Paul’s Fearfulness

In 1 Corinthians 2:3, the Apostle Paul gives an interesting insight into his personal life: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.”[1] This strong, courageous leader was experiencing significant fear. He founded the Corinthian church, so why did he feel weak and fearful among them?

Let’s look at an example that may help answer the question. In the American church, pastors often experience fear. Political correctness has permeated the church, and pastors dare not express their Biblical views on certain social issues. They fear that if they take a stand, they will lose their congregations and donations. Some ministers in America are experiencing “weakness, fear and much trembling.”

 If Paul came to the United States to serve as a pastor in an American certain church, perhaps he would feel weakness, fear and trembling; we don’t know. But we know that ministry provides many opportunities for fear. When Paul came to Corinth, he had recently experienced severe persecution in Thessalonica (Acts 17-18). He likely feared that the same would happen in Corinth.

The Corinthian church had been infiltrated by ungodly thought patterns. Immorality, strife, racial conflict, and fights between believers were commonplace. Paul saw the Corinthians as his spiritual children. He knew that if he disciplined them too strictly, the young fleshly infants may stumble. Paul felt weakness, fear, and trembling in response to the many hot-button issues he had to deal with in the church.

But Paul also said that when he was weak, the strength of Christ was manifested in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12). When he was weak, fearful, and trembling, he was able to look to the power and help of the Holy Spirit. He did not rely on natural wisdom and power, but on the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to shepherd the Corinthian church. This is a role model for today’s ministers.

When Paul was serving the Corinthian church, he faced many problems similar to those in American society today. The church is weak; Christian leaders struggle to take a stand; and many sin issues have permeated the church. Ungodly thought patterns have infiltrated all church members, from the least significant to the most power. Rick Joyner, a Christian leader in the United States, has even heard members of Congress saying that they felt weak, unable to stand for the truth. The church has set an example of weakness in the face of sin and confusion. But these difficult times give us an opportunity to rely in a special way on the power of the Holy Spirit in our time of weakness and need.

Paul’s weakness

The Local Church Movement (LCM) has frequently emphasized the fact that the spiritual life of believers does not usually exceed the spiritual lives of the shepherds who lead their churches. For example, as a minister, I shepherd a local congregation. I always teach what I know and am good at. Naturally, believers have very little opportunity to hear and learn the things that I don’t understand and am not good at. Unless individual believers take initiative to learn these things on their own, under normal circumstances they will not obtain this knowledge. If the spiritual state of the leader has only reached a certain height, it is difficult for the followers to exceed the leader’s level of spiritual growth.

This principle demonstrates that the problems of the churches we lead are a manifestation of our own problems, to a certain extent. What is true in the spiritual world can also be observed in the business world. When you analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the leaders of an organization, as well as the culture of the companies they lead, you will find that the leaders’ strengths and weakness have a profound impact on the company’s culture and its success or failure.

We usually think very highly of Paul, and we don’t often think about his problems and shortcomings. However, Paul himself knew he was not perfect. He said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12). Paul knew he would be striving for improvement until the day he died.

The Corinthian believers knew that Paul was not perfect. 2 Corinthians 10:1-2 says: “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.” Believers in Corinth criticized Paul for “being humble when face to face with them”. The word “humble” contains some negative connotations. According to StepBible.org, this word also means “lowly, downcast, timid”. Some versions, including the New International Version, translates this word as “timid”. Other believers in Corinth believed that Paul and others were “people who walk according to the flesh.”

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul describes significant divisions taking place within the Corinthian church. The church was arguing; Paul says, “Each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’” (1 Corinthians 1:12). We usually blame the problems of the Corinthian church on society, other leaders (including Apollos and Peter), and on the church itself. But Paul himself may have played a role in their struggles. Paul said that the Corinthians were his spiritual children, so it is hard to say that Paul was not responsible in part for their errors. When our children make mistakes, we as parents may have failed to educate our children. Paul’s own spiritual children lived in the flesh, division and sin. How can Paul, as a spiritual father, have no responsibility for their failures?

What part did Paul play in the Corinthians’ weakness and fleshliness? We can only guess. Personally, I think that his teaching may have been lacking in certain areas. Perhaps the books of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians were written to fill the gaps. Or perhaps the Corinthians’ weakness reminded Paul of his own weakness in certain areas. Their weakness may have revealed and highlighted his own weakness, causing him to feel fearful, weak, and afraid while he was with them. Paul’s letters to Corinth served to strengthen and teach the believers, but they were also a way that Paul pushed himself in his areas of weakness.

In 2 Corinthians 10:10, we learn that the Corinthians accused Paul in this way: “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.’” Why is someone criticizing Paul of being weak while he is with the Corinthians? What is Paul’s weakness? We don’t know. But we do know that Paul had a weakness. He said that there was a thorn in him that made him weak. He pleaded with the Lord three times to remove it, but the Lord said that His grace was sufficient for Paul because the power of Christ was made perfect in man’s weakness. Paul then said, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

God permitted Paul to feel weak, fearful, and trembling in the Corinthian church so that he could manifest Christ’s power through Paul’s weakness.

Focusing on God’s strength

Often, we blame the sins of the church on the social environment in which we live. At the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the Corinthian society was full of chaos, immorality, and idolatry–just like the United States today. Many people say that the weakness of the American church is a result of a sinful society, which has a negative impact on believers. This idea seems to make sense, but the Bible tells us the opposite. Jesus says that the world is full of tribulation—including sin and darkness. But he has already overcome the world (John 16:33). Since God has overcome the sin of the world through Jesus, the church can be a light in the darkness. The Bible says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

It is preposterous to claim that the American church is weak because of the darkness of society! It’s like saying that our light cannot shine in the darkness because the darkness is too dark. This is totally wrong! The Bible tells us that the darkness has never overcome the light. No matter how dark it is, when we light a match or a lamp, we can drive out the darkness. The evils of society can penetrate the church and weaken it, but they are not the root cause. The church is weak because believers do not live according to the Lord’s word, allowing his life to live through them.

This logic should be reversed. When the church is weak, the society gets darker—not vice versa. The darkness of American society is caused by the weakness of the church. The problems of the American society are manifestations of the problems of the American church. The weakness of the church is caused by the weakness of each individual believer. If every believer in every church lived by God’s words and emitted his light, the church would become a golden lampstand to illuminate the surrounding city where the church is located. If every church in every city were shining with God’s beauty, it would illuminate the entire United States.

Many Christians supported Trump and hoped that Trump would be re-elected. But as of now (March 1, 2021), Trump has not been re-elected. As a result, many Christians have become discouraged and disappointed. They feel their weakness acutely. As I mentioned earlier, Rick Joyner said that members of Congress were unable to stand strong due to the weakness of the church. This is why many Christians are discouraged, as if the end of the world is coming. This is absolutely wrong.

Why do I say this? Because when we are weak, then we are strong. Just as Paul and the Corinthian church experienced, the power of Christ will rest upon the American church when it becomes weak. In this way, His power will be made perfect in a weak church.

God knows our weaknesses; they are tailor-made just for us. The LCM church teaches that each of our weaknesses is a reminder of an opposite characteristic of God. God allows us to have weaknesses so that we will more deeply understand his character qualities that will fill those gaps. It’s like a key that fits a lock. If we have an absence, or gap (like the key hole), we will become even more acutely grateful for the attribute of God that fills that weakness (like a key).  

When we are weak, we should look at God’s strength. Our weakness is like a mirror. Rather than looking at the mirror (our weakness), we look through it to see the glory of God reflected in our lives. When we constantly reflect on the glory of the Lord, we gradually transform into the image of His glory and become strong (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Perhaps my weakness leads me to pray every day, which helps me access God’s strength. Where I lack love, Christ provides the love I need. When we do not pay attention to our lack of love, but to the love of Christ, we gradually change. We are filled and changed by the love of Christ, and become loving people. If we lack patience, we should not look at our own bad temper, but at the patience of Christ, because Christ is patience. When we look at His patience every day, we will gradually gain the patience of Christ.

Pastor Bill Johnson of Bethel Church often said, “You are what you are most aware of.” This is a great illustration. In other words, you become what you give your attention to the most. If you pay attention to fake news, you will be filled with “fake news.” If you pay attention to the Lord and His words, you will be filled with the Lord and His words.

In the United States, too many believers pay attention to the flesh and the weakness in their flesh. When you pay attention to your weakness, you will become weak. But when you are weak, you should pay attention to the strength of Christ. Then his power will rest upon you! His power is made perfect in your weakness! The Lord Jesus said to the church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3, “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8). When we experience “little power,” we are weak. But we look to Christ, instead of looking at our own weakness. This is faith! A person who is running a marathon insists on moving forward, even though he is exhausted. All he needs is a little power to keep him going in the right direction.

We can compare the situation of the American church to Jacob’s experience in Genesis 32. God touched Jacob’s hip socket, causing him to lose his natural power. In the same way, God has touched the American church, so they are unable to live in the flesh as they are accustomed. They have lost the sources of strength they are accustomed to relying on.

Because of God’s blessing and protection, American churches had been like flowers living in a greenhouse, gradually losing their vitality. God allowed the cold winter and difficult environment to give us an opportunity to grow. Through these trials, the American church is learning to put its roots down deeply into Christ and receive strength from the Sun of his Love. When we lose our natural strength, it does not mean that God has forsaken us. Instead, these are the times when God is closest to us. When Jacob wrestled with God at the ford of the Jabbok and lost his natural strength, it was then that he saw God face to face—and did not die!

Christians in the United States should not feel discouraged, but hopeful. God is among us. He created an environment that would help us feel our weakness. He wants us to turn to Him and fix our eyes on His power and strength. His power will greatly rest upon us!

God’s Strength in My Weakness

The weakness of American church leaders is reflected in the church. The weakness of the church is then reflected in the society. At present, the church leaders and the church are weak.

But there is hope! We need to discover that when we are weak, then we are strong, because God’s strength is manifested when people are weak. I am hopeful for the future of America. I believe that God will miraculously help us, because our weakness provides the best opportunity for God to manifest Himself.

Paul knew this truth deeply, and he tried his best to live out this truth. When he came to the Corinthians, he did not use lofty speech or wisdom to proclaim God’s testimony to them. Instead, he decided to know only Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

In other words, Paul’s eyes were fixed on Jesus Christ himself. Paul may have had a tendency to “use the lofty speech or wisdom,” but he put his flesh on the cross this time. Perhaps Paul’s “lofty speech and wisdom” at his last visit led the Corinthians to accuse him of being a “timid man of the flesh.”

Many theologians say that 1 Corinthians is not the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. There was another letter before this one, which is missing. God is sovereign and no sparrow will fall to the ground without the permission of the Father. It may have been God’s will that Paul’s first letter was not included in the Bible.

Verse three says that Paul was weak, fearful, and trembling when he visited the Corinthians. The reason why he was like this was because of the weakness of his flesh. He was also afraid that he would not rely on Christ, but on his own strength. He knew well that if he relied on his own strength, he would do things according to his flesh. Instead, he chose to remain weak so he could rely on the strength of Christ in weakness. He knew that his weakness would be worth it, causing “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”(NIV, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

The last few verses of 1 Corinthians 2 discuss the wisdom of God. We should rely on God’s wisdom, not on the wisdom of this world. Only a spiritual person can truly understand the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This is the essence of the problem. Many Christians are fleshy people. Many Christians live without the spiritual life of God. A spiritual person gives God a predominant place in his life. The life of God rules his life and is manifested through his life.

Watchman Nee said that God cares more for who we are than what we do for Him. What matters is not just what we do for God, but what we allow God to do in us. The changes God makes in our lives will naturally manifest themselves to the church and to the people we serve.

What an amazing insight! When Christians in the United States pay more attention to spiritual growth and change, they will stop being spiritual infants and be freed from the flesh. When every believer matures in Christ in this way, the church will change. The changes in the church will naturally be manifested in the society.

Every Christian in the United States needs to become spiritually mature so that the church can be strengthened and the darkness of society can be removed. If we just focus on removing darkness and bad leaders in the political realm, while neglecting the growth of the church, the fundamental problems of American society will not be solved. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why God allowed political conflict to persist in America: so that we would focus on our own growth first.

Some time ago, I heard Rick Joyner mention that the Lord appeared to him after he was infected with coronavirus. The Lord told him that the churches in the United States have not yet repented, as described in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Even now, the church in the United States has not fully repented. We must repent not only for our sins, but also for our flesh. We should even repent for focusing on our flesh and weakness instead of focusing on the Lord and His promises. When our flesh is weak, we cannot just look at our own weakness. We should also focus on the strength of Christ. We must repent for believing that the weakness of our flesh exceeds the power of God.

The original meaning of repentance in the Bible is to turn around and change our attitude, not just to regret our mistakes. We need to take our eyes off our weakness, because Christ is waiting for us to look up to Him. Just as the Israelites looked at the bronze serpent, we look at Christ to be saved! Our salvation is in sight, just waiting for us to raise our head and look in faith! When we are weak, he is strong! The power of God is made perfect in our weakness!

Our current situation can be compared to runners completing the last mile of a marathon. They just need a little bit of strength to win. I believe that our victory and the collective victory of the American church are coming soon because God’s strength is going to be manifested in their weakness. When they are strong in the flesh, God cannot do things. When God removes their flesh, they become weak; but that is when God’s power is unleashed to do something wonderful.

For this reason, I choose to stand with prophets like Kat Kerr, Timothy Dixon and many others. God will miraculously move on our behalf to bring the spiritual victory, hope, and healing that the American church so desperately needs.

Written on Feb 22, 2021.


[1] 1All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.