2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
A few weeks ago, we talked about what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion – the fact that we worship a Triune God. The god of Islam, Allah, is not a three-person god, and Hindus worship 3 million gods. We worship one God, who has revealed Himself in three persons. This is a distinguishing trait of the Christian religion.
Another distinguishing trait, perhaps the second biggest difference from other religions, is grace. This is a key word to understand God’s Word, the Scripture. John Newton wrote, “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.” We owe everything to grace. Our salvation starts with grace and ends with grace. It is never dependent on us. We have some involvement, obligations and responsibility but our salvation is all of grace. We are elected in grace, justified in grace, sanctified in grace, we persevere in grace, and will be glorified in grace.
It is grace from beginning to end. We need strengthening grace, enlightening grace – on and on. The good news is that God’s grace is infinite and sufficient. Think of how much grace God has poured into your life every day. We don’t have to worry that we are going to exhaust God’s grace. Think of the millions of Christians over centuries of time to whom God has shown grace. Has God every been exhausted? Has He ever said, “I don’t have enough grace for you”? No, He has infinite grace and sufficient grace.
We need grace to face our trials and difficulties. When Paul talks about grace in 2 Corinthians 12, it is against the backdrop of a severe trial. He describes it figuratively as a “thorn in the flesh”. There are may images of suffering in the Bible: fire, the valley, and a thorn. Perhaps he uses the thorn because of the trial’s longevity. Fire might refer to a quick, intense trial. This trial of Paul’s is obviously very severe. He says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me” (v 8). It doesn’t seem the Lord removed it, at least not in the short term. Paul could have gone to his grave with this thorn in his flesh.
We don’t know what exactly this thorn was, but God did not remove it. He tells us why in verse 7. It wasn’t because he was proud, but to keep him from becoming proud. We can all struggle with pride, self-sufficiency, self-reliance. We think we can handle situations on our own; we think we have all the answers. God will put thorns into our lives, perhaps quite regularly, to remind us we don’t have all the answers and keep us from arrogance. They keep us humble, depending on Him.
God doesn’t want us to go through life thinking we are strong. He wants us to realize how weak we are, how much we need Him. The trials of life are used to teach us how weak we are, to deliver us from the delusion of strength. Paul even celebrated his weakness; he gloried in it. Have you ever celebrated your weakness on a resume? We focus on how good and strong and wise we are.
Paul tells us why he boasted in his weakness. Verse 9, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He boasted in his weakness because it gave him the opportunity to glorify his Savior. Trials give us the opportunity to put Christ on display – His grace, His goodness, His wisdom, His power. Newton said, “Grace has brought us safe this far and grace will lead us home.”