Achilles was a vicious warrior with a complicated history. In Homer’s Iliadwe see him rise to the top as the preeminent player at the end of the Trojan War. His full backstory is melodramatic enough to make Downton Abbey blush, but suffice it to say that no one was quite like him. Achilles was simultaneously drunk in rage and meticulous in skill as he led the Greeks in battle. But most of us probably only know him because of his heel.
Achilles doesn’t die in Homer’s story but Greek legend says that he later suffered a mortal wound to the back of his foot. The “Achilles’ heel,” as it’s called today, has become one of the most popular idioms in Western culture. It refers to a person’s point of weakness leading to their downfall.
But that idea comes from Greek mythology, not Christian reality.
God’s wisdom gives us another picture. Believers in Jesus don’t have an Achilles’ heel — we are an Achilles’ heel.
Here’s what I mean: Greek mythology shows us an invincible warrior with one weakness that when exploited leads to defeat; Christian reality shows us a dependent servant with thorough weakness that when exploited leads to triumph.
That’s our story. That’s the trail that Jesus blazes (1 Peter [2:21]). A hero died for villains. Victory came through loss. Life was born out of death. Conquest was accomplished by suffering. The darkest night in history gave way to the brightest morning. In God’s economy, our weakness is one of our greatest assets.
Now what do we mean by weakness? The word has such a general meaning that we must sketch some type of definition before we go any further. First, let’s be clear about what weakness is not. The biblical concept of weakness does not mean the things we’re not good at. We’re tempted to think this way. It would be easier if weakness were contained to the things we stink at doing. But it’s much more pervasive than that. We can’t simply tip-toe around it.
Weakness is everywhere in the New Testament. Jesus told his disciples that, in contrast to the spirit, the flesh is weak (Mark [14:38]). Luke, in Paul’s voice, refers to the weak as those who are economically disadvantaged (Acts [20:35]). The Corinthian believers were weak in the social sense (1 Corinthians [1:26]–27). The Book of Romans tells us that Jesus died for us while we were still weak, that is, while we were ungodly and lacked any possibility of deserving the slightest good (Romans 5:8). But we are also weak when we pray, when we lack the words or know-how (Romans [8:26]). And then there are fellow Christians who are weak if they can’t get past judging others on matters of conscience (Romans 14:1–4). Also throw in this pile the physical infirmities that Paul seems to cite in 2 Corinthians [10:10], the thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:7, and the litany of unpleasantness in 2 Corinthians [12:10]. One way or another, we have felt the way the Bible speaks about weakness.
The context, of course, determines the specific meaning of weakness, but every use is connected back to the general idea of deficiency. If there were one broad explanation for weakness, it would be to lack. Weakness means we don’t have what it takes. It means we are neither sovereign nor omniscient, nor invincible. We are not in control, we don’t know everything, and we can be stopped. Weakness means that we desperately need God. And the plea for my own soul, and for yours, is that we would embrace weakness, not despise it.
The Impact of Embracing Weakness
When we embrace weakness, it means we’ve looked at ourselves long enough to know we can’t make it without looking to Another. Embracing weakness means we know we need God very badly. This discovery, as unenthusiastic as we may be about it, refuses to leave us alone until we’ve been changed, affecting our church, our communion, and our commission. Getting more specific, here are three ways that embracing our weakness impacts our lives.
1. Embracing weakness means that spiritual gifts are a big deal.
Written by Jonathan Parnell
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