THE EXPERIENCE OF PAUL
If we accept the biblical teaching that our body is a member of Christ, we also have to take the teaching that Christ’s life flows inside of our body. The life of Christ flows from the Head to His Body, imparting life, vitality, and liveliness to it. Since our body is a member of that Body, it certainly follows that this life will flow into it. Yet this life is received only by faith. The amount of life we receive depends on the degree of faith we exercise in appropriating that life. From the Bible we have seen that the life of the Lord Jesus can be applied to and received by the believers’ body, but this cannot be done without faith. Many believers may be astonished when they first hear such a teaching. But we must not understate the explicit teaching of the Bible. If we look into Paul’s own experience, we will see the preciousness and reality of this matter.
In 2 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul mentioned the condition of his body. He told us that he had a thorn in his flesh and that he entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from him. But the Lord said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness" (v. 9a). Therefore the apostle said, "Most gladly therefore I will rather boast in my weaknesses that the power of Christ might tabernacle over me...for when I am weak, then I am powerful" (vv. 9b-10). What was the thorn in the apostle’s flesh? We can bypass this question for now since the Bible does not answer it. But one thing is certain: this thorn in the flesh had the effect of weakening his body. The original word for weakness refers to weakness in the body. The same word is used in Matthew 8:17. Even the Corinthians knew that the apostle’s body was weak (2 Cor. 10:10). The apostle himself said that when he was first with them, he was in weakness (1 Cor. 2:3). This does not mean that the apostle was lacking in spiritual power, for both the first and the second Epistles sufficiently reveal that he was full of spiritual power. Moreover, the word "weakness" is the same word used to describe the physical weakness mentioned above. It is also used in two other passages to indicate the dying condition of the physical body.
Therefore, from these verses we can see the apostle Paul’s physical condition. His original physical condition was very weak, but did he always stay weak? No. He tells us that the power of Christ rested upon him to make him strong. We should pay attention to the "principle of contrast." The thorn never left Paul, and neither did the weakness that came with the thorn; yet the power of Christ rested upon his weak body and enabled him to meet every need. The power of Christ was in contrast to the weakness of Paul. This power did not take away the thorn or remove the weakness, but it lived in Paul, dealing with everything that his weak body could not handle. This may be likened to a wick that burns with a flame but is not consumed because the lamp is full of oil. The wick is still very weak, but the oil supplies everything that the flame requires of it.
Here we see the principle of God’s life being our body’s strength. His life does not change the weak and mortal nature of our body; rather, it saturates the body with what it cannot provide. Therefore, according to his natural condition, Paul was the weakest, but according to the power he received from Christ, he was the strongest. The strength mentioned in this portion of the Bible specifically refers to the apostle’s body. We know how the apostle Paul worked continually day and night, laboring mentally and physically, doing a work that even three or four strong men could not handle. If his weak body had not received the Holy Spirit’s enlivening, how could it have borne so much burden? It is a definite fact that God gave strength to Paul’s body.
(Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), Chapter 41, by Watchman Nee)