How Paul Learned This Secret
Paul tells us that he actually learned this secret from Jesus. Paul faced bullying, oppression, and abuse, and survived through the power of the Spirit.
To be clear, neither Paul nor Jesus tells us to seek out suffering. They never support abuse. Some abusers misquote scripture to support their oppression, but the Bible strongly rebukes people who exploit anyone who is vulnerable.10
But we often find ourselves in suffering that we’re powerless to stop. Paul prayed—in other words, talked to Jesus—repeatedly about a kind of suffering he faced. And, as Paul reports, Jesus told him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
Paul took this seriously. He wrote, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” When’s the last time you boasted about a weakness? It sounds ridiculous. But Paul goes even further. “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”11
To avoid misunderstanding Paul, we need to remember that he always left situations where he was being physically abused. Count how many places Paul left to escape harassment: Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Ephesus, and Jerusalem.12 He tried to talk his way out of suffering in several situations, but never by disobeying or disowning Jesus.13
Paul wasn’t a doormat. When he said he took pleasure in his weaknesses, insults, and harassment, he didn’t mean he was masochistic. He never asked to be hurt, and he ran away from situations where he was being hurt.
But he didn’t back down from what Jesus asked him to do, even when he knew doing it might bring bullying, harassment, or abuse.14 This is the most essential part of Jesus’s secret: Like Paul, we have to respond to what Jesus says. If we won’t do what he tells us, soon we’ll lose the ability to hear his voice.