Strength is universally appealing. In my mid-teens, a magazine filled with pictures of muscular guys posing on beaches surrounded by beautiful girls caught my attention and led to one of my first major purchases, a set of barbells. I committed myself to work tirelessly and do whatever it took to look like those guys in the magazines. After about three weeks of faithfully working out whenever I felt like it, it was time to check out my progress with a look in the mirror. There was some pretty impressive bulging going on, but it was limited to the area where my abs were supposed to be. I concluded that making myself stronger wasn’t going to be as easy as the barbell ads made it look, and that consoling myself with another Twinkie sounded like a good idea.
A Consistent Encouragement ~
I’m pretty sure the Bible doesn’t mention barbells, but it repeatedly admonishes us to be strong, and all of us want that. We watch our children go through the successive stages of their lives, applauding the newfound strength that we see expressed in every stage of development. Well… maybe we don’t applaud every exhibition. For instance, when “junior” discovers that he’s strong enough to stand on his tippy toes to reach the door handle and then sets out to explore the great outdoors, it’s no cause for celebration. But in spite of the occasional problems that misdirected strength can create, God encourages it, and we continue to see it as a precursor to accomplishment and a trait to be desired.
One form of strength that seems to get the most divine attention and approval has to do with the application of faith. The New Testament book of Hebrews devotes an entire chapter to the subject. The inspired writer unfolds a litany of illustrations supporting the unique power of faith to accomplish astounding things in real life situations. Beginning with some of the earliest figures in Biblical history, the passage unfolds one event after another where things normally considered impossible actually happened because people chose to believe and trust God. In spite of contradictory conditions and circumstances, people proceeded as though the outcomes they hoped for had already happened. These events were made even more astonishing because they were framed against a backdrop of weakness and overwhelming hopelessness. That’s an appropriate presentation, because strength in any context is defined and evaluated by a comparison to its undesirable counterpart, weakness.
One Compelling Little Phrase ~
In the current atmosphere charged with some of the most powerful emotions that God equipped us with, the subject of faith is compelling, and we could consume the rest of the year, or even of our lives, exploring that subject alone. But there’s one little phrase tucked in among the many lessons and admonitions woven throughout this little section of Scripture that I find most compelling at this point. As the exhibition of faith’s accomplishments rolls toward a conclusion, we read:
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Hebrews 11:32-34 (NKJV)
That impressive display includes a brief phrase that cries out for our consideration, because it is a concept with a contrasting reality that is extremely relevant and critical in our culture right now. The phrase reveals the impact that faith had in multitudes of cases through these simple words ... out of weakness were made strong.
Another Side to the Coin ~
The passage is full of pragmatic, historical examples heralding the strength-from-weakness phenomenon, and every generation of extra-Biblical history has added more to the list. But there’s another side to the coin that isn’t so appealing. For every significant example of incredible strength and accomplishment performed by individuals or groups that appeared hopelessly incapable, there are multitudes of cases where great strength led to pride, arrogance, a sense of invincibility, and eventually, to ultimate humiliation. Perhaps we could describe that contrasting condition as those who out of strength, were made weak.
Samson is a prime example, as is Saul, Israel’s first king. Both arose out of obscurity, eventually achieving national prominence and wielding great power. Their tremendous victories granted them unparalleled national popularity, but soon, their notoriety became a gateway to moral weakness that proved to be the source of their downfall. Even David, at the height of his power, became intoxicated with his unchallenged authority and used it to engage in acts that were immoral, illegal, and deadly. When he felt strong and secure, he did things that he would never have contemplated earlier in his life. Strength in almost any form can be deceptive and dangerously seductive.
Worse than Weakness ~
Strength, like life itself, is conditional and temporary. If the attitudes and behaviors that allowed individuals or nations to become strong in the first place cease to be practiced, then strength begins to diminish. In the melee unfolding around us today, it appears that the things that made us strong have already begun to crumble at a frightening rate. We have a condition worse than moral and ethical weakness. In many cases we have a total abandonment of any reasonable definition of right and wrong, and no apparent concern for what the end result will be.
When this nation began, as far as the world was concerned, we were laughably weak and insignificant. We had no large and powerful military forces to protect us, and no political influence with which to manipulate our enemies. We fought our battles on our knees and the most powerful weapon in our arsenal was faith in the God we served. He was our only hope of victory against the many forces that challenged our very existence. Again and again, we saw incredible victories against overwhelming odds, and we responded with praise and gratitude to the One who was determined not to let us fall. We treated God’s words as divine directives with authority, not as fables with moral overtones. We treated His name with respect both in our homes and in the public square. Righteousness and moral accountability were considered to be the most dependable keys to ensure success and prosperity, and the Bible was the source for acquiring and maintaining that kind of accountability. Proclaiming the message of hope, love, and eternal life that Jesus offers was seen as honorable and positive in both public and private settings.
There was a time when we could be declared to be a people who out of weakness were made strong, but we’ve become another example of those who out of strength were made weak. It’s a depressing picture, but we can begin to change that by declaring once again our total weakness apart from the One who died for us, and our hopelessness to adequately defend ourselves against the multitude of enemies attacking us from every direction. Strength can be regained, but not by boasting about how much we have. It can only be regained by a return to confessing the weakness and hopelessness from which it arose and calling out in faith again to the God we once served.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly to this article through Twitter.
“Strength, like life itself, is conditional and temporary. If the attitudes and behaviors that allowed individuals or nations to become strong in the first place cease to be practiced, then strength begins to diminish.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“We have a condition worse than moral and ethical weakness. In many cases, we have a total abandonment of any reasonable definition of right and wrong, and no apparent concern for what the end result will be.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“When this nation began, righteousness and moral accountability were considered to be the most dependable keys to ensure success and prosperity, and the Bible was the source for acquiring and maintaining that kind of accountability.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“Strength can be regained, but not by boasting about how much we have. It can only be regained by a return to confessing the weakness and hopelessness from which it arose and calling out in faith again to the God we once served.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
Check out Ron’s book, “Right Side Up Thinking in an Upside Down World ~ Looking at the World through the Lens of Biblical Truth”
The Kindle e-version is just $1.99. No Kindle device is needed. E-book readers are included on most computers, tablets, and smartphones. If you don’t have one, the free Kindle app can be easily downloaded directly from the Amazon site on almost any device.
Click here for a “Look Inside” preview at Amazon.