|Sunday School & Bible Class (Sept-May)||9:15 AM|
Confident in Weakness
7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2018
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
Confident in Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (NIV84)
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 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.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Have you ever had a splinter? A tiny piece of wood or metal slices its way into your finger and won’t come out. It is almost too small to see but it makes its presence known through pain. It is not the worst pain you have felt but it is there all the time. When you pick up a glass to drink something, you feel a bit of pain. You try not to hit certain keys on the keyboard because that finger hurts every time you use it. You bump it getting into the car, driving and getting out of the car. Every activity has the possibility of a little pain in your finger. You try squeezing the splinter out but it doesn’t move. You try to get that splinter out with tweezers but no luck. If nothing else works, I will sterilize a needle and make the little hole in my finger bigger with the needle so that painful splinter can be removed. And the bigger hole in my finger hurts much less than that splinter I could barely see.
As we talk about Paul’s thorn in the flesh today, think about it like a big splinter that is never removed. It is always with him, always causing pain. Instead of feeling sorry for himself or letting this weakness lead him to doubt any of God’s love and promises, Paul does the opposite. He boasts in his weaknesses. He delights in his weaknesses. He is confident in Christ even and especially when he is weak. May the Lord help us also to be confident in weakness.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Many theories exist about the thorn in Paul’s flesh. Malaria, poor eyesight, and stuttering are popular ideas. However, we don’t know for sure what Paul’s issue was. All we know is what the Holy Spirit chose to reveal to us through Paul. We know it was like a splinter, a thorn, that was constantly there. It was physically painful and psychological painful having to endure it day after day. But it was especially spiritually painful. Paul describes it as though Satan was beating him with his fists. This is not a mild headache that goes away after an ibuprofen. This is ongoing pain that Satan is using to beat Paul up physically and spiritually.
Maybe the reason we are not told Paul’s exact diagnosis is so that we can also see ourselves in this situation. You may also have a thorn in the flesh, a problem that constantly reminds you it is there. A problem that Satan uses to try and break your confidence in Christ. Maybe the thorn is cancer, heart disease, a bad back, or arthritis. Maybe it is something like depression, addiction, or anxiety. It could be a strained relationship with a family member that is never quite healed. Maybe it is a temptation that you struggle against daily.
Satan pounds on us when we have a weakness. He wants us to think things like, “Why did God make me with this weakness? Did God make a mistake with me? Why did God allow this to happen to me? Why doesn’t God fix my family member? Doesn’t God love me? Doesn’t God even care? Why should I fight this temptation anymore? I’m too weak to resist – might as well go for it.” Satan wants to shake and eventually destroy our confidence in Jesus. He wants us to abandon our Savior because we are constantly in some kind of physical, emotional or spiritual pain. And Satan tells us that a loving God would never allow you to be in any kind of pain.
So why would our loving God and Savior allow us to be in any kind of pain? We may not know for certain in our own situation but Paul tells us why the Lord allowed his pain to continue.
Paul tells that it was to keep him from becoming conceited. Paul writes this two times in one sentence. It sounds strange to repeat in English so our translation only says, “to keep me from becoming conceited” once. Before Paul’s conversion, he was just that, conceited. He thought he was better than most people because of his family, education and achievements. But as a Christian, he had also been given some amazing experiences that few others received. He was converted in a miraculous way by the risen Lord Jesus himself. Not many could claim that. God enabled many miracles to be performed through Paul. Not many could do that. God gave Paul surpassingly great revelations, probably referring to the verses immediately preceding our text for today. In those verses Paul talks about being given a vision of heaven and things to wonderful for words to describe.
To keep Paul humble, he was given a thorn in the flesh. Our problems and pains in life can also do the same for us, keep us humble. Realize that we are weak and need someone stronger than ourselves every day, not just on the bad days but every day. So what does Paul do when he is afflicted by this messenger of Satan? He prays to the Almighty God.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
When in the town of Lystra, Paul met a man who had never been able to walk. He told the man to stand up and the man was able to walk. One time when Paul was preaching at night, a young man fell asleep in a window, fell to the ground and died. Paul went to him and the young man was brought back to life! Certainly if Paul, the miracle worker, prays to the Lord, the Lord will take away Paul’s pain. But the Lord has a different answer for Paul.
When we are suffering, our Savior God wants us to pray to him too. We pray that he takes away the pain. We pray that he helps us endure the pain. We pray that he keeps Satan and his lies far from us during our pain. We pray that God’s will is done. God’s will for Paul was for the thorn in the flesh to continue. We don’t know God’s will for our situation, so pray for yourself and for others with full confidence that God can heal whatever is causing pain but also with full confidence that God will do what is best.
We can be confident in this answer God gave to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” When you are in the hospital, they are constantly asking your pain level and you are supposed to give it a number. Pain can be gone one hour and high the next. But God’s grace remains constant no matter what your pain level.
God’s grace is that we weak sinners are going to heaven where all pain is gone forever. God’s grace is that Jesus Christ used his Almighty power on our behalf. He battled the temptations of Satan and overcame them all for us. He was strong. He did not bend to the will of Peter and the other disciples to avoid Jerusalem and the cross but resolutely set out for Jerusalem and the cross. He did not turn back when praying for hours in Gethsemane, his sweat pouring out like drops of blood. He was strong to do his Father’s will. He did not run away from the pain of rejection, the pain of the soldiers’ whips and the pain of crucifixion. He was strong enough to face all of this to pay for our sins. When he breathed his last and was put in a tomb, he was strong enough to overcome death itself for us. In every way that we are weak, Jesus is strong. God’s grace is that everything Jesus did, he did for us and for the whole world. He will bring us from this world of sorrow to the joy of heaven.
What is Paul’s reaction to God’s grace?
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 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.
The more we depend on our strength, the weaker we are. The more we depend on Christ’s strength, the stronger we are. Our strength is like that of a toothpick. Almost anyone can break us. But connected to Christ by faith we are a toothpick connected to a sequoia tree. The only way to break the toothpick is to break the sequoia. The only way to break us is to break Jesus and that is not going to happen. So rejoice that you are weak. Delight in those reminders that our bodies are not perfect. Boast in the fact that we are spiritually weak. Let every weakness drive you to Christ for strength. He is really the only one who could break us and destroy us. But he won’t.
When you feel like some thorn in your flesh is about to break you, know that Jesus won’t finish the job. When you fall into that same temptation again, know that Jesus is not going to cut you off from his grace. Jesus came to save the weak. Isaiah gives us a beautiful description of how our Savior will treat the weak. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus came to give his strength to the weak. When we are weak, then we are strong.
Ben is a friend of mine. He doesn’t walk but uses a wheelchair most of the time. His hands and arms don’t work very well. He has had lots of surgeries. His body is weak in many ways. It is sometimes difficult for him to learn and communicate. His parents and others have to help him with most of life. Ben’s life is one big thorn in the flesh. But when you visit with Ben, it is not just a big pity party. Instead, it is joyful. He delights in life. He certainly knows his Savior, Jesus. Ben in confident that Jesus loves him, cares for him and forgives him. He is confident in the eternal life Jesus has prepared for him. In spite of all kinds of physical pain and suffering, Ben has confidence in Jesus. In his weakness he is strong.
Lord, keep us humble in our weaknesses so we also depend on you for strength for all things in this life and in the next.