14-16; Eph. 2:11ff.; and Rev. 5.
When you struggle with pride and boasting in your own achievements, be humbled by Rom. 3:27-28; 1 Cor. 1:18-25, 30-31.
When you feel despair and hopelessness, let Rom. 5:1-10 restore your confidence.
When you feel defeated by sin and hopeless ever to change, delight yourself in Rom. 7:24-25.
When you feel condemned by God for your multiple, repeated failures, speak aloud the words of Rom. 8:1.
When you lack power to resist conforming to the world, consider Rom. 12:1-2; Gal. 6:14.
When you are tempted sexually, never forget 1 Cor. 6:18-20.
And again, when you find yourself saying . . .
I’m not having any impact in life or on others, be uplifted by 2 Cor. 12:9-10.
I feel guilty and filled with shame all the time for my sins, be reminded of Eph. 1:7.
I live in constant fear, be encouraged by Luke 12:32; Rev. 2:9-11.
I struggle with anxiety and worry about everything, don’t neglect the truth of Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:6-7.
I am defined and controlled by my past, look to 2 Cor. 5:17.
I live in fear that God will abandon me, consider his promise in Rom. 8:35-38.
I can’t break free of my sins and bad habits, linger long with Rom. 6:6,14.
I’m afraid to pray and fear that God will mock my petitions, take heart from Heb. 4:14-16.
I can’t find strength to serve others, fearing that I’ll be taken advantage of by them, let Phil. 2:5-11; and Mark 10:45 have their way in your life.
I’m a spiritual orphan and belong to no one, rejoice in Gal. 4:4-7.
Each of these texts refers to the gospel of what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and each text applies that gospel truth to the particular problem noted. These, then, are just a handful of the ways that the gospel affects all of life, all of ministry, and strengthens us in everything we seek to be and do and accomplish as Christians and as local churches.
This is truly amazing. God glorifies himself not by putting you down or embarrassing you or mocking you. God glorifies himself by making you strong! He draws attention to himself and his majesty by empowering you to do through his Holy Spirit what you could never do in your own strength.