“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:2-10 (NIV)
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
As a young man, Paul trained under one of the greatest Jewish scholars of hid time. He understood the elements of the law and practiced them with great zeal. Yet, when he came face-to-face with Jesus Christ, his life changed forever. Paul no longer viewed the world through human eyes. God has given him spiritual insight that far surpassed anything he had known.
Still…Paul needed to be broken further so that he could be used in an even greater way. God allowed Paul to be buffeted by a severe trial in order to humble him and remove any potential for pride. Through this time of weakness, Paul learned a new and unexpected principle. “Strength in weakness”.
When God humbles us before Him, He sees the meekness of our hearts and sends His strength and blessings into our lives.
The story is told of a child who brought a cocoon into her bedroom. She had been told that in time a butterfly would emerge from the cocoon; so, in her eagerness to free the butterfly, she carefully snipped the silken threads so the butterfly could emerge without a struggle. The child didn’t understand that the struggle to emerge was necessary if the butterfly was ever to fulfil the destiny for which it had been created. Without the struggle to free itself from the cocoon, the butterfly would never be able to fly as it was created to do.
By “helping” the poor creature, she doomed it to a brief life of walking, rather than a full life of flying, even migrating great distances. The tiring struggle to free itself from the cocoon was necessary for the butterfly to be transformed into the beautiful creature God created it to be.
Just as this child thoughtlessly neglected the truth that the butterfly needed to struggle if it would fulfil the destiny for which it was created, we are prone to forget that it is precisely the struggle that confronts us day-by-day…the seemingly constant opposition, that makes us strong. If you will ever be the beautiful example of the believer God intends you to be, you will need to accustom yourself to times hardship. The trials you are facing today are designed to transform you into the gracious example of a redeemed individual that glorifies the Saviour.
I’m speaking to people who know something of disappointment, of heartache, of sorrow. If you are a follower of the Master, you rightfully anticipate that He will be gracious to His child. And, yet, at times you have been beaten and bruised. You know what it is to be betrayed by people you thought were your friends. You have tasted bitter tears at unexpected partings, some through death and some through misunderstandings that were not resolved.
You have at one time or another heard the frightening words that informed you of a dreadful medical condition. Or you know all too well what it is to be strapped, to be broke and unable to meet your obligations. You are well acquainted with the sorrow imposed by a child who has turned away from the Lord…disappointing your expectations. In short, you have been broken…you are now weak and in need of help.
At any given moment in the service of worship are people who are sitting at, or who have been seated at, the table of brokenness. Represented among us are people who have experienced marital breakup or family stress so severe that it has strained relationships. Broken, these dear souls lift their hearts to Heaven and cry out, “Why, Lord?”
My point is this… each of us has experienced the bitterness of being broken and feeling as if there is nowhere to turn but to the Lord. If we have not yet experienced this brokenness, in the secret places of our heart we know that the threat always hangs over us suspended by a thread.
There will times that we have the expectations of Gods blessings. Defending himself against vicious slander, the Apostle Paul wrote a second letter to the Corinthian Christians. He wrote of a most intimate experience in order to demonstrate familiarity with matters that could be used to exalt himself. Paul wrote…
2 Corinthians 12:2-6
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--
4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,
We who follow the Master expects, Him to be gracious…correct! Tragically, we often define the specifics of our expectations, filtering these expectations through visions of our own comfort. As a young Christian, I was discipled in a way that I could command God to do what I want Him to do. (Name it Claim it, teaching) Well…if that teaching is true, then that would make me the master, and not Jesus. And then, when the answer to my prayer is a definite NO, from the Lord, then my expectations are broken. Again, the question remains… Why Lord???
I do know this… every Christian, if she or he will permit themselves to think, has known the blessings of God. We expect that He will bless us because we are His children—and He does! We know we have an inheritance reserved in Heaven. We know that we can come before Him at any time, assured that He will receive us, confident that He will hear us. However, we struggle with what we expect of Him because we are in the flesh. We confuse our material desires with what is necessary for effective service. Almost without thinking of what we are doing, we seek ease of life rather than spiritual knowledge.
Followers of the Risen Son of God can expect His blessings, however, the blessings He will shower down are based upon grace, and not upon our own demands. We have no right to expect God to agree to our demand. We are taught to pray for “daily bread,” but nowhere are we promised a big bank account. We are encouraged to ask for immediate needs, but we are never promised wealth and comfort. We are promised peace and mercy, but we have never been promised ease and a life of fame. As with all divine gifts, man has perverted His promises.
There will always be Devine intervention…
2 Corinthians 12:7
or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
God’s harsh mercy can leave us confused at times. The Apostle was given what he referred to as “a thorn in the flesh.” Moreover, he identified this deficit, whatever it may have been, as “a messenger of Satan.” Though the account is shrouded in mystery, in some way the Lord used the devil to accomplish His goal of guiding His apostle.
We have no way of knowing what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” might have been. Whether it was an emotional condition, a physical deficit or even a situation that hindered him is unknown. Throughout the centuries since he wrote these words, people have speculated. We know that at other points in his writings he referred to physical constraints. You may recall one such place where the Apostle spoke…relating of his physical limitation. As mentioned in…
12 Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. 13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.
So…It, may appear that Paul was referring to a deficit in his vision. Whatever his “condition,” those about him saw it as a trial. Early in his first message to the saints in Corinth, the Apostle spoke of his weakness, writing…
1 Corinthians 2:2-5
2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
It is not at all certain that the weakness to which he referred was mere timidity or hesitation; it is entirely possible that he was referring to a physical limitation. The point of this exercise is to confess that we don’t know what limitations Paul experienced. However, whether we feel trapped by a situation over which we have little control, whether we struggle against emotional limitations or whether we are passing through physical pain, we can relate to the Apostle Paul. If God was able to employ him to His glory despite severe limitation, then we can be confident that God is well able to use us as He pleases regardless of what we see as weakness.
At the time he was first afflicted, it is doubtful that Paul understood that his “thorn in the flesh, this messenger of Satan”, was actually accomplishing a divine purpose. Seldom are we able to recognize what God is doing when we are experiencing pain. However, in Paul’s case, God recognized that Paul was prone to be conceited. (To keep me from being conceited) God acted by permitting Satan to work so that in some way the Apostle was weakened. In his weakness, Paul would be driven to look to the Lord for strength. We’re left with the impression that he became utterly dependent on divine strength to accomplish even simple tasks each day.
We pass through seasons of life and our opportunities change and the challenges we face are changed. As followers of the Christ, we are responsible to adapt to these changing seasons, always serving the Son of God who redeemed us and appointed us to His holy service. I will not always be able to function in the capacity of a pastor, standing before the congregation and declaring the glories of the Living God. When that time comes that I can no longer serve, (It has happened once before) I pray that I will still be able to reveal the love of Christ through encouraging others and through gently providing guidance to those who struggle. I pray that I will never lose the ability to call on the Name of the Risen Savior, pleading for Him to strengthen the weak and pleading with Him to rebuke the wicked. You who know the Lord will face changing seasons of life, but you will never lose opportunity to serve Him.
There was a time when the Apostle Paul, pleaded for relief, but none came….
2 Corinthians 12:8
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
We will experience intense pain, physically or emotionally. Because we share in the human condition, we will be distressed; and we will plead with God to remove the pain. Because we are a follower of the Risen Son of God, we will experience opposition. And that opposition will not only be from people identified with this broken world, we will at times face spiritual opposition as spiritual powers oppose us through fellow Christians. Through the pain, however, God is always working. His perfect work is not often seen as His at the time. Pain is distracting, debilitating, devastating. Pain grips us by the throat and demands that we focus on what we are experiencing. We too…will plead for relief.
Please don’t get me wrong, it is not a sin to seek relief when we are broken. When the Apostle sought divine relief, God did not rebuke him for asking the Lord to deliver him. However, the Apostle was learning to say, as did the Son of God when He was about to face the cross…
39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Let me say quite clearly…I do not know the immediate source of your pain, nor can I. For some, an illness or a physical condition may be nothing more than a part of the human condition. However, it is possible that you have a “thorn in the flesh,” a “messenger of Satan.” No doubt the evil one is quite capable of taking advantage of our weaknesses, of our trials, to traumatize us because we are a child of God.
Perhaps you have experienced a family breakup, a pressure that has either torn your family into pieces or now threatens to do so. Again, we must understand that ultimately the desolation that rips families to shreds is the result of sin and the sin may not be yours! It may be the sin of a spouse who exalts his or her own desires above the welfare of those who should be protected. Again, the truth is that the wicked one is able to take advantage of our being shoved off balance to discourage and devastate the follower of the Lord Christ.
How should we respond when we are struck by such painful experiences? Looking at Paul’s response, it is obvious that we should pray. Though we need no encouragement to pray when we hurt, it is fascinating to note that prayer is one of the last things we do in our pain. Prayer should be our first resort, unfortunately, prayer is often a last resort. We imagine that the pain we are experiencing in our body is normal, or that it is minor and will go away on its own; so, we don’t seek divine intervention.
We have often recited the Model Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples. Tragically, we say the words, treating them as a talisman, without realizing that this is a model for prayer. Remember that one of the petitions Jesus taught us to present before the Father was…
And do not lead us into temptation But, deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
“Deliver us from evil.” To be certain, when we are in the storms, this is a prayer we should offer, however… ideally the prayer is to be presented before we are in the midst of the storm. We need to train ourselves to see the danger before it is on us, seeking divine deliverance before it strikes. However, when trouble strikes, we should definitely pray, asking for deliverance.
There is Devine provision to remember when are broken…
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I am certain of this…when I cry out to the Father, He hears me, and since He hears me, I am assured that He will answer according to His perfect will. The answer won’t always be dramatic, but it is certain. For the Apostle, the divine answer to his plea was divine assurance: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” That promise is hard for us to believe, but our struggle to accept what God says does not alter the reality of what is said. “God’s grace is sufficient for you.” God’s grace is enough!!!
The reason His grace is sufficient is that His power is made perfect in weakness. Here is a truth that is often times neglected, some of God’s choicest saints are some of the weakest of His children. Here is what’s surprising…those weakened saints are among God’s strongest representatives. Their strength lies in their utter reliance on God for strength, for hope, for anything that will ever be accomplished through them.
Here is a word of hope, rich encouragement. Writing from a prison cell, the Apostle testified…
19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Whether I live or die, I am in Christ. And that is by God’s grace alone!
Pastor Richard Santos
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