Arthur at “The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia” recently wrote a short review of Dave Black’s new book Paul, Apostle of Weakness: Astheneia and Its Cognates in the Pauline Literature. Arthur’s review is called “Book Review: Paul, Apostle of Weakness.”
Last week, Arthur published another post called “The Strong Must Accept the Weak” in which he responds further to Dave Black’s new book. While his review is really good, I appreciated this post even more.
Arthur begins by reviewing his own history with the “strong” and the “weak”:
I have always gravitated toward traditions in Christianity that focus on “being right” and often those traditions made “being right” a lot more than just an honest attempt to live faithfully. Instead they all too often became a way to lord over the “less mature”, uninformed or just plain ignorant among the Body.
Arthus ends with some new thoughts after reading Black’s new book:
The church is not set up to be a place where the strong dominate the weak but where the strong love the weak.We tend to naturally gravitate to a hierarchy where we place the strongest at the top and the weakest at the bottom. The strong are recognized by title and prestige. There is of course nothing wrong with recognizing the more mature among us but they should be noted for their service and exemplary lives, not for dominating and demanding.
The church is only as strong as it treats the weakest among us. If we see the weak as people to be ostracized and avoided lest they infect us or as fools to be corrected by our superior knowledge, perhaps we are not quite as strong as we think we are.
As I read through Arthur’s post and as I thought about this topic (i.e., Paul’s use of the term “weak” – astheneia), I realized something.
There are times when Paul counts himself among the “strong”:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1 ESV)
And there are times when Paul counts himself among the “weak”:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30 ESV)
So, is Paul “strong” or “weak”?
Typically, today, when people talk about the “strong” and the “weak” among the church, they point to some as being the “strong” and others as being the “weak.” The strong are always strong, and the weak are always weak. (By the way, I’m not suggested that either Arthur or Dave Black are saying this. I’m simply relating the way I’ve typically heard these terms used.)
However, it seems that Paul thought that he could be strong at times and weak at other times. And, I think this is the right way to think about this. I can be strong at times, and I can be weak at times. Sometimes, you are strong; at other times, you are weak. This is true of any followers of Jesus Christ – male or female, young or old, mature or immature.
And, it also seems that the “weak” rarely recognize their weakness, but often they see their weakness as a strength.
If we recognize this in ourselves and others, we would accept that we might be the “weak” and our brother/sister might be the “strong” in any particular situation. We would treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with more respect and honor, even when we disagree with them.
I think this would greatly improve our ability to relate to one another, to disciple one another, and to be discipled by one another.
What do you think? Would it be beneficial to treat someone with whom we disagree as “strong” instead of “weak”? How would it benefit our relationships and ability to disciple one another if we recognized that we may actually be the “weak” party?