One thing I love about the Apostle Paul is that he was a man who was keenly aware of his sinfulness, his limitations, and his weaknesses. We see in Romans 7 his lamenting of his own sinfulness. In 1 Timothy 1:15 he refers to himself as the chief of sinners. In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 you see him talking about the fact that he did not come to them with lofty words of wisdom, but he came to them preaching only Christ Jesus and Him crucified.
In 2 Corinthians Paul also seems to be thinking quite a bit about this idea of weakness. He talks in Chapter 4 about how we have this great treasure, and the treasure of course he is referring to is the Gospel, in jars of clay. What he means by that is that we in our flesh have mortal bodies. We experience affliction, we experience trials, we go through times of despair…but in that same chapter he tells us that in these trials we can persevere because of the power of God that is at work within us. Not only that though, through trials the grace of God is seen even more powerfully as we endure these trials, and God is seen to be even more glorious. This is true for those of us going through these times, but also for those around us, as they watch us go through and experience these things and see God’s faithfulness through it all.
One of the most powerful, and most encouraging passages of Scripture for me as I think about this idea of trials, weaknesses, or even suffering is 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10:
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Now Paul starts of this chapter by talking about some of his spiritual highs, and the amazing visions and things that God has revealed to Him. He says that he has seen things that cannot be told, and that a man may not utter…Someone who has had such powerful experiences with God could easily be driven to conceit or pride. But Paul says, in order to keep him from becoming conceited, God has given him a thorn in the flesh.
Now, no one knows what this thorn in the flesh is. Some have speculated it was disease or sickness, a painful limp when he walked, or some other physical ailment. Some have speculated it was poor eyesight, or maybe even a speech impediment. But what it is, we just don’t know.
What we do know, is that it was a painful thing for Paul. Whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual, it was something that Paul did not want to go through. Paul says that he pleaded with God three times to take it away. But what does God say?
Verse 9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I think all of us, on some level can identify with Paul here. All of us, I believe have a thorn in the flesh. All of us have things, or have gone through things that we have begged for God to take away, yet for his purposes, God chooses not to do so.
We live in a society that in many ways does not tolerate weakness. We glorify strength, whether it be physical or mental or spiritual. We run from weakness. Even ourselves, we tried to hide or cover up our weaknesses so that no one else can see them. We are embarrassed by our weaknesses, whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual…
But what does Paul do? Paul says he boasts in his weakness. He says that he is content with his weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities…because when he is weak, then he is strong.
It is through Paul’s weaknesses that God’s strength can be seen. So Paul glories in his weaknesses, because the glory of God was Paul’s main concern. How people viewed Paul’s God was more important to Paul than how people viewed Paul.
We are a people who like to do things in our own strength and in our own power. But God will often put us in a place in our lives in which we cannot do anything without Him. God will often put us in places in our lives so that we will understand and come to know, that unless we are leaning completely on God, we are done for.
The most powerful way I’ve experienced this in my own life is in my call as a Pastor. If you spend much time around me, you will see that I struggle with a stutter. In day to day life it is often a struggle for me to carry on normal conversations that most people have no issue with. Especially on the phone. Now, most times when I preach, I don’t have much issue with it, though occasionally even then it will flare up. Most of you will say, well that’s no big deal, but as one makes his living by speaking and talking to people it can be a bit of an issue.
So, when I first felt like God was calling me to preach I thought there was no way it could be true. Why in the world would God call a stuttering man to preach his word? But then I read passages like this here in 2 Corinthians 12 and I read about Moses and his being slow of speech. So, I submitted myself to God’s call and allowed him to do what He would. And praise God he has blessed me to be able to serve him as a preacher and pastor.
I don’t want to go on too long, or make this all about me, but last year around Easter I had a bit of a crisis. I was asked to speak at an Easter event with 6 other preachers. Many of them were my friends. There was going to be a good crowd there, and I was very excited. But, for whatever reason, as I tried to speak that night I struggled getting words out in a way that I had not experienced in quite some time…especially in preaching.
I was crushed. I was embarrassed. And honestly I was mad at God. I was mad that he allowed that to happen. I decided I was done, and that I wasn’t going to preach any more. I remember telling several of my friends this. They all tried to encourage me, but I wasn’t going to listen. But praise the Lord, someone finally woke me up…
My Pastor friend Joey, whom I often come to for advice and who was obviously frustrated with me said, ”Walk away. God obviously isn’t great enough to use someone like you.” I’m paraphrasing here, but his words cut me to the heart. I realized that I had been more worried what people thought of me, than what they thought of my God.
I then came to the Scriptures again, and read these very words…
“My grace is sufficient for you…Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Perhaps it was through my weaknesses, and through my struggles that God would be glorified. Not in delivering me from them, but helping me to persevere through them. I won’t say that I don’t still struggle with this issue, and learning to be content in my weaknesses is still hard, but I have chosen to accept that God is God and I am not. My job is to be faithful, and to be content in Him.
So I’ll leave us here. What are your weaknesses? Is it in physical ailments? Is it a trial in your life you are having trouble dealing with? Is it a spiritual issue, some sin that you are yet to turn over to God? Maybe even you have yet to give your life and surrender to Christ.
Whatever it is, I plead with you. Come to Jesus. Give him your weaknesses. Give him your failings. Allow his strength to show through you. He may not take away the issue. He may not remove your thorn, but you can boast in your weaknesses because it is through them, the power of God is seen.