January 20, 2021
Author: Pastor Gordon Cook
January 20, 2021
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. 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. 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, and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses- 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. 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. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. 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.
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Dr. John MacArthur recently related the time when his wife was involved in a very serious car accident and there was a question on whether or not she would live. While he was going to the hospital something he could not explain happened. He said he was able, in those very dark hours, to sing hymns to the Lord. He believes it was God giving that strength and peace that passes all understanding. That should be true of all of us. Maybe you have had that experience where you can be able to rejoice in the darkest and most difficult of circumstances. Think of the hymn by William Cowper, “Sometimes a light surprises a Christian while he sings, it is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings. When our comforts are declining He grants to the soul a season of clear shining to cheer him after rain.” So even in the darkest and stormiest of days there are many reasons why a Christian can sing.
If we look at 2 Corinthians 12 we can see a couple perspectives on sufferings and why we should be able to be thankful even in the midst of our difficult times.
- God is sovereign. We believe in an absolute sovereign God who can bring the best out of the worst. Someone has said, “God has the Midas touch, He can turn anything into gold.” Think of the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Now a thorn is far removed from a gold coin. A thorn has no luster or shine; it’s rough, it’s prickly, they can scratch, can make you bleed. If they get imbedded beneath the skin they can even cause an infection. We don’t know what this thorn was that Paul had, if it was physical, a spiritual thorn, or a relational thorn? But it is obvious that this thorn that he experienced had an even darker element to it. The reason we can say that is because he says in verse 7, “a messenger of Satan…” What is worse than that? It has the devil’s fingerprints all over it. I think we have to develop a good full theology in regard to suffering. We can’t discount the devil. Even in Job’s trials, remember, they were engineered by the devil. He loves to see Christians suffer. He loves to see evil committed even by Christians; to expose us to spiritual declension, backsliding. He wants our sufferings to drive us away from God. He wants to destroy our faith, he wants to cripple our walk, and he wants to eclipse our reputation. The devil can use trials as temptations to sin against God. At the very least he wants to hurt our witness or testimony before the Christian community and the world. He wants us to become complainers and murmurers, and become bitter and angry. But God doesn’t want our trials to go to waste. As someone said, “He is the God with the Midas touch,” He can bring good out of evil. He can use trials to own our graces of patience, faith, and humility. He can use trials to conform us to His Son.
- God can turn thorns into gold. What did He do for the apostle Paul? There are three gold nuggets here:
- The gold of sanctification. This trial had a restraining effect upon Paul’s pride. God used his trial engineered by the devil for his sanctification. In verse 7 it says it helped to keep him humble, “to keep him from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations.” Very few men were as gifted and as privileged as the apostle Paul and he had some wonderful opportunities to see heaven itself. He was taken up into the third heaven (vs. 2). God knows that the greater privileges and blessings we have, that also makes us vulnerable to pride. So God uses the thorn to restrain the apostle’s pride.
- The gold of prayer. Verse 8, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” The thorny trial put Paul on his knees. Trials can make us run to God for help. Paul gave himself to desperate, incessant prayer.
- The gold of experience with Christ. Paul got to know a deeper level of Christ’s grace during this trial. Verse 9,10 “But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness….when I am weak, then I am strong.”
No one likes trials, no one likes to suffer. There is something wrong if we did. Here is the good news dear Christian, these trials can be wonderfully used by God. Let’s pray in the beginning of a new year that God would use these trials in our lives. We are all going to go through trials, we cannot escape that. Let’s pray they would mature us, make us stronger, more healthy, more humble. We all need to grow in humility and faith, that Christ becomes more precious; that we see more of His grace. Sometimes to deliver us, but even to sustain us in the midst of our trials.