Theme: God’s Power in Human Weakness
This week’s lessons talk about how God’s grace is sufficient for the individual and personal trials that come from our own weaknesses, limitations, and struggles.
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:9
Yesterday we looked at two lessons concerning our burdens arising from Paul’s thorn. We will look at the last three today.
Because Paul’s thorn was simultaneously from God as well as from Satan, it had a divine purpose, and that purpose was ultimately good. As far as he himself was concerned, the apostle tells us what this good purpose was. It was “to keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations” (v. 1). And it worked, didn’t it? The way he has handled the matter of visions and revelations and boastings in this important section of the letter reveals how genuinely humble this great pioneer missionary and apostle had become.
How about you? The purpose of God in your affliction may be quite different. There may be no danger of your becoming proud. Most of us have almost nothing to be proud about. But may be God is using your suffering as a means of doing good to others, or merely to bring glory to his name.
Take the case of Joseph. Joseph was the son of Jacob. He was hated by his brothers to such an extent that they actually sold him into slavery, and was taken to Egypt. Although he did well as a slave, even rising to a position of considerable trust and influence, he was falsely accused and eventually cast into the king’s prison where he languished for two long years. This was a “thorn” if there ever was one. But God raised Joseph to the highest position in Egypt, short of the Pharaoh’s throne itself, and used him to preserve the lives of millions during a great and prolonged famine.
When he met up with his brothers again years later and they were afraid he might take out some cherished revenge upon them, Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me [there is that frank facing of evil again], but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:19, 20).
In the cases of Job and the blind man of John 9, who was healed by Jesus, the reason for the afflictions was simply that God might be glorified. So do not despair. The evil in your life is real evil, your suffering real suffering. But God is in control and has a good purpose in all of it, even though you probably cannot see his good purpose now.
God’s grace was equal to the thorn. The fourth point is very encouraging, at least to me. For it is the point God himself made in reply to Paul’s request to have this painful thorn removed. God did not remove it. He had a purpose for it, as we saw. But he said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).
I find it interesting that Paul, the great apostle, did not even ask for grace. He was asking that the thorn be removed, just as you or I would have asked. Yet God gave him grace anyway. That is, God gave him the necessary strength to live with the difficulty and continue to work and praise God in spite of it. And that is the victory after all, not to escape the suffering but to triumph in spite of it, particularly since the triumph is not in our own strength but by the grace of God. Sufficient grace? Yes, indeed. If we need sudden grace in some great catastrophe of life, God will supply sudden grace. If it is daily grace we need, God will provide grace day by day. If we need sustaining grace or persevering grace or overcoming grace, that is precisely what we shall have also.
You know how the great hymn “How Firm a Foundation” puts it.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;The flame shall not hurt thee; I only designThy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.E’en down to old age all my people shall proveMy sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be born.
In the midst of his sufferings Job said, “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Grace, which provides the power, is seen in us not when we are strong, but when we are weak. This is the last point. It is Paul’s last point too, though it flows directly from God’s special revelation to him, which is our text. God said, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 7). But if that is so, then, as Paul says, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 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” (vv. 9, 10).
Do you see how different this is from triumphalism, the point at which I started out? This is not triumphalism, that is, glorying in how successful or victorious or favored a Christian I am. It is the very opposite of triumphalism. It is boasting, yes. But it is boasting in our weaknesses, because we know that it is only in our weakness, not in our strength, that the power and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ can be seen.
Who is it that you want to glorify? Who do you want to praise? If you want to praise yourself (and have others praise you), then tell us what a wonderful Christian you are. Tell us about your triumphs and victories and visions and revelations. But if that is not your objective—if you want to glorify Jesus rather than yourself, if you want other people to praise him—then do what mature believers in Christ have always done. They do not point to themselves. They point to Jesus. They tell others about his grace, his power, his majesty, his sufficiency, his glory. And when they come into the picture themselves, if they do, they confess only that they are sinners saved by grace. If they are called upon to suffer, and do suffer, they do it not by some great force of character within them but by the grace and power of him who endured even greater suffering for them, even death of a cross.
“My grace is sufficient for you,” God says. Is it sufficient? It is a privilege to be able to show others that it is. So instead of boasting, learn to glory in your weaknesses, since it is only in them that the grace of God is made fully known.
What were the divine purposes behind Paul’s and Joseph’s suffering?
What was Paul asking the Lord to do for him? How did God answer this request?
Application: How will you take these studies and seek to encourage another brother or sister in Christ who is struggling with a great difficulty?
Key Point: So do not despair. The evil in your life is real evil, your suffering real suffering. But God is in control and has a good purpose in all of it, even though you probably cannot see his good purpose now.
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