2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Our text is a very sobering message for us and yet it is a very comforting one too. Sobering, because it tells us what things will be like for us. Comforting because of God’s precious promises.
Our text reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy says to Charlie Brown: “Sometimes I get discouraged.” And Charlie Brown responds: “Well, Lucy, life does have its ups and downs, you know…” Lucy shoots back: “But why? Why should it? Why can’t life just move from one up to another up? I don’t want any downs! I just want ups and ups and ups!”
Truth be told, I’m with Lucy. I would imagine, you think that way too. But here’s the sobering part of our text: God wants us to be weak. We will be weak. God wants us to be weak so we can know his power. When there seems to be no way out; when there seems to be only trouble; when it seems we are completely overtaken by wants, right there is Jesus, and he promises. He promises his grace. He promises: “My Grace is Sufficient for You.”
Paul had been talking about an intensely personal struggle. He speaks of it as a “thorn in his flesh.” Some people think it was some chronic physical problem, like malaria. It would make sense because one day he had to leave a low level city called Perga and move up to a higher elevated Antioch. Others believe Paul had a problem with his eyes. In Gal. 4 and 6 he hints about having eye troubles. Still others think it may have been a speech impediment, which the Paul’s opponents would have contrasted with their great speaking skills.
You can find out in heaven what his thorn in the flesh was, but on this side of heaven we’ll never know. But what we can say is that it was some sort of physical problem. A painful one. A “thorn in his flesh.” But it was more than a physical problem. Paul calls it “a messenger of Satan to torment me.” And the original language tells us that Satan kept on tormenting Paul. So this problem troubled Paul physically, emotionally and spiritually. And Satan used it to bring evil upon Paul.
But Paul’s body didn’t just deteriorate to the point that he now had a physical trouble. He wasn’t just getting older. “There was given me a thorn in my flesh.” God gave him his thorn. Satan used it to torment him. It was not an accident or a result of old age. The Lord wanted Paul to be weak. Satan wanted Paul to give up hope. But God used the thorn to bless him.
Paul didn’t despair. He fell to his knees. Three times he called out the Lord for help. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to take the problem away from Paul. And the Lord always answers every prayer of the believer.
But he answered it in a way Paul did not expect. He wanted Paul to be weak. Instead of taking the thorn away, and Almighty God could have certainly done that, Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
It was as if Jesus said, “No, I’m going to let you go on being weak, not because I want you to be tormented, but because I want you to have a better gift, something far better than a temporary fix for trouble. My grace is enough for you. You know the power of my love, Paul. Through my forgiving grace, my willingness to go to the cross for you, you have come to know the power of my unquenchable love. And that power of grace reaches its full strength in you only when you are conscience of nothing but your own personal weakness and my almighty strength.”
God has this wonderful ability to make something out of nothing. Luther once said that if you think you are something, there’s not much God can do with you.
Look at your big fat ego. How smart and strong you are. How dumb others are in comparison. Look at how often you rely on yourself, only when God gets you really far down on your knees do you look up. Look at your plans: is the Lord a part of them? If the Lord didn’t love us he’d let us go on thinking we didn’t need him. He’d let us think we were strong.
But, again, God wants us to be weak. Weakness strips us of our egos. Weakness teaches us to give up on ourselves. It is true to say that sometimes God gives us the best of his gifts when it looks like he is not giving us anything at all.
In weakness then, “My grace is sufficient for you.” My undeserved love is enough for you. This isn’t some generic grace, some generalized feeling of mercy that floats down from some sunny sky when all the warm summer breezes blow. This is located grace: It is located in Jesus and in him alone. It’s is the sufficient grace of our strong Savior who walked the darkness of sin and death. It’s the sufficient grace of a Savior who himself was willing to be weak for us our sakes. It’s the grace of a Savior who surrendered his will to die for love of his Father and for us. It’s the grace located on the tree where Jesus became a curse for our sin. It’s the grace of the empty tomb where God gives the heart to believe that we are now God’s children, forgiven and dearly loved.
I pray that as we minister to one another at Crown of Life, that we don’t feel like we can’t talk about our troubles with one another. I also pray that we won’t feel like all we want to point to is our successes. Jesus’ power is made perfect in weakness. He wants us weak and we are. Jesus’ power is made perfect in our weakness.
Paul had the ability to “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” A sinful world says, or an unbeliever says, “Only when I am strong, when I have status, money, or influence am I strong.” God’s Word, and the believer, says, “Only when I’m weak, only when I realize that the world’s symbols of strength are nothing, only then am I strong.”
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you.” “He said to me.” In the Greek language it emphasizes how Jesus spoke this to him in the past and it stayed with him. “My grace is sufficient for you.” It continues to be enough. Let that play over and over in your minds. ‘The Lord said it to me and it still remains: His grace is enough for me.’
Paul’s thorn was much like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. Jesus prayed for his cup of suffering to be removed. His Father’s will was not that the cup be removed, but that angels would go and strengthen Jesus to drink the cup.
Just as the Lord brought good out of Paul’s thorn, good resulted from Jesus drinking his cup of suffering. By drinking the cup Jesus paid the ransom price of death to win forgiveness for the world.
I haven’t talked much about the good that came as a result of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. I’ve talked about him being weak, but there’s more to it. The first verse of our text says, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh.” Paul could have become proud because of the number of revelations the Lord gave him, so our text says not once, but twice (in the original language Paul says this twice, in the English just once): “To keep me from becoming conceited there was given me a thorn in my flesh…to keep me from becoming conceited.”
So, life will be up and down. But the Lord wants us weak. When we’re weak, then we are strong. Remember what this is all about. Paul is a missionary for Christ. Could Paul have moved about the world better without the thorn in his flesh. Ever see a map of Paul’s travels? Three missionary journeys caused him to travel thousands of mile to witness Christ, without an automobile. Could he have served his Lord better without his thorn in the flesh, obviously not! Life isn’t about us. It’s about God and his strength and salvation and that strength is made perfect in our weakness. And may this remain in your hearts and minds: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Amen.