Weakness and Foolishness
By Art Katz
God delights in choosing the things that are weak and foolish in the eyes of the world to usher in the holy and glorious. He wants to rub this into our consciousness, and that the way of the kingdom is utterly contrary to the way of the world.
I feel like declaring war on Charismatic and Pentecostal “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” — anything that presumes to know anything, and I just want to be utterly foolish and celebrate failure, confusion and everything that characterizes what I believe is the true work of God; for only the true work of God will compel the attention of the world. I am suspicious of anything that is outwardly impressive, well-funded, runs smoothly, has an ambitious building program, or has programs producing shining examples of disciples. It seems to me to be not of God, but has rather the stink of man precisely because it is too efficient. If something works too well, and has been accomplished without the suffering of the cross, we are likely out of the purposes of God.
It is not until you are saved and come into the church that you really begin to learn and understand the dimensions of human depravity. The revelation of what we really are as man truly begins at that point. That is why the church, the real church, is such a horror and a mess, full of confusion and contradiction, such an ugly revelation of the condition of your and the rest of mankind’s condition. If that has not been revealed in your church conduct, then where you are fellowshipping is not true church; it is something less that keeps the lid on, and allows you enough activity to give the semblance of services, the euphoria of meetings and songs, and a good preaching, but not sufficient to reveal what you are and what we all are together. That is why grace is not yet upon us all, because it is reserved for the wretched and the sinner. Until we have come to recognize how wretched we are, how totally bankrupt and incapable we are of anything, and just how much we really live in the spirit of the world, then grace is not available to us.
One of the reasons we show little fruit or virtue in our lives is that so little is required of us. To compound the problem, those who lead us are fearful to require anything of us. I want to vote for more disturbance, for agitation, for confrontation—anything that will get us off our comfortable pews and chairs and the things that we establish for our religious satisfaction. We need to embrace the things that are inconvenient and contrary to our self-serving will and desire.
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1 Cor. 1:18-31 NASB)
Weakness and foolishness are therefore inherent in the faith; they are the key to the revelation of God’s glory. We need to see the collapsing contradiction of our humanistic hopes in order to come to a true ground and true foundation by which God can be Lord of all. A person is not yet in that place so long as there is human pride, assurance and learning in how to successfully conduct and perform religious service for God. The spirit of the world has unquestionably affected us. The whole emphasis today lies on power, ability, and the idea that we can “get the job done” as efficiently as the world if not better. We take the world’s techniques and use them for the kingdom of God, and we can be just as charming, just as musical and just as able, and by that build successful churches, movements and organizations.
Our world has become drunk with power: Electric power, atomic power, military power. People are looking for their salvation in power terms. You hear phrases like, “powerful” men of God, “powerful” preachers. How about “weak” preachers? We, as the church, have been seduced by the emphasis on a power-celebrating world. How many of us are actually ashamed and self-conscious about any form of weakness? We do not want to take the risk of foolishness. We always want to come out smelling like a rose and doing something expertly and well on the basis of our own ability, rather than to trust the life of the crucified and Risen One. We hear this scripture quoted: “Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). Well, how about the spirit of weakness? How about the spirit of humiliation? How about the spirit of failure?
Our carnal souls are longing for the power of Pentecost and the glory of God that fell. We want to see the power! It sounds so spiritual, but how much of that is the celebration of man in our faulty motives? How much of that is really us wanting to exhibit ourselves clothed in that power, doing great things? In contrast, Jesus stood before His accusers, the Lamb who went silently to the slaughter. He demonstrated to them the power of the cross by His silence, humiliation, suffering, weakness, and finally by death.
There needs to be this power demonstrated by the church. It is the power of foolishness and weakness. It is the power of not succeeding on the basis of your own ability. It is the power of the willingness to be weak in order to allow His life to be expressed. It is the power that comes, not in conventional church circumstances, where we are not together long enough nor intensively enough to reveal and to show our weakness. We need to be willing to come into that intensity, allowing the mask to come off, and to show us what our real, naked condition is, especially how hopeless it is without God. It is the willingness to be taken captive, to be restricted and to be constrained.
So long as our own natural desires reside in spiritual things, then there is still that stink of man. We still have our own flavor, and that is the difference between a dead work and a living and fruitful one. The authentic thing comes out of the weakness of that which has been emptied and brought into captivity, and the “flashy” thing, which is really powerless, is the life that is still living for itself and still assertive. Therefore, the one who allows himself to be overcome makes no demands, has no wall behind which he can defend himself. To be completely poured out is to be left defenseless. We remain foolish and utterly weak. It is this weakness in the innermost place that God is seeking after.
I think of our own community fellowship, and the numbers of people who have fled over the years, because “this was wrong or that was wrong, or this condition was irritating, or this elder lacked that, or things were not functioning, and it was not a happy and prospering fellowship.” In my opinion, God never intended that our fellowship should be “happy” and “prospering” at that time; that it was the God-given opportunity to be rid of the stink of man and of self. The abrasive situation was the only condition that could have searched it out, but because we were so sure, and had such clever ideas about what fellowship should be, then in our irritation and dissatisfaction, and in seeing the more attractive things elsewhere, we fled.
Every believer must experience the demanding relationship of intensive church life and fellowship together. It is not an option, for no other provision will fit them for the conditions that we are going to be required to face in a soon-coming hour. Mere Sunday services will never reveal the truth of our condition. We will never be tested in conventional church situations to any depth, however nice we think we are.
A man who has allowed himself to be overcome is one who will allow himself to be put into that kind of a situation where he is going to have to face his own stink and failure, along with the other believers who are joined with him. He must have his humanistic and romantic ideas, even of what the faith is, shattered and destroyed until he just collapses in a heap. You cannot go on, but it is at that very point that the blessed hope has the opportunity to come. That is where life really begins. That is where God becomes God. That is where His grace becomes grace. That is where he begins to unfold His will and His way, and provide the energy in the very place where our own efforts failed to obtain. How many of us are willing to go down to that before we can come up? Down to the human thing before we can rise up into a newness of life?
In order to demonstrate a “kingdom come,” there first needs to come a ruin, a scandalous failure, a collapse. Somehow one cannot leap over that necessity and still build the everlasting Kingdom. Something must first fall away, and the church is that entity given of God to reveal what could never have been seen in the world. The world does not want things disturbed; it wants things smooth, efficient and smart. Man’s self-assurance is an abomination to God — his “know-it-all attitude,” his competence in learning how to conduct services and perform ministry, establish organizations and conduct programs and outreaches, all in the name of Christ — is contrary to His Spirit. The spirit of foolishness, weakness, and failure is the spirit that overcomes the powers of this world. This is the faith. Have we said “Yes” to that?###
On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in WEAKNESS.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my WEAKNESSES, so that the POWER of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am WEAK, then I am STRONG. (2 Cor. 12:5-10 NASB)
For nearly forty years before his death in 2007, Art Katz was a prophetic voice crying out from the wilderness for radical revolution and reformation in the mission and methods of the church as well as the lives of believers. Born of Jewish parents in 1929 and reared during the austerity of the Great Depression and turbulence of the World War II eras, his life-philosophy was shaped by two diverse educational sources—the merchant marines and a liberal university academia in a time when such ideological heterodoxies of Marxism and Existentialism were vogue and prevalent among rogue intellectuals. These strong influences produced in Katz vehement atheism, staunch anti-Christianism, and a strident intellectual elitism he sought to propagate through the aegis of the public education system. When, as a high school teacher, he realized his reservoir of knowledge was woefully inadequate to provide cogent answers concerning the issues of life and the perplexities of history to inquiring students, he took a leave of absence to embark on a hitch-hiking odyssey through Europe and the Middle East in quest of the intellectual knowledge and sagacity of the “master sages” of antiquity in their native lands. His journey culminated significantly and symbolically in the city of Jerusalem, where he had a Damascus Road-like life-transforming personal encounter with the true Master Sage and Messiah, Jesus Christ! For the next four decades, Art Katz’s life and ministry were reflective of a true prophet and forerunner who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord into the hearts and lives of those he touched in this nation and nations around the globe. Many of his writings and audio sermons are available on his website at: http://artkatzministries.org.
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