Our theme verses for our series entitled “In the Arena,” are I Cor. 16:13, 14: “Be on your guard, Stand firm in the faith, Be men of courage, Be strong. Do everything in love.”

Our message this week is taken from the fourth phrase in verse 13, just two words: “Be strong.” Perhaps you might agree with my response as I read that exceptionally brief statement, “Thank you, Paul. Could you be more a little more specific?”

It’s with that thought in mind, what does Paul really mean with this short phrase, that I make this summary conclusion: Every one of us can be strong, even when we aren’t. In fact, every one of us IS strong, especially when we know we aren’t.

It takes two steps on our part:

1. Acknowledge our weakness

2. Rely on God’s strength.

Many of you know that the city I live in, Colorado Springs, is the home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. One of the sights that thrills most of us who live here is watching pilots training in gliders over the academy property at the base of the Rampart Range mountains.

It’s a gorgeous scene: deep blue sky, puffy white clouds, a yellow tow plane lifting off from the runway pulling a glider behind it. The tow plane takes the gliders in circles ever higher, then finally releases the tow cable, and makes a hard bank.

The tow plane disappears and all that is left is that silent, seemingly lighter than air glider making its way, back and forth, riding the current. As I watch from my deck, it looks so effortless, it can put you to sleep. An Air Force veteran reading that statement might think, “Easy for you to say, Craig; you’re not in the cockpit.”

A glider seems capable of endless flight with no visible means of power. That’s the picture I have when I read Paul’s challenge to men from our passage.

“Be strong.” “Really, Lord? What about when I have no apparent means of power?” “Yes,” He replies, “exactly then. When you know you’re weak, then I am strong.”

This phrase is unlike any of the others we have explored in these two verses. The others urge us to call forth something from the inside:

  • Be on your guard- be vigilant     
  • Stand firm in the faith- be resolute
  • Be courageous- engage despite fear     

All of these phrases imply, “It’s in you. Call it forth.” This one is different. It’s a challenge to us to face our inner limits and understand what God does from the outside.

Like you, other men of God have felt in need of strength from a source beyond themselves. Clearly the apostle Paul felt the same awareness of his shortcomings. Look at what he wrote in 2 Cor. 12: 9, 10:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Just prior to this verse Paul explains that he had a thorn in the flesh, a wound, an infirmity of some sort. It wasn’t going away. Does Paul hide it? No, he brags about it. He is proud of the way God steps into his own weakness and brings strength.

Paul literally boasts about his weakness. He enjoys relying on God. Men, we can learn this crucial lesson from Paul, the secret to a real man’s strength, in the arena, is to come to the end of himself, and then trust in God’s strength.

What does that mean to come to the end of ourselves? It means: We confess limits to our abilities. We admit to confusion and fear. We embrace, or even boast about, our weakness. We trust God.

Paul tells us to boast in our weakness. The key moment for us when we are afraid and at wit’s end, is to acknowledge our limitations. It is the very act of letting go and leaning in, that leads to our salvation.

God says, to every one of us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Like Paul we can then respond, “Then I will brag of my weakness, I will delight in my short-comings. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It probably needs to be said that Paul is not giving us permission to bail or just sit on the sideline outside our arena. Of course not. Passivity requires no strength, ours or God’s.

We do not just stand outside; we show up; we act with courage, and we take the next step. But we do not hold ourselves as the savior for others or our own circumstances. We acknowledge weakness; take the next step, and trust God.

Once again, as is so often the case, the question that gets forced to the surface is: What do I believe about God? What will He do, if I embrace weakness, and rely on him?

We can hardly refer to the picture of relying on God’s strength in our weakness, without going to that wonderful passage in Isaiah 40:27-31 in the Message:

“Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
    or, whine, Israel, saying,
‘God has lost track of me.
    He doesn’t care what happens to me’?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
    He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
    And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
    gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
    young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
    They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
    they walk and don’t lag behind.”

Men, every one of us can be strong, even when we aren’t. In fact, every one of us IS strong, especially when we know we aren’t. We take two steps:

1. Acknowledge our weakness.

2. Rely on God’s strength.

As we enter the arena of challenge in our lives, God’s promise is to watch, to be present, to strengthen us, to spread our wings…just like those majestic, yet powerless Air Force gliders…and to cause us to soar like eagles.