Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Power in Weakness

I am finishing up my study in the book of 2 Corinthians, and this week I am reading and studying through 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. This portion of the letter is known as the apostle Paul's "Fool's Speech". He begins the passage by declaring that he "knows a man in Christ", to which he is referring to himself in the third person. He recalls that this man was shown great revelations from God, and Paul anonymously refers to this "man in Christ" not as himself, because he doesn't want to boast in the greatness that he has seen. In verse 5 Paul states ,"On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses." Paul then goes on to tell of his experience of his thorn in the flesh, and his response from the Lord when he plead with the Lord to remove it from him. In verse 7 Paul states that the reason he has been given this thorn (of which we are not told the details of) for the purpose of humbling him, for it was he who saw these revelations of which he previously spoke. God apparently sent a "messenger of Satan to harass" him, to keep Paul from becoming too puffed up about his supernatural experiences. Three times, the Scripture says, Paul pleaded with the Lord (Jesus) to remove the thorn from him. The Lord Jesus responded, however, in this way, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (v. 9) So we are told that in Paul's human weakness, the power of Christ is exhibited mightily. Then Paul makes the profound claim that because of this reason, he will boast in his weaknesses so that Christ's power will be strong in him.
This passage highlights one of the major themes in the whole letter: power in weakness. Or more specifically, God's power seen in human weakness. Does this seem paradoxical? How can one who is weak be strong simultaneously? The answer is found in the last few verses of the passage. If you read the entirety of this letter you will see that this theme has been running throughout Paul's correspondence with the Corinthians. He tells us in chapter 1 that God put him and his companions through hardship so that they would rely "not on themselves but on God who raises the dead." In chapters 2 and 3, Paul talks of the insufficiency of men to be preachers of God's gospel, but through God, men are made sufficient for the task. In chapters 8 and 9 Paul argues for sacrificial giving, using the example of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." (8:9) Also, throughout the book Paul talks of the hardships that he experienced as a servant of God, but how through them all God has sustained and delivered him. Paul reaches his climax of this discussion in chapter 12, when he mentions this thorn in flesh that was used to humble him.

Although Paul's request for the removal of this thorn was denied, Jesus ("the Lord") gave him profound reassurance that his grace would be sufficient to sustain Paul through this trial. This I believe to be the great message that reoccurs throughout the letter--that God may not remove trials from our lives, but will grant us sufficient grace in order to endure them. Think about what Jesus prayed when he was in the garden, right before his crucifixion, "And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36) The gospel of Mark says that Jesus prayed "the same words" three times. And here in Paul's letter, we see the same pattern of prayer, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me." (2 Cor. 12:8) The Father did not remove the cup of wrath that Jesus drank on the cross, nor did Jesus remove from Paul the "thorn in the flesh" that tormented him. In both cases, Jesus and Paul, were given the grace of God to endure their trials. Did not Jesus have to suffer by becoming weak, in order to be resurrected by the power of God? Jesus' reply to Paul's plea was a reminder of the gospel. The same gospel which Paul exhorted the Corinthians to believe in was what Jesus, in his response to Paul, told Paul to remember. The tense of the verb "is" ("my grace is sufficient") is in the present tense, not the past tense, meaning that Jesus' grace is continually being dispensed. The power of God is made perfect in weakness, and that perfection was first displayed in the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Himself who "although he was rich, yet for [our] sake became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (8:9) Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin on behalf of believers so that the righteousness of God would be imputed to their account. What a beautiful, applicable message!

When we think of the trials and hardships that we face in this life, even imagining that we cannot possibly live on, we are reminded that God's power (through his grace) is sufficient. It is sufficient for Jesus, for Paul, and for us. It will sustain us, invigorate us, humble us, and make us thankful that we have a God who is able to do "far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us" (Eph. 3:20). So whatever you are facing today, remember that God's supply of grace is unending and he loves to distribute it to all who will receive it by faith.

1 comment:

  1. I did share and will make public so you can see.