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Content with Weakness

July 7, 2024

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

I know a person 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 such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[c]is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Content in Weakness

Paul had a problem child in the Corinthian church. They were the rebellious ones; they questioned his authority, they listened to other apostles, and they asked if God was really with them. We only have two letters from Paul to Corinth, but it is believed that Paul may have written as many as four letters and visited them to correct their behavior at least three times. In this letter, Paul resorts to defending his Apostleship, but he does so distinctively in the “Pauline” way.

Paul claims that he has seen things, things that mortals can not repeat. He claims that if this had happened to someone else, he would boast on their behalf, but because this is about him, he will not. In his humbleness, he claims, as an Apostle of Christ, “what you see is what you get.” In other words, his resumé is his life and his ministry. Since his conversion, Paul has led by example. He walks the path Christ set him on, and he makes no excuses for being who he is. In fact, because of his thorn and weakness, God thrives.

Paul does not clearly state what the thorn is; commentators share their opinions freely but lack certainty. Some claim it is a physical pain, others a mental or spiritual pain. However, their opinions are often like the words of the other apostles leading the church astray. They are enjoyable to study in hindsight but rest on very little evidence. Paul does not give us all the details about his thorn in the flesh because it does not matter. It is not the ailment but what God does with it. He refers to the thorn as "a messenger of Satan,” giving the reader a vivid understanding of the purpose God had for the thorn.

Paul identifies the purpose of the thorn twice in verse seven as keeping him from being “elated.” The purpose of this messenger of Satan is to keep Paul from being content. Does God want us to be sad? Does God want to give us pain or anxiety? If Paul becomes elated or happy, what will happen? What will become of his ministry, the church? Thanks to this thorn, we will never know. Paul believes that his “thorn,” whether physical, mental, or spiritual, was placed upon him to keep him focused on his ministry. God wants Paul to do the vital work of spreading the Good News of Christ. Is the thorn really from Satan? How is it that Satan would be doing something for God? (I would remind all who ask that question to read the book of Job very carefully)

Spiritually speaking, Satan can do nothing unless God allows it. Then, we have the free will to accept it or rely on God to give us the strength to persevere. Paul understands this, and he chooses to rely on God and the Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done. Paul knows that his work is too important to let a simple discomfort stop him from being an Apostle of Christ. Have you ever wondered why God chose Paul and not someone like Peter to go to the Gentiles? After all, Peter was considered a zealot. But God saw something more in Paul than just zeal.

Paul was well-educated, an orator, skilled in debate, and good with people. Paul was also a zealot who had put all his understanding and faith into the temple and Jewish tradition until Jesus met him on the road to Damascus. How much more impactful would it be to have the church’s greatest persecutor become its greatest champion? We take for granted the impact that Paul had; we would be remiss if we forgot such an essential fact about Paul. Paul was very self-aware of the importance of his mission for Christ, and he also knew that his time was limited. If we read his letters with a sense of urgency, like the other shoe is going to drop at any time, we may understand Paul a little better.

How many people live their lives wondering when the other shoe will drop? They can’t enjoy their happiness because if they take their eyes off the goal of school, work, family, retirement, or whatever, everything will end. Paul understands that, but he frames it as a positive. You see, for Paul, there is nothing else, only Christ. Paul had seen heaven and paradise, things that human words could not explain and, therefore, should not be repeated. His focus, intensified by his “thorn,” is a blessing, not a curse. In his weakness, God is strong. In his suffering, the church will grow.

Paul also explains to the Corinthians that it is in his weakness that God uses him. Paul admits that he has asked for the thorn to be removed, but God only replies, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Just as John the Baptist exclaimed that he was unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandal, Paul exclaimed that he was not worthy either. The grace and mercy of God are manifested fully in Jesus, who was nailed to a cross when he was at his weakest, so God reassures Paul that in his weakness, God will carry him. It is not Paul’s personal strength or resolve that motivates him, but God’s strength and the reassurance of the Holy Spirit.

The Corinthian church was searching for something. A sign, a miracle, anything that would let them know that God was with them. Did their faith waver? I don’t think so, but I do believe that they may have lost sight of the mission, as many churches and individuals today still do. We rationalize God into a box, a social or political movement. We conform God to our ideologies instead of conforming to God’s Will. We seek a God of wealth, strength, and success. But God did not manifest Christ as any of those things.

Christ was born poor, never seen as one to fight, and by the standards of the world, not very successful. But in his weakness, in his humbleness, Jesus defeated death for us. The world tells us to look for strength, look for success, and look for things other than what God portrays as truth. The scriptures tell us that we can not thrive without God in our lives. Just look at the world around us. We see people in the news, in the movies, on social media. They look happy, successful, and on top of the world. Statistics tell us that for every one good photo of perfection, between 20 and 30 shots were taken that did not come close. The narrative of a perfect life outside of Christ is fiction. It is curated to distract us from what is important.

Look at your personal life. Think of those you know that refuse to come to church when you invite them. Now think about their life, think about their personality; are they happy, are they content with what they have? Does the drama in their life motivate them the way God motivates Paul? Is the positive spin that Paul puts on his “thorn” the polar opposite of the negativity that permeates their life? I can think of many people that I invite to church where this profile fits.

They make excuses about how evil institutional religion is. They will tell you, “I’m spiritual, just not religious. They tell you there is no use for them to go for a number of made-up reasons. I know this personally because I have been on both sides of the conversation. I can understand how the world will portray the mistakes of one denomination, one church, and one pastor as the mistakes of all churches and, therefore, all Christians. I can also understand the hesitation of someone inviting an unchurched person to worship because what if they call you out on all the church's mistakes? How will you respond? Don’t let their misunderstanding of Christ and the scriptures dissuade you from what God has put on your heart. Tell them Douglas is not like other churches; we believe in lifting up and not pointing fingers. Tell them God’s grace is sufficient.

Now, think of someone who may not have a 3000 square foot house or a two-bay garage, has worked an hourly wage their entire life, but goes to church and actively declares Christ their personal savior. I bet you this person has many thorns in their life, but they do not complain because they know that God will sustain them, Christ died for them, and the Holy Spirit will comfort them; God's grace is sufficient. We can all take a lesson from Paul: there is no greater joy in life than doing what God has called us to do. There is no greater sacrifice than the sacrifice Christ made for us; how can we deny God of ourselves when we know the price that was paid for us?

As we conclude this analysis of 2 Corinthians 12:1-20, let us reflect on the profound truths that Paul shares with the Corinthian church. Paul's defense of his apostleship and his thorn in the flesh serves as a potent reminder that our strength and success come not from our own abilities or accomplishments but from God's sufficient grace. Paul's message is clear: our weakness is an opportunity for God's strength to shine through. This is a lesson for us all - that our struggles and weaknesses are not obstacles to be overcome but opportunities for God's glory to be displayed.

People are chasing after fleeting pleasures and temporary highs, but they are missing out on the true joy and peace that comes from living a life surrendered to Christ. Paul's example teaches us that true contentment comes not from our circumstances but from our relationship with God. As believers, we are called to share the Good News of Christ with a world that is desperate for hope and redemption. We must be aware of the world's misconceptions about Christianity and the mistakes of others, and despite our weakness, we must boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as Paul did.

What a blessing it is to know that God's grace is sufficient for us, just as it was enough for Paul. Whether we are facing trials and tribulations or experiencing times of great joy and success, we can trust that God will sustain us, comfort us, and guide us every step of the way. So, let us take a page from Paul's book and live our lives with a sense of urgency, knowing that our time is limited and eternity is at hand. Let go of your doubts and fears, and trust in the sufficiency of God's plan for your life. You will find that in your weakness, He is strong; in your suffering, He is merciful; and in your heart, He will give you a sense of purpose and direction that will bring you joy beyond measure.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN!

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