CONFIDENT IN GOD: The Basis of Real Ministry
Grace that is Sufficient Every Time
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Jerry A Collins
v Does God want us to suffer for Him?
v What kind of sufferings is the most useful?
v How does the grace of God connect to our suffering?
What is a thorn in the flesh? It is something in your life that is a problem for you from which you cannot find deliverance. It may well be that the one thing you have most wanted to be rid of, God wants you to have. It may be the one thing you wish to be rid of and God is using it in your life to manifest His grace and power, to His glory and for your good. The point of the ‘thorn in the flesh’ is to emphasize your weakness. That is why we wrestle with this so much. In our world we want to manifest our strengths. Things we hear only go to the strong. It is the survival of the fittest. So we have a propensity to overcome our weakness and not let it become an issue for us. We attend seminars, read books, get counseling, change our attitudes, follow 7 habits of highly effective people, or use the stiff upper lip! But our weakness is still there—it is given to us to keep us weak and to make us humble. Paul says his thorn in the flesh made a profound change in his life. Once he understood the nature of a ’thorn in the flesh’ he was able to accept it, use it, appreciate it, and be overjoyed with it! So can you.
THERE IS NO VALUE IN BOASTING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS 1-4
1 Boasting in necessary Evidently the best way to overcome opposition of the false apostles to himself was to do a little boasting.
Though it is not profitable has no eternal or spiritual value in and of itself. This is a tactic he is taking again because of the presence of false competitors to his apostleship in the city of Corinth.
But I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord either from the Lord or about the Lord. These kinds of things accompanied those who were true apostles to authenticate their authority. So here is some supernatural stuff we would know nothing about otherwise. But he is put in this position reluctantly.
2 I know a man in Christ who 14 yrs ago using the 3rd person his way of emphasizing he did nothing to obtain this vision but was done to him not because he deserved it but being in Christ he was in the position to have this happen to him.
Whether in body or out… he wants to make this point to them. So we do learn that he believes in a separation of the body and soul—the soul can go to heaven and the soul is the real person—with or without the body. He admits that he did not have a sense if he had a body or not while there.
Such a man was caught up to 3rd heaven This is the rapture word and only used on other time in 1 Thess 4:17. This place is where God is above the stars. So he was granted a future view of the actual site of God’s glory.
3 And I know how such a man Again, he downplays the event because he finds no value for building up others in his experience. It is not something he would boast about. We can be very fast at playing our experience card with people but remember we do that to make ourselves look good. Now the other false apostles had been having a heyday making a name for themselves to have people follow and putting Paul down in the process.
4 Was caught up to paradise Not the paradise of Luke 16 since that one no longer exists since the OT believers are now with the Lord after Jesus paid for their sin—like the thief on the cross whom Jesus said would be in Paradise. Here it is a synonym for the 3rd heaven—the actual abode of God.
Heard inexpressible words not permitted to speak God did not allow Paul to pass on what he heard there. This was revelation he did not write down for us. So Paul heard and knew things that he has never passed on to us.
SIGNIFICANCE: It is safe to say that our strengths here represented by Paul’s achievements as an apostle are nothing to boast about. If we do they have no eternal or spiritual value because then it becomes all about me—what they are thinking or saying about me. There is no glory in that. Our credentials are not tied to those things.
BOAST IN YOUR WEAKNESS BECAUSE IT IS THE BEST WAY TO DISPLAY GOD’S POWER 5-10
5 On behalf of such I boast It is about the experience of this man not the man himself he will boast. What it says about his apostleship.
But on my own behalf I will not boast The point is not elevating himself because he had this experience because the Corinthian’s would then focus on Paul—he would get the glory and be just like the false apostles who were seeking their own.
Except in my weaknesses So he chooses to focus on his humiliation—11:31-33 when he specifically raised the basket experience and now the thorn in the flesh. Between these two was the 3rd heaven experience 14 year earlier. He had been in the future new world an experience possibly no one else could share. And all he can do is speak of weaknesses. You would think the opposite--that all he would talk about was the experience.
6 For if I wish to boast not foolish but truth Not like the false apostles claiming things about themselves and were untrue. Paul is not speaking some foolish lie but he is telling the truth with the authority of a true apostle behind it.
But I refrain from this so no more credit than what you see or hear Don’t follow me or listen to me because of some vision I had. What you see is what you get. I am not out making a name for myself even though I had this experience.
7 And by the surpassing greatness of revelations for this reason Again the strengths are valid and place him in a class by himself. He has had many of the revelations.
To keep me from exalting myself this is our tendency with our strengths. It is the same word used of the antichrist who exalts himself against God—to act independent of God as act of pride 2 Thess 2:4. So not good. Pride is never good in the Bible. We should never be proud of anyone, ourselves, our children, our team, our efforts. Pride places us at odds with God.
There was given me a thorn in flesh It came straight from God just as the revelation had. It was something associated with his flesh—his body. It's described as a stake, splinter, or thorn constantly reoccurring as something beating or striking his physical body.
A messenger of Satan to keep me from exalting myself so he repeats the temptation to make a case for himself because of this experience. Twice he mentions the need to keep from exalting himself. The pain originated with God but Satan was its messenger. God’s purpose was to humble Paul. Satan’s purpose was to defeat Paul to motivate him to exalt himself in spite of it or discourage him because of it.
8 Concerning I asked 3 times to depart You can ask God for anything even relief but God can still say ‘no’—just as He did for Jesus in the garden. This illustrates bringing a matter to God and after a time accepting it and quit praying that it would leave.
9 and He said to me my grace is sufficient This is the only thing he tells us he heard there. When he thinks of his thorn—and he does often—he remembers what God said about it. Even now it gives him comfort and strength. Rather than taking it away God provides contentment with it. God gets to define what is ‘good’ for us. That was the problem in the garden—they did not believe God was good to them and neither do you with your weakness. But it is the only way you can know God’s grace. How else can you, if you do not need it? You can say more about God with the thorn than without it and so God is magnified—His character is seen for who he is and we can revel in God.
For my power perfected in weakness The paradox of Christian life is when in weakness then strong in Gods grace. When Paul is weak it is best possible hope for the display of Gods power. Weakness is seen Christologically as connected to suffering for Christ. He knows Christ was weak when suffering His crucifixion.
Most gladly will I boast The power of Christ in us is more important that freedom from pain.
10 Therefore, content with weaknesses Human suffering in general does not display Gods power. It is suffering because of ministry for Christ—for sharing the gospel with unbelievers, for helping believers grow up in Christ.
SIGNIFICANCE: We cannot exist without the grace of God at work in our lives. It is the grace of God that saves us, and keeps us. That grace is highlighted when we are weak, not when we are strong. If you desire what you do not deserve, that addresses what is always in your best interest, then learn to be weak. If you focus on your strengths, you focus on you. If you focus on your weakness, you focus on God. It is your dependence God wants from you. It is our independence we want for ourselves.