Our passage this morning is interesting. You know how sometimes the Bible is helpful and inspirational, and sometimes the Bible is frustrating and tough? And then sometimes the Bible is both? Our text for this morning is both.
So there you are, reading along in 2 Corinthians, as you do, and it’s a little strange because Paul is talking about how he’s not boasting when, in fact, he just spent a chapter and a half doing nothing but boasting… but it’s Paul, right? So we tend to give him a pass even when he doesn’t deserve it.
Then you come to verse 9 of chapter 12 and Paul says, “The Lord said to me, ‘my grace is enough for you,’” and you’re like “Nice! Imma highlight that!”
You whip out that highlighter that you keep in your old school Bible cover—you know, the kind that zips all the way around—and you highlight that part of the verse. “My grace is enough for you.” Perfect.
You cap the highlighter and you keep reading… “for power is made perfect in weakness.” Wait, what?… You look around the room, you stretch your neck a little bit, and you take a peek back at the second half of that sentence.
“For power is made perfect in weakness.” Eeeeee, that’s tough. No one likes weakness. Paul must have meant something else. Good thing I didn’t highlight the whole verse! I’m just going to memorize the first part.
Now, it may seem like I’m kind of exaggerating that reaction a little bit, but you know this happens all the time, right? That’s how we end up with things like 2 Corinthians 12:9a…
When you read the whole thing together, it says, “The Lord said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you because power is made perfect in weakness.’”
The verse started out great and really easy, it was helpful and inspirational, it might even be “life verse worthy” if you’re into that sort of thing—my grace is enough for you—but it got heavy real quick.
I tell you what, if you had tried to tell middle school Chris that the key to understanding God’s grace is to be ok with your weaknesses, I legitimately think I would have laughed out loud. When you’re a 5 foot, 75 pound, scrawny nerd with anxiety and your first pair of glasses, every day is a struggle. My entire goal in life was to deflect people away from seeing my weaknesses.
On my first day of 6thgrade… the bell rings at the end of 6thperiod, which is the last class of the day, and I bust it out of that room like they were giving away free money to the first one to make it to your bus. What I didn’t realize was I had left all of my class stuff, including my brand new glasses, in the little basket thing under my desk in the classroom.
So, you combine new 6thgrader stress with losing your new glasses stress, and the next morning I was literally just a ball of anxiety.
On my second day, I get there early to go to my 6thperiod teacher first, and of course she had all my stuff for me. I learned years later that she’s like the nicest person ever, but at the time She. Scared. Me. To. Death. Not even joking.
I take my stuff to my locker, I go to first period, which was some class, I don’t even remember what. I didn’t feel well. I go to second period which was science class. Still don’t feel well. I remember I felt like I might suffocate in a cloud of my own anxiety. Bell rings and I go to my science teacher, Mrs. Abel, and I say:
“Mrs. Abel, I don’t feel good. My stomach hurts.” Now, I don’t know what she thought or what she saw when she looked at me, but she didn’t argue. She said, “Go to the office but tell your third period teacher on the way down.”
My third period class was right across the hall. English class. So, I head over and the only person in the room at this point is the teacher. I approach her, take a deep breath…
And throw up all over her feet…
And she was wearing sandals…
Now, to her credit, she did not murder me.
She did, however, run into the hallway screaming that a student had thrown up on her. I’m pretty sure the entire student body at my middle school was in that exact section of hallway at that moment.
I got to go home early that day.
Now, I know we have some rising 6thgraders in the room. I’m sure you’re excited and a little nervous about middle school coming up, but don’t worry… NOTHING you do can possibly be as bad as throwing up on the sandaled feet of your 3rdperiod teacher in front of the entire school on your second day of class… You’re off the hook. You’re welcome.
Middle school was tough for me. And there’s no way you would have gotten me to be ok with my weaknesses, even if it did mean I better understood God’s grace. I don’t think I would have made that trade. I was too focused on trying to live up to other people’s definitions of what it means to be enough in this world. God wasn’t a student at Barret Middle School.
I remember trying to dress a certain way, act a certain way, hang out with certain people. But even with all of that, there were a lot of times I didn’t think I was good enough. I had a lot of friends at church, that’s where my primary group was. I played baseball. There were a lot of things that went well during that time, too, but for the most part, middle school was hard for me, and I don’t remember it very fondly. I didn’t like being myself because I didn’t feel like being myself was good enough.
I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
It’s the little things that really sell it, you know? Like, when other kids were being made fun of, you jump in to prevent it from being you on the receiving end and you think it makes you look cool.
I was still a ball of anxiety and I had no idea who I was as a person because I was too busy pretending to be something else. I was trying to manufacture the feeling of being enough because I thought I needed the world to tell me I was enough, instead of realizing God had already made me to be enough.
The world sets standards for power and strength, and I didn’t fit those. I still don’t. I wanted so badly for people to look at me and think of me in a certain way—to think of me as cool—but honestly that’s not who I am. I’m an athletic nerd who loves baseball and Harry Potter. I can quote the Star Wars movies and on a good day I can also throw a frisbee 80 yards.
I don’t fit neatly into expected boxes. I like James Bond movies, but I also like chick flicks. I like podcasts more than I like music—which is a blasphemous thing to say out loud in this church… I am who I am, but sometimes that still doesn’t feel like enough.
That seems to be the way it is, doesn’t it? None of us fit neatly into boxes, we’re all unique, but still our culture is built around a certain idea about what strength and power is. Somewhere along the way, culture decided what physical strength and emotional strength would look like, and for some reason they chose the destructive version of those things. The world pushes us to do anything it takes to be imposing and powerful, to climb the ladder, to gain the approval of others, but whatever you do, don’t show any weakness.
I’m sure you’ve seen that before.
It’s the reason men’s body wash comes in scents like Pure Sport and Swagger and Locker Room and Gasoline… somehow guys have been convinced that it’s not ok to smell like something that actually smells good because the world doesn’t approve of guys who don’t fit some arbitrary definition of toughness. You can walk into any store and see that in the kids’ toy aisles, too.
This need to get approval from people so that we can feel like we’re enough is everywhere. It’s in politics. It’s in the workplace. It’s in our churches…
How many times have we all walked into this place with our lives feeling like a hurricane, but when someone says, “Hey, how are you?” we reply, “Oh, I’m doing well!” Somehow, being a Christian has shifted over the generations from sharing our needs in community to pretending like we have it all together all the time in every way.
How many times has someone said something about faith or the Bible or religion and you’ve had a question or a doubt pop up, but then you respond by shoving it down deep where it can hide because somewhere along the line people started teaching that good Christians don’t have doubts. You know what? Everyone in the room has doubts and questions AND doubts are a good thing. Doubts lead to questions, questions lead to a search for wider truths, and those are the things that help us grow. But we can’t do anything about it because someone else might not think we’re as faithful as they are if we express our doubts.
Trying to strive for the world’s definition of what it means to be enough is everywhere. It’s all around us. And it’s crushing us.
Our passage today is interesting because this is exactly what Paul is dealing with as he writes this letter to the church in Corinth. People that he calls “super apostles” have come in and convinced this church that Paul isn’t worth their time. These super apostles are dynamic speakers, they have a lot to boast about, and they have gotten the church in Corinth to partner with them financially. It would be similar to televangelist type preachers today—the greasy hair, shallow gospel, trying to sell you holy water Jesus once kissed or something. You know what I’m talking about.
So Paul spends an entire chapter and a half bragging about all of his credentials and trying to remind the church in Corinth why he matters. He’s playing the game. I was here first, I met Jesus on the road, I was tortured for my faith, I’ve sacrificed for you, I’ve never asked you for money. So you should respect me, not those other people.
Then, after bragging about himself for a chapter and a half, in a way only Paul can seem to get away with, he says, “But I’m not bragging. These are my weaknesses.”
Paul’s message to the church in Corinth in verses 6-10 is that power is made complete in weakness and that’s how we better understand God’s grace, and Paul’s right, but even as he’s saying it in this letter, HE’S NOT GETTING IT. The very thing that made Paul such a dynamic apostle—his humbling encounter with Jesus on the road—has now become something Paul brags about as one of his credentials. Even Paul has fallen into the trap of not feeling like enough, so he’s seeking the approval of the church in Corinth, just as he’s trying to correct that very problem in them…
But still, there’s something about this section of 2 Corinthians that grabs us.
Even though Paul still feels the urge to defend himself and to brag about himself, what he’s learning here is that He. Is. Enough. Even with his flaws and weaknesses. And it’s precisely those flaws and weaknesses that make him an authentic person. And being an authentic person—being who God created you to be—is where real strength comes from and is where we find a true understanding of grace.
This text might be the best, most succinct presentation of the gospel, perhaps in all of scripture: God’s grace is enough for you. For the real you.
Not for the you who wears the mask of “Oh, everything’s fine” at church.
Not for the you who only presents the best parts of yourself on facebook because everyone else there also seems so perfect.
Not for the you who sells yourself short.
God’s grace is enough for the real you, flaws and all.
That’s the lesson our children and our youth spent a week talking about at PassportKids and Passport youth this summer. The overall theme was Enough, and each day they talked about something different. The daily themes were I am Enough, God is Enough, There is Enough, and Enough Already. I encourage you to ask one of our kids or youth who went to camp about the different days, but that first day “I am Enough” seemed to really make an impact.
Our kids and youth live in a world where people ask them to start thinking about resume building activities as early as age 12, but then when they graduate under a mountain of debt they’ll be lucky to find a job in their own field.
They live in a world where the people who complained about their kid getting left out a few years ago are now the same ones complaining about participation trophies.
They live in a world where an algorithm predicts their standardized test scores and then kids are challenged to beat their own fake score because no one knows how to motivate without competition anymore.
Imagine if, instead of all that, the adults in the room showed them how to live into and get the most out of their true selves.
Imagine how things could be different if we consistently modeled a way of doing life that affirmed: God’s grace is already enough for every human on this planet, including our own youth and kids.
But we can’t. Because we don’t feel that way about ourselves as consistently as we should!
So, imagine if we felt comfortable enough about who we are—flaws and all—to stop being fake and to stop seeking the world’s approval. Then we could be that kind of example in their lives. It would change everything you know about reality.
In our passage, Paul reminds us of something we teach little kids in church—that God loves you just the way you are and because of that, God’s grace is enough for you just the way you are. Then we become teenagers and adults and we forget that because we start to build our own little empires in order to prove to other people that we are enough and we matter, when in fact we’ve mattered all along and it’s actually our weaknesses, our flaws, and the things that make us human that affirm our worth more than anything else.
God’s in the business of creating these great reversals. But we don’t often like great reversals. So, what do we do?
It’s easy to say, “We are enough,” and then to stop short of finding out what that actually means. But it’s a whole different thing to live into the root of our best selves because we understand God has already made us enough.
I remember when I was baptized. I was 9 years old and I expected something magical.
I thought when I was lowered into the water as this sinful human, all that would be washed away, and I would emerge feeling these new superpowers of goodness flowing through me.
Turns out, it’s just a fancy bathtub full of room temperature water and the pastor is wearing fishing waders… It’s an important symbol, don’t get me wrong, and it’s a milestone in the life of a Christian and for the church community, but it’s still just an awkward bathtub.
And so when I came up out of the water feeling only like a soaking wet version of my same old self, I was disappointed.
It wasn’t until I was a lot older that I realized: that’s the whole point. We emerge from the water and the only thing about us that’s truly changed is our perception of ourselves. It’s a symbolic moment where we finally realize that WE ARE ENOUGH. God’s grace is enough for us precisely BECAUSE we are ourselves, not because we’re suddenly perfect with Jesus-like superpowers.
I didn’t get it when I was baptized or when I was in middle school, and, really, I still have days now where I don’t get it. But I’m trying.
The world wants us to jump through hoops to prove we are enough and we are worthy. But God has already made us to be enough exactly as we are.
You are enough.
We are enough.