1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (ESV)
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Weakness in Me, Strength in Christ.
As a general rule, people hate weakness. I sure do. In elementary school P.E. I was jealous of the (many) guys who could do more pull-ups than I could. Being physically weaker than others has been a common experience for me, but not one that I particularly like. If physical weakness is frustrating, spiritual weakness is worse. Appearing weak spiritually is a great temptation for pride, envy, anger, and discontentment. When I don’t have it all together, when I don’t feel like I have the strength to keep going, when I am suffering in the midst of difficult circumstances, I find that I am often shaken to the core. I find myself doubting the Lord or at least my calling. I am, after all, a senior pastor. I should be the strongest spiritually, not the weakest, right?
God’s economy, however, is different from ours. Despite our desire for strength, it is weakness that is treasured in God’s Kingdom. This is seen most clearly in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians 12 we learn about a weakness of the Apostle Paul. Though we are unaware of the exact nature of it, we see that Paul was afflicted with a ‘thorn in the flesh’. No doubt this thorn proved to be a great temptation or struggle for Paul and yet it was through this weakening that Paul found strength.
Few could claim to have more reasons for boasting than the Apostle Paul. As we see in verses 3 and 4, Paul had experienced great and glorious revelations from God– but great revelations are also an opportunity for the temptation to pride. Paul did not give in to the temptation. And the instrument God used to keep Paul from giving in to the temptation was the thorn in Paul’s flesh.
The thorn had a significant effect on Paul. As we see from the passage, God was working through it to accomplish two purposes: 1. to keep Paul from being conceited (v.7e) and 2. so that the power of Christ would rest upon him (v. 9e). Paul, bothered by this troublesome thorn, prayed that God would relieve him of it, but surprisingly God did not relieve him and instead said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
God, our all-powerful and all-loving Father has seen fit to beset us with various trials. God’s desire is to empty us of all of our self-reliance and supposed strength so that we might find true strength by resting in Christ. The trials weaken us, but every weakness is an avenue of Christ’s empowering work. Let us no longer despise our weaknesses but recognize them as opportunities of manifested power of the greatest kind, the power that comes from Christ!
(This was originally posted on the Biblearc blog by Chadwick Haygood on July 26, 2015.)
@Brent-Karding Very powerful and encouraging summary, Brent. I had difficulty with arcing verse 7. Paul seems to repeat the purpose of the thorn twice, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,” and then again “to keep me from becoming conceited.” I’m curious what you think of how I handled it…
I had difficulty with arcing verse 7. Paul seems to repeat the purpose of the thorn twice, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,” and then again “to keep me from becoming conceited.” I’m curious what you think of how I handled it…
Actually, Chadwick Haygood wrote the article - I just posted it.
Verse 7 is a little tricky; I think your arc/bracket does an even better job of verse 7, especially since it emphasizes 7a-b as the main point. That the purpose of Paul’s affliction is his main point is supported by his twofold repetition of it!
I like your Negative-Positive relationship for the passage as a whole as well. I think that 10a would be better labelled as an Inference, though, since Paul says “for the sake of Christ, then.”