God's Grace in Our Weakness
Pastor Matt Wireman proclaimed God’s Word this week specifically from 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. In this passage, Paul grapples with two main obstacles that are relevant to every Christian life. First, he strives to reveal the utter uselessness of boasting in things of this world. This addresses those in his day who were occupied with the outward appearance of being wise and understanding regarding the truth of Scripture. Second, Paul reflects personally on how God uses the specific suffering he experiences to transform him into one who is growing in Christ-likeness. It is helpful to study both of these situations (both personal and communal) and to understand the truth Paul is given by God to combat these ways antithetical to the Lord.
Boasting Only in Weakness
The first issue that Paul addresses in this passage is that individuals were boasting in achievements and knowledge that was earthly. Paul gives context to this issue when he says, “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.” (2 Cor. 11:12) He continues on to describe in this chapter that these individuals are deceitful with only a façade of heavenly work. This leads us to the passage that was preached on, because Paul uses earthly boasting as a way to reveal that boasting is a worthless pursuit. Matt stated in the sermon that it is like the vain attempt to catch. Paul goes on to say in verses 5-6 that he may have a right to boast according to earthly standards, but he refuses to, so that he does distract from the glory of Christ.
A Thorn for Boasting in the Lord
Paul then transitions into a struggle with the reality that God gave him a certain weakness (“a thorn”) so that he may boast only in his Savior. He states that God intends for this thorn “to keep [Paul] from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations” (2 Cor. 12:7). Though people may look at this and conclude that Paul was content with having this obstacle, because he rightly saw God’s plan, the next several verses reveal a different story. Paul states, “’Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.’” (2 Cor. 12:8) While Paul may have written a large amount of the New Testament, followers of Jesus can be encouraged that even the Apostle Paul struggled with trusting in the Lord through troubled waters.
God’s response to this question is theological in nature, but it also has deeply relational consequences for Paul. God responds that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in my weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) One may not expect that this response from the Lord (one who could take away all suffering) would bring joy to anyone. This Apostle has just requested a release from the suffering and God responds by doubling down on his work through the obstacle he strategically placed in Paul’s life. This expectation for grumbling for Paul is not fulfilled. Not only is the natural expectation not met, but the action Paul takes in a doxology to God because of his weaknesses is foreign to the world’s desire for strength and might. Simply put, Paul was now aware that God used obstacles to conform his people to the image of Christ through the Spirit, and the Apostle knew that the only correct response was praise.
These two experiences of Paul found in this passage are extremely relatable and allow for several exhortations to be made regarding the Christian life today. First, especially in a society that values power, pride, and self-preservation, one must learn from the truth that God uses weakness to focus his people on himself. Therefore, instead of seeking to overlay our struggles with masks of self-sufficiency, worldly knowledge, and the like, we must run to Christ and praise him for being our strength. Every time we find in ourselves insufficiencies, we must seek to lean on Christ and his work, because it will overflow even in our broken vessels for his glory.
Second, we must seek to let others pray for our weaknesses and struggles. James poignantly urges the use of this grace as he says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” (James 5:13a) While this may be speaking of a singular individual the same chapter goes on to urge the elders of the church to pray over the sick. In the same way God can work to heal those who are physically sick through the prayers of his children, the same is true for those who have spiritual maladies.
Lastly, we must let our weaknesses push us towards God in a response of worship and awe. God is the only one who is sufficient to use us for the building of the kingdom. Our weaknesses should not discourage or defeat us, but rather remind us of and lead us to praise the One who overcame all to restore us to be image-bearers of the Savior for eternity.
Austin Donahoo is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity. He has a B.A. in Christian Ministry from North Greenville University. Austin is from Greer, SC, and his passions include reading, discipleship, and Christian Community Development.