How God often chooses uneducated, socially marginalized people with problems to build his kingdom
HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED THAT God sometimes chooses the very person you would not? This is most shocking when we remember that God is sovereign. He has total freedom to choose one and reject another. Therefore, we are surprised when God sometimes bypasses Seminary Ph. D.s, successful pastors, and notable authors and chooses the uneducated and the obscure instead.
In the Welsh revival of 1904-05 he chose a 25-year-old miner, Evan Roberts, a man with only two months of Bible School. To lead the 1906 Azusa street revival, he chose a black pastor, William J. Seymour, the son of freed slaves, a man who didn’t even finish grade school. To systematize the Reformation theology he chose John Calvin, a shy, introverted young man with a smattering of law school and no formal theological training. God could have chosen one of the elite theologians at the University of Paris, but he didn’t. Why?
God chooses to express his power through weakness.
How about the places where revival occurs? They are often outposts of obscurity. In 1966 God poured out his Spirit on a small Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the highlands of the Indonesian island of Timor. Is it possible to get more remote than this? Supposedly, the dead were raised, and thousands of Muslims converted. But why here? Why not New York, London, or Los Angeles? Once a person finally makes the arduous flight to Timor, it is a strenuous journey over badly maintained dirt roads just to find the village in which this church resides.
Another notable 20th century revival took place in 1948 in the Hebrides Islands off the Northwest coast of Scotland. The Hebrides are windswept, barren islands, with little population far removed from polite civilization. Why here? Why not Edinburgh or London? We don’t know, but we do know this: God often expresses his power through obscure people n obscure places.
I am not saying that God doesn’t choose the educated, the wealthy, the gifted, the famous, or the talented. We are thankful that he does. I’m not saying that he doesn’t work in prestigious metropolitan locations. The 1858 prayer revival began in downtown New York, but once again it was led by Jeremy Lanphier, and obscure layman. But, what should surprise the honest observer of church history is how often God uses the weak and unqualified in obscure places.
Crucified in Weakness
None of this will amaze the perceptive Christian. Why? “Jesus was crucified in weakness,” wrote the apostle, Paul, “yet lives by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4). From Revelation to Genesis the Bible consistently applies this principle. God has also put this principle into practice throughout Church history. If the perfect man, God’s own Son, the Messiah, conquered through a display of weakness why should we expect anything more?
Think about the Apostle Paul. Whenever the Bible repeats something three times it is a spiritual exclamation mark. It says, “Pay attention. This is important.” Now carefully observe that exactly three times Paul wrote, “I will boast of my weaknesses” (2 Cor. 11:30, 12:5, 12:9).
Why? Because in this same passage he observed this truth at work in himself—a truth that he already saw at work in the Master he served. Pleading with God to take away a tormenting spirit, God responded, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Therefore Paul concluded, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Why does God work through the weak and the obscure? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). God wants the glory. God wants the credit, and it is right that he should get it. God wants the person he uses, and the people watching, to know that he did it. And, when he expresses his power through weak vessels, and God accomplishes things that no person could ever accomplish without his help, it is obvious who did it.
God Chooses the Foolish
Today, when we want to evangelize, we often bring in a well-known professional athlete, movie star, or successful businessman, someone strong in the worlds eyes, to give their testimony. For this reason, a church I previously attended asked an NBA player to give his testimony. He was well-known, respected, recently retired, and a committed Christian.
This is not necessarily wrong, but it is not how Jesus did it. Think about it: Jesus used a despised Samaritan woman with five husbands to announce the Good News to her village. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ” (John 4:29). He used an unemployed, uneducated, recently-healed blind man to testify to the Pharisees. “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?”” (John 9:10–12).
God chose John the Baptist to prepare his people for the Messiah. It was a strange choice—a social recluse, living alone in the desert, with strange eating habits, (locusts and wild honey). He was so poor he had only one camel hair shirt. In addition, John’s message was not polite. He came calling the people to repentance as he announced a message of eminent doom.
Paul referred to this principle when he reminded the church at Corinth, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26–29).
When Paul said three times, “I will boast of my weakness” what did he mean? How does the Bible define weakness? First of all, it’s important to note that weakness expresses itself differently in different people. For example, an academic with several Ph. D’s may be weak in speech. But another man, very articulate, may be weak in his ability to learn.
Sometimes weakness means inability. For example, God called Abraham to be the Father of many nations, and the Father of the Jewish people. But Abraham was not a father. In fact, he could not be a father. His wife was barren and could not conceive. Here was his first great weakness.
Sometimes weakness means a lack of character. God called Jacob to be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. But Jacob was ruled by fear. In other words, he lacked faith. The fruit of his fear was the manipulation of people and circumstances. He was also willing to deceive the people he loved. Yet God eventually conquered his fear and crowned him with the name, Israel. God turned his weakness into strength.
Sometimes weakness means a constant, pressing temptation like anxiety, fear, lust, greed, or self-promotion. This was probably how Paul experienced weakness. “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me… Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this…But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7–8).
Sometimes weakness means youth, inexperience, and naiveté. This was how David and Jeremiah experienced weakness.
Although people experience specific forms of weakness in different ways, there are at least two ways that all of God’s people experience weakness. First, we all experience weakness as a growing and desperate sense of total dependence, a clear understanding that we lack the spiritual power to do the one thing that is absolutely necessary—change our own hearts or the hearts of anyone we are trying to serve.
This was how Jesus experienced weakness. His weakness had nothing to do with sin. Yes, temptation afflicted him, but it had little power over him. But he did feel the weakness of total dependence. “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). “For I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29).
Christ’s weakness, (total dependence ), conquered the temptation to do things his way. Instead, he did it his Father’s way. He went to the cross—a cosmic display of the weakness that God seeks from every Christian.
Second, God’s people also experience weakness as a deep and growing sense of personal unworthiness. They feel increasingly weak in their battle with the flesh. They feel increasingly weak in their struggle with the Evil One, in their temptation to compromise with the world. They feel the profound weakness of their shallow, imperfect faith. To them weakness means a growing sense of their personal bankruptcy, and the closer they get to God the more they feel this way. It is why Isaiah, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up cried, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)! It is why after Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God he “sat overwhelmed among them for seven days” (Ezekiel 3:15). It explains Paul’s stunned reaction to Christ’s personal visitation on the Damascus road. “And for three days he was without sight and did not eat or drink” (Acts 9:9). It describes Peter’s confession when God opened his eyes. “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8). Even John, the disciple with whom Jesus was most intimate, when he saw Jesus in his risen glory, responded out of typical weakness. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17).
Where We Are Headed
A series of blogs will follow. Each will pick a character from the Bible or church history. In each case we will ask the question, “In light of their obvious weakness why would God choose such a person?” We will also examine the nature of their weaknesses and how God expressed his power through them.
If you are being led by the Holy Spirit you are being led into increasing depths of personal weakness. That is the only place the Holy Spirit leads, and that is how you know God’s Spirit is really leading you. If that describes you, I think you will find this study encouraging.
The rest of the blogs in this series can be found under the tag, Profiles.