“The Weaker Vessel” – Father’s Day-6

Husbands, likewise, … giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.  [I Peter 3:7]

As has been dealt with over the last posts, so often we react to a word like “submit” or “helper” without understanding the environment in which they are used.  The first problem with “the weaker vessel” comes because “weak” usually has a bad connotation, that of being defective in some respect.  Nobody likes the idea that he or she is “defective.“  In the rebellion of sin, where we are seeking to not reflect God but to usurp Him, admitting weakness is like “throwing in the towel” before the fight even begins.

So the beginning place is to realize that we all are “weak,” some of it by design and some of it because of sin.  We are “weak” by design: we were never created to be totally self-sufficient.  The woman was created to be an essential “helper/savior” to the man, so that they together – not alone – would represent creation’s needed picture of “the Image of God.”  Yet in the background is the awareness that Jehovah is so much greater than what man and woman, and for good measure adding in angels, all together could even begin to touch on.

When compared to the Creator, we start out from the gates already woefully “inadequate,” ‘defective,” “weak.”  Some might say, “But if it weren’t for sin, just imagine all that we would be capable of doing!”  I have often heard various figures that at any one time a human only utilizes a small fraction of what the brain is capable of doing.  Of course, science fiction jumps in then with the idea that if we perked along at 100% or so, we could move things with our minds, understand vast complex mysteries, and so forth, and so forth.

Perhaps.  But I am really not so convinced.  The problem with this attitude is that ultimately we want to end up totally self-sufficient – we then would not be “weak,” “defective,”  “inadequate.”  In the words of Satan’s temptation, we would “become like God.”  Yet I am struck by how the earthly Jesus, Who would have been running at full mental capacity, still insisted that His abilities were only “pass-through” powers – consider such statements as these:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father Who dwells in Me does His works.  [John 14:10]


Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.”  [John 5:19]

And if we were an untainted “Image of God,” we also are at best,

… His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.   [Ephesians 2:10, my emphasis]

Of course we are weak.  The hailstorm last week in a nearby town, that had baseball-sized hail for twenty minutes, or the drought that has caused farmers to harvest cornstalks since the ears were empty are stark demonstrations of our weakness to prevent them.  We experience deep frustration at those in political power who no longer represent their constituents, but rather whatever special interest groups which have the deepest pockets for their re-election campaigns.  No, we will never simply exert our will and make the universe or even this small slice of the universe conform to our wishes.

Actually, this is a fitting topic to come on the heels of the last topic, “submission.”  The bridge that connects them is the attitude of “humility” – of recognizing that, contrary to the desires of our fallen human nature, we are not gods and we never will be.  In the interdependence into which we were created, we have an extraordinary role (as “the Image of God”), an extraordinary honor (since Jehovah will not do many things unless by our hands), an extraordinary value (God became one of us to die and rescue us), among other such notable distinctions, and yet we just will never be sufficient in and of ourselves – we are “weak” by design.

We will never take the place of Jehovah, nor will we ever outgrow our need for Him.  Although never spoken, we seem to have a vague idea that when we finally get to heaven, with our recreated bodies and spirits, now free from sin and its effects, then we will finally arrive at that self-sufficiency that we crave.  Other than for good friendship, will we really have any compelling need for Jesus or for the Holy Spirit?  After all, we will no longer need a Savior, we will no longer need a “Helper” to guide us through a corrupted world.  After all, we will no longer be “defective,” “inadequate,” “weak” – or will we?

The reality is that there will never come a time when we will be self-sufficient, a time when we will not need Jesus.  Such is our designed “weakness” that if we are to make it at all to the eternal Kingdom, then “the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He Who calls you is faithful, and He will do it”  [I Thessalonians 5:23-24].  Even in heaven, if we ever were to step outside of our Lord (which will not happen), we would be lost.  There will never come a time when we will not need the Holy Spirit, His guidance and wisdom – it is just that we will finally actually listen to Him and cooperate with Him now in that new creation.

However, telling us that we will always be “weak” and “inadequate” does not make our human nature happy.  And that brings us to a second aspect of being “weak,” although it has been alluded to so far.  There is another “weakness” that comes because of the rebellion of sin.  Because of the disconnection from God, there is a deterioration in regard to all that we are: body, soul and spirit.  It is such a catastrophic degradation that even the universe experiences it (which is called “entropy”), as it struggles from the curse of Genesis 3:17 and in its rebellion against the rebel man (v 18).  The ultimate “weakness,” of course, is death, where we are in absolute helplessness – as demonstrated by the fact that, except for One, no human has been able to simply get up and return to life by his own wish.

In the physical, the Bible uses “weakness” to indicate sickness [for example, Mathew 25:39ff; Luke 10:9; Acts 5:15-16]; physical limitations (“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” [Matthew 26:41]); and feebleness (“… but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” [II Corinthians 10:10, also I Corinthians 2:3]).  There can be a physical malaise when healthy care is not taken in regard to spiritual matters (“he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks discipline on himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body.  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. [I Corinthians 11:29-30]).

One can be spiritually weak, often founded upon a lack of knowledge or understanding, which brings about a weakness in the conscience [I Corinthians 8:7-10, I Thessalonians 5:14].  One may then turn to “the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage”  [Galatians 4:9], which makes a person a “slave of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” [Romans 6:19].  Even the Law, “the former commandment” is described as “weak and unprofitable” [Hebrews 7:18].

So there are two types of “weakness”: one by design; one from the distortion of sin.  However, what really makes the subject go wild is a third aspect of “weakness,” where it can also be God’s badge of honor – consider:
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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 mighty.  [I Corinthians 1:27]


He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  [II Corinthians 12:9,10]


No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.  Those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it.   [I Corinthians 12:22-24]

Before we look with disdain on the concept of “weakness,” we are called upon to realize that some of God’s best work occurs in “weakness” – in fact, “For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you” [II Corinthians 13:4].  It is in that ultimate weakness called “death” that Jehovah saved the world, and in the above second quote, Paul declares that he treasures weakness because that is where God’s power can be fully expressed.

We have spent a lot of time on the “weaker” part of Peter’s phrase “the weaker vessel,” but what is the concept behind “vessel”?  It can mean an instrument, as for instance someone who is chosen for a special task, which fits very well the human task of reflecting God.  But perhaps the first thought is that of a container.  If so, then what is it holding?  What comes to mind is Paul’s statement in II Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us,” which echoes very well our discussion in regard to “weakness.”

What is the “treasure in earthen vessels”?  In the verse previous, he states, “the Light to shine out of darkness, Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”; the role of this “Glory” is identified six verses earlier, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the Glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” [3:18] – we find ourselves again pivoting around “the Image of God” theme.  The “weak,” “helpless,” “inadequate” – these earthen vessels – have an extraordinary privilege of “containing” the “the Image of God.”  Both “male and female” are equally necessary in this, just as, if a mirror is to “contain” an image, it requires both the glass and the silvering.

In fact, although she is indeed the creation second to man, the woman is by no means of incidental importance, as Paul also identifies:

For man is not from woman, but woman from man.  Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. … Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.  For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.  [I Corinthians 11:8-12]

As emphasized here and in I Timothy 2:13: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve,” we cannot get away from the fact that Eve is created to respond to Adam’s need, a need far greater than merely for procreation, but especially in regard to his central identity of carrying “the Image of God” before all creation.  The paradox is that although “the weaker vessel,” she is also the “helper/savior” of the man, the same paradox of simultaneously being “defective” and having God’s strength.  In a totally virgin birth – without any assistance from man –, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” [Galatians 4:4] – in the “weakness” of the woman is found God’s great saving power.

But as discussed in a previous post, it is in her function as “helper” where her vulnerability lies.  “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” [I Timothy 2:14] – it is interesting how this relates to the quoted definition of “Feminist Ethics” in that same post, where the masculine “autonomy, intellect, will … rule, rights, … and impartiality” are “overrated,” while “emotion, … trust, … joy, peace, and life,” are “underrated.”

Eve is deceived into thinking that detaching her basic identity from the will of God is incidental in favor of sin’s “good intentions,” and of rebellion’s “benefits” to not just herself, but also to her family.  Her “weakness” has little to do with strength of muscle, or intelligence, or wisdom, or cunning, or anything like that; it is at root a spiritual vulnerability.

As compared to that, the man is not deceived – no, he quite knowingly jumps into rebellion with both feet.  He knows that he is discarding the will of God, not so much for all the perks to which the woman is attracted, but rather to simply shuck off responsibility toward God. She may be susceptible to deception, but when man deliberately does what is foolish and destructive to everything, even to himself – is this really grounds for boasting how “strong” he is by contrast?  More fitting is that he hang his head in shame.

The irony is, pondering how Adam “listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree” [Genesis 3:17], along with the fall of Samson [Judges 16], David [II Samuel 11:1-5], Solomon [I Kings 11:1-10] and others, Peter and I may have a long talk in heaven about just who is “the weaker vessel.”  Another example is that whenever a woman came to my father in his parish asking for financial assistance, he would send a couple of women over to talk with her, because “they will notice things that a man will not.  A man will easily buy the story, but another woman will see the clues as to whether the woman is speaking the truth.”  Yeah.  The man is the “stronger” sex.  Right.

It is best we dispense with the competitiveness and simply confess our common “weaknesses,” both in the design and through the Fall into sin.

However, when “male and female” are properly aligned to God’s will; where both are mindful of the woman’s – and the man’s – vulnerabilities; where both accept the mutual dependency on each other; where both take seriously being in God’s will as they carry out their common task of being His “Image”; where they depend on His strength in their “weakness” – then comes the effect that Peter describes: “being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”  Within the proper relationship between Jehovah, husband and wife, all kinds of doors open up in regard to our lives.

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