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In weakness, in fear,
and in much trembling
Does Paul’s admission amaze you? He was very human, like you or me.
By Malcolm B Heap, Midnight Ministries
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n this age of mega-preachers, where people are impressed with showmanship, it might astound some to know that Paul was not like that. He was bold in Christ, but humanly, he felt very inadequate.
Because of those inner feelings, God could use him for the task.
Paul’s admission was early on in his letter to the Corinthians:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.
For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Cor 2:1-4).
What was that demonstration of the Spirit and power? I can only guess at what God did to confirm to others His anointing on Paul, by what God has done with us.
A lady told me recently that when she was in one of our meetings, my face was shining. God gave her that apparition or visionary experience as a confirmation to her of God’s appointment. Israel in the Sinai wilderness saw Moses’ face shining, too (Ex 34:35). It was God’s sign to the doubters that they should heed what Moses said, because he had been with God and received from Him.
And so it was with Paul.
He had been in the Arabian desert with Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus had personally taught him:
...the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia and returned again to Damascus (Gal 1:11-17).
Paul’s personal encounter with Jesus began when he was dramatically struck down on the road to Damascus. Jesus blinded him for three days. This very personal and brilliant Light challenged him:
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4).
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no one (Acts 9:7).
Three days later, Jesus appeared in vision to a faithful disciple, Ananias, telling him to go to Saul, and put his hand on him so that he could receive his sight back (Acts 9:10-12). Jesus also said:
He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15).
And Ananias went his way and entered the house, and laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized (9:17,18).
It was very humbling for Paul. He had to live with the memory that he had persecuted the Church, approved of their imprisonment, and felt justified in seeing them killed! How could he ever live that down?!
So, imagine how he felt when facing some of the ones he formerly persecuted!? No wonder he trembled!
But his response was not just apprehension. He knew he had been forgiven and accepted by Jesus. He knew he was an apostle.
But he genuinely felt weak. He had fears. What are we to make of that? Is that not a denial of what John wrote in 1 John 4:18?
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love (1 Jn 4:18).
What John was writing about is fear of God’s punishment for sin. In Jewish culture at that time, there was a prevalent view, based upon partial understanding of God, that God was wrathful and punished for iniquity. He does, it is true, but there is also a very merciful and compassionate element to God’s character, so that:
If we confess our sins [to Him], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9).
The religious culture at that time had a vengeful emphasis on God’s response. John was countering that incomplete concept of God’s nature.
The fear John was referring to is fear of God’s retribution, not other fears we face as a natural response to stimuli in our human development.
If I was to stand at the top of a 500 foot high tower and look down, I would get a fearful feeling in the pit of my stomach. Is that fear a result of my not being perfected in love? No, of course not. So, I trust you see that John was not referring to all human fears.
Likewise, if a lorry came hurtling towards me, my instinct of self-preservation would immediately kick in. I would feel terror.
In our lives we face all sorts of fears in various situations. Behaviour patterns develop in childhood, and human fears can continue in our psyche for the rest of our lives. Some are beneficial (fear to touch fire; fear to get into trouble, etc.), some are harmful (like fear of what others think about us). We can leave the good fears in place, but we have to counter and work against the wrong fears. It’s a process, but as we see what’s wrong in our psychology we do what we can to deal with it, and God’s Spirit helps us.
I used to be the most fearful and timid person when it came to being with other people. Inhibitions were a result of upbringing and schooling, where there were many wrong influences. A harsh, unloving environment induced unhelpful fears, and the devil does what he can to make them worse.
But I don’t condemn myself for those fears. Nor should you condemn yourself for faults you still see that you wish you could eradicate, because Jesus accepts you as you are, if you are trying to overcome and rise up above your failings, with Jesus in you.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are Christ Jesus... (Rom 8:1).
You and I are not perfect. Far from it!
So even though much of that psychology of fear has abated now that Jesus lives in me, some still remains, just as Paul had to battle with a similar spiritual ‘thorn’ in his flesh (2 Cor 12:7). I know that God could take it away instantly if He wanted to, but we all have to struggle to enter God’s kingdom.
I feel I am in good company to know that Paul also struggled with feelings of inadequacy, or lack of self-assurance or lack of self-confidence.
He said why: to keep him humble (2 Cor 12:7) and that his reliance would be upon God:
...that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Cor 12:9).
Weaknesses and infirmities can help induce the works of God in us, so we do not rely upon ourselves, for we have little within us, of our self, that we can rely upon. Paul wrote:
...that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:9).
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak [humanly], then I am strong [spiritually] (2 Cor 12:10).
When you read Paul’s letters, you could get the impression of a very confident man who was without fears or inhibitions – if you overlook his comments in 1 Corinthians 2:3. That’s because he was writing with the confidence that the Spirit imparts.
People were seeing the Spirit not Paul the man. I’m sure some people get a similar impression when they read some things I have written.
"For his letters," they say, "are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible" (2 Cor 10:10).
It may help you to know that everyone has fears, and that you should not condemn yourself for those fears. Jesus doesn’t. He helps you to face them.
It is written in Revelation:
He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God... and I will write on him My new name (Rev 3:12).
You and I need a new name that represents the complete change of our character and which replaces all that is wrong with which we have been tainted in this life.
-226 What many fail to appreciate is that overcoming is a matter of continually recognising our need for Him and of our need to change, and of striving towards the ultimate goal of perfection. It is not a matter of having defeated everything that is in our way, and of having rid ourselves of all that offends.
He that overcometh... is a continuing process, not a finished one for us in this life.
To repeat: you should not condemn yourself for your fears. Jesus doesn’t. He helps you to face them.
You may have read in Revelation 21:8 that the first category who are lost are the cowardly. But you are not a coward if you are facing your fears. You are only a coward if you give in to them.
As you face your fear, opposing it, and – even though you may be ‘shaking in your boots’ – you do the very thing you fear to do, you are overcoming. You are not a coward, because you are not letting the fear dictate your behaviour.
Don’t expect to get rid of fear completely. It is a part of our psychological makeup as humans. What you are able to do, with God’s Spirit living in you, is to learn to manage fear, rule it, and control it, so that it doesn’t rule and control you.
Then you will be sons of God and glorify your Father in heaven. M B Heap
Bible quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) unless otherwise stated
Healing Inner Wounds (Wou)
Why Forgive? (WF) Why Love? (WL)
The Bible Speaks volumes 1-5 (TBS1-TBS5)
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