Though approaching 40 years as an ordained pastor, the Lord has been challenging me recently about a ministry of strengthening others. Sadly, I cannot remember teaching on this subject before. Perhaps I have in the broader context of spiritual warfare, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians chapter 6 verse 10), but I sense we all need to be more intentional about strengthening our brothers and sisters, as well as ourselves.
After telling Peter that Satan had demanded to “sift you like wheat”, Jesus stated he had prayed for the apostle, then he prophesied, “when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke chapter 22 verse 32). The vocation of being a strengthener was a clear priority in Christ’s mind; as demonstrated by the later actions of the apostles. Time and again in Acts we read of them, “strengthening” the souls/brothers/churches/disciples in various regions (chapter 14 verse 22 etc.).
At times it is made clear that this is through what they said (chapter 15 verse 32), but we need to go to the New Testament letters for further insight. Doing this will greatly encourage us.
Paul exhorts Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy chapter 2 verse 1). And the author of Hebrews remarks, “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews chapter 13 verse 9). It follows that the power that strengthens us in the Lord (1 Samuel chapter 20 verse 36) comes through the communication of grace.
Grace is not sort of mystical substance; we are speaking of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”, of which there are 9 uses in the letters, e.g. Romans chapter 16 verse 20, so it is something about the life of Jesus which has the capacity to uplift us. I err, it is not something “about” the life of Jesus, it is the communication of the character of his humanity.
Weakness for Strength
When Paul says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians chapter 8 verse 9), he means that God’s eternal plan intentionally involved the weakening of his Son so that he might subsequently be strengthened on our account.
In going to the cross Christ partnered with our weakness so that we might share in his resurrection empowerment (Romans chapter 5 verse 6; compare 2 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 9). I am sure that we believe this, it’s the gospel after all, but I am far less certain that we understand its radical implications.
Live Like Christ
Paul’s testimony, “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” (2 Corinthians chapter 11 verse 29), means that he intentionally enters the disabled state of other believers as an expression of a Christlike life. This profound but difficult truth comes out most clearly in 2 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 4, “Although he was crucified in weakness, he now lives by the power of God. We, too, are weak, just as Christ was, but when we deal with you we will be alive with him and will have God’s power.”
As far as Christian ministry goes, becoming weak to strengthen others is a rhythm of life. In fact we do not “do” ministry, as if it could be considered a profession or a 9-5 thing, ministry is a total way of life. Such things are often misunderstood or neglected today.
The Hillsong melody Mighty to Save, begins with, “Well, everyone needs compassion…” I first heard this song at an Indigenous congregation, and their brokenness means they understood it in a way most of us don’t. Nevertheless, anyone who asks the Lord for grace to become a strengthener of others will find their prayers answered through God-induced incapacitation of natural strength.
This will vary from person to person; but in my case I am sure my long term post-traumatic stress has weakened my intellectual powers so that I can find strength through grace that in turn empowers others. There is something glorious about such a pattern of life, for it embodies the gospel of death and resurrection. May you dear reader ask the Lord Jesus for his grace to become a strengthener.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html