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"His Grace is Sufficient"
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Wednesday AM Bible Study
December 10 , 2008
The apostle Paul had a great blessing in being taken up to the third heaven (vv. 1-6). But it can then be dangerous to be given such a vision and then be returned to the earth. How easy it would be for a man to walk around in spiritual pride after such a thing! But God saw to it that this would never happen to His servant Paul. He allowed Paul to suffer 'a thorn in the flesh' that kept him humble and dependent on Him.
Paul writes about this humbling element in his life in this morning's passage. And we should be very glad he did. His words have been an instrument, by the Holy Spirit, of great encouragement to God's suffering saints throughout the centuries.
I. THE THORN IN THE FLESH (v. 7).
A. What was the thorn in the flesh that Paul suffered? Because he says that it was something "in the flesh", some have suggested that it was a physical ailment of some kind—perhaps an affliction in his eyes (Galatians 3:13-15). Others have suggested that, because it is a "messenger" of some kind, it was a person who brought particular trouble on Paul (see 2 Timothy 4:14 as a possibility). Others have pointed out that it was a "messenger of Satan", and suggest that it was an oppressive, demonic attack of some kind against his ministry (see 1 Thessalonians 2:18). Others still point out that, because it involved "buffeting", it was the constant persecution and opposition that Paul experienced from his own kinsmen (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). In the end, we don't know what it was. Perhaps it is God's intentional goodness to us that we don't know; because this passage now gives us encouragement that we can claim the same promises Paul claimed in our own times of affliction—whatever those afflictions may be.
B. One thing we can say for sure—this "thorn in the flesh" was permitted to come upon Paul by the wise and purposeful hand of God. It was to God Himself that Paul appealed that it be taken away (v. 8); and even Satan's involvement, in the end, is limited by God's sovereign hand. And in this context, Paul is careful to stress that this 'thorn in the flesh' was given to him "lest I should be exalted above measure" (just as the false apostles he was dealing with had been exalting themselves). This reminds us of what Paul said in 4:7—that "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us".
II. THE PROMISE OF GOD (vv. 8-9a).
A. Not only do we find that the great apostle Paul had to suffer a thorn in the flesh; but we also see that his prayer for its removal was not granted. Paul asked three times that it might be taken away from him. Whether God answered each time Paul asked, we're not told; but we are told that Paul repeatedly asked. It's not wrong to ask for the pain and suffering of our 'thorn in the flesh' to end. That's a normal, human response. But it must also be asked with the submissive and trusting attitude demonstrated in our Lord; that "nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39).
B. Note, however, that God did finally give an answer. He told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (v. 9). As far as our loving Father is concerned, the thing that's more important than our relief is the display of His strength in our affliction. Paul spoke of this grace in great detail in 4:7-14. His grace is sufficient because it is made perfect (that is, complete) in our weakness (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). We may wish that God—in our time of suffering—would sometimes tell us something like what He told Paul; but we should recognize that he told Paul once, and moved upon Paul to write it down for our edification. And that should be enough.
III. THE BOAST OF THE APOSTLE (vv. 9b-10).
A. Paul responded to this promise of God's sufficient grace by "therefore most gladly" boasting in his "infirmities". Apart from the promise of God's sufficient grace, such boasting would be a crazy thing to do. But if, as Paul affirms, the power of Christ rested upon him in such times, then those infirmities could legitimately become a great cause for boasting. Here, Paul—boasting in his weaknesses—stands in stark contrast to the false teachers who boasted in their own abilities.
B. Paul summarizes by saying that he, therefore, takes pleasure "in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses" (the very things that the false teachers were arguing would discredit Paul). He could only take pleasure in such things "for Christ's sake" (Matthew 5:11-12). And the reason was that, because of the promise of God's sufficient grace, "when I am weak, then I am strong".
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God has chosen to demonstrate His power through human weakness. He even demonstrated this through His own Son. "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 us" (2 Corinthians 13:4).
In the eternal glory that will be ours through Christ, we will forever thank God for the things that made us weak in our earthly life—so the greatness of His power will shine through us. May we learn, then, to thank Him now!
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