Question: "How is God's strength made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)?"
Answer: Many of the principles of God’s kingdom are paradoxes. When the apostle Paul pleaded with God to remove his affliction—one he called a “thorn in the flesh”—the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9, NKJV). The New Living Translation says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” God’s strength is made perfect in weakness because He delights in taking situations where human strength is lacking to demonstrate the greatness of His power.
God’s denial of Paul’s request for healing turned out to be a blessing in the apostle’s life. One commentary explains, “The ‘thorn’ from God kept Paul from imagining himself as a spiritual superman, and revealed to him the reality of his human mortality and weakness despite his extraordinary revelations. The ‘thorn’ also kept Paul pinned close to the Lord, in trust and confidence” (Barnett, P., The Message of 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness, InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 178).
Paul stopped protesting his situation and began to boast and even take pleasure in his weakness so that the power of Christ could work through him: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul expressed the paradox of his condition—that in his frailty, he was strong because his strength came from Christ.
The words made perfect in 2 Corinthians 12:9 mean “fully or entirely accomplished or made complete.” Christ’s power is made complete—it is able to fully accomplish its purpose—when His people are weak and depend on Him for strength. When we, like Paul, stop resisting and complaining and let the power of Christ rest on us, we make room to receive countless unexpected blessings from the Lord. By allowing God’s strength to be made perfect in our weakness, we have the opportunity to display God’s glory flawlessly. “The grace and power of God interlock with human lives at the point of mortal weakness,” writes Barnett (op. cit., p. 179).
Over and over, the Bible gives examples of God’s strength manifesting when His people are weak. Moses, the great leader of Israel, was deeply aware of his human shortcomings (Exodus 4:10). When the Lord called him to go to Pharaoh, Moses cried, “I’m not adequate. Please send someone else!” But God replied, “Go anyway, Moses, because I will be with you” (see Exodus 4:12–15).
Gideon’s story proves that God can accomplish great things through people who forget about their human weaknesses, trust in God’s strength, and obey His guidance (Judges 6:14–16). And, of course, our most notable biblical example, Jesus Christ, was “crucified in weakness” but “now lives by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4, NLT).
First Corinthians 1:27 teaches, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” We must never shrink away from God because of our weakness but run to Him, letting Him equip and empower us to accomplish His will. We must remember His promise: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:29–31).
When we are in a position of need, it allows us to see how much we need God (2 Corinthians 1:9; 3:5; 13:4). The more aware we are of our weakness, the more God can reveal His power through us: “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NLT).
God’s strength is made perfect in weakness when we put our faith and trust in Him. The Lord’s presence is all we need in times of weakness. His great power and sufficiency rest on us as we find our strength in Him, and He is glorified. We can say with the psalmist, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).