Thorns & Grace [Devotion]
“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 12:7-10)
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
In some ways I just want to leave it there. This passage has so much to say about the beauty of God’s grace. Even though, when we look at it, this passage is about a prayer that God says “no” to it shows the true depth and character of God’s grace.
The Thorn: First we are introduced to Paul’s thorn. The implications from the passage lend themselves to the idea of a demonically directed false teacher opposing Paul but the precise nature of this affliction is left largely to the reader’s imagination. What we are told is the source of the thorn and the reason that God allowed the thorn. The source of the thorn was Satan. Whether in the form of temptation or (as is more likely) in the form of bitter opposition from another teacher Satan’s aim was evidently to throw Paul off of his game and handicap his ministry. But the more important information is why God allowed Satan to deliver such a lasting blow to the apostle (Satan, as is clear in Job, could not have operated outside of God’s permission). Why? Paul says right at the beginning that, because of the great revelations that had been made to Paul God allowed this to keep him from becoming conceited (the Greek word here, ὑπεραίρω hü-per-ī'-rō, implies an attitude of superiority to others). If we think about the nature of Paul’s ministry an attitude of superiority or conceit could have been devastating for the work that God had laid out for Paul. So, rather than allowing him to fall into conceit, God allows Satan to attack Paul in a way that humbles him. This is so wonderful for two reasons. One, in trying to handicap Paul’s ministry, Satan actually succeeds in preventing it from being handicapped. Two the amazing quality of God’s care for Paul in working even the schemes of Satan together for Paul’s good!
The Unanswered Prayer: While Paul writing to the Corinthians understood the purpose of the thorn this was not the case initially. When this trial comes Paul says he pleaded with the Lord, three times, for it to be taken away. In the midst of the trial Paul cries out earnestly for it to be taken away. It obviously distressed him greatly and yet God knew that it would be in the end for Paul’s good. But what I find so beautiful is that God doesn’t respond to this trial by telling Paul that it builds character but rather by calling Paul to rely on the fact that God is enough. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” His grace is sufficient. It is enough. Though Paul, obviously, was given insight into why he was facing that struggle and why God wouldn’t take it away when God answers He simply tells Paul that His grace is enough in the face of the trial. Paul’s weakness does not have to be taken away in order for God’s work to be done. In fact God tells Paul that in the very weakness that Paul is struggling with God’s strength is shown to be complete.
The Boasting: So Paul, when he understands this, changes his tune. Turning from pleading he commences boasting in the midst of his weakness. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Boasting almost seems inappropriate for an apostle but remember why he’s boasting. He says “therefore I will boast…” Why is he boasting? Because God’s grace is sufficient! The only ground any of us has for boasting is in fact the sufficiency of God’s grace to do what the weakness of His people could not do! That’s the gospel! We were dead in our sins unable to save ourselves and God, by grace, saved us!
Do we look at our trials and weaknesses as opportunities for the power of Christ to be shown through us? Now I’m not saying that we should accept character flaws and simply adapt a stance of apathy towards the work of God because “He will work through our weaknesses.” I’d say that it is clear from scripture as a whole that there is a difference between weaknesses and disobedience. But I am saying that even weaknesses that you struggle with over time can be causes for boasting in the sufficient grace of God. “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.” For when I am weak then I am strong! In other words my strength is not my own just as my life is not my own therefore I will endure what is put in my life for the sake of Christ and the glory of God the Father!