Paul is speaking here in 2 Corinthians 12:7-107 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.
Paul knew why he had to put up with a thorn in the flesh. He understood that God was at work in his life. He said, “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.”
He knew that whatever God had allowed or even directed to take place that caused him some kind of pain or limitation was sent to him to keep him from becoming conceited. He knew he had to continue to depend on God not only for special information and encouragement, but for strength to get up and go and do what God was asking. In other words, to ensure Paul’s humility and success, God allowed him to deal with some difficulty. Evidently Paul had been conceited before and God gave him what he needed to keep him from becoming conceited again.
It is quite possible that all of the visions and revelations and the experience Paul had been given to see into heaven could have ruined his ministry in earth (See the opening verses of chapter 12). How many people do you know that seemingly have wonderful things happen to them, but instead of making their lives wonderful, they wind up ruining their lives in some way? Because God had a plan to use Paul that couldn’t be executed if Paul became proud, God allowed Paul to be humbled by some hardship. Not to belabor this point, but Paul wasn’t given the thorn in the flesh because he had done something wrong, he was given the thorn in the flesh to keep him from sinning. Paul wasn’t bitter when he wrote these words for us to benefit from. He knew he was blessed by God to put him in a situation that would keep him from going astray. Listen, God knows what we need in order to stay on the right path, so what God was doing to/for Paul was a blessing and not some form of punishment. And because Paul walked closely with Jesus, he could see it and receive that way!
Here are eight quick things to note:
1. God isn’t obligated to do everything we ask, every time we ask, but He is committed to doing what is best for us every time we have a need.
I thought the reference to praying three times was interesting because in Mark’s Gospel in the 14th chapter we read that Jesus also prayed three times, asking God to take the cup of the crucifixion, to take his suffering away. God didn’t grant Jesus’ request either, so Paul was in good company. The next time you get discouraged because your prayer isn’t answered the way you have requested, remember that Jesus’ wasn’t either.
Luke’s account of the same story tells us that during Jesus’ prayer time in the Garden, right before His arrest, an angel appeared from heaven and strengthened Jesus. To endure the cross, to endure the humiliation and the beatings, Jesus needed strength.
2. Listen, you might not get what you want from God, but if you are submitted to Him, you will always get what you need. Jesus received the same answer Paul did. He received the supernatural comfort and power of God to enable him to carry out God’s will. Jesus received the sufficient grace of God that was so deep, so enabling, so complete that it carried Him all of the way to the cross.
Paul said that the thorn in the flesh was sent by a messenger of Satan and was intended to torment him. That word “torment” which might be the word “buffet” in your translation, means “to beat, to strike with the fist.” The tense of that verb indicates that the pain was constant or recurring. This was an ongoing, every day battle that Paul faced. There was some kind of training or blessing that was good for Paul. Somehow, it benefitted Paul to be in a daily battle.
Every day, Satan was sending Paul a message. Every day was a reminder that he lived in a physical body, in a physical world. But there was more than one message being sent and received every day in Paul’s life. Satan was texting Paul every day, snapping Paul every day, but God was also speaking in the pain. And God’s message trumped Satan’s message. Satan’s message reminded Paul he was there to hurt him. God’s message reminded Paul that God was sufficient, no matter the suffering, and that His power would rest on Paul to enable him to deal with and overcome anything, even if it was an every day occurrence.
The messages Satan whispers are meant to torment us, BUT God, BUT God, He speaks those words that renew our spirits, that cause us to hope, that point us in an upward direction, that take us from the earthly trials to spiritual triumph for His grace is sufficient no matter what. There is power to receive when we are at our weakest. That is the message of God. That is the message of His grace this morning.
3. Grace means that God is always available and that God is always enough!
His grace is sufficient. Period. You CAN do and get through all things because Christ will give you strength. Philippians 4:13
Jesus said to Paul, “My power is made perfect through your weakness.” Our weaknesses and hardships are our opportunity to experience the supernatural power of God. What the world sees as a weakness, God says is the opportunity to experience strength!
4. In the Christian life, we get many of our blessings through transformation, not substitution. When Paul prayed three times for the removal of his pain, he was asking God for a substitution: “Give me health instead of sickness, deliverance instead of pain and weakness.” Sometimes God does meet the need by substitution; but other times He meets the need by transformation. He does not always remove the affliction, but He gives us His grace so that the affliction works for us and not against us.
Paul was better off with the thorn than he would have been without it. That’s why God allowed it. The thorn was for his good. The thorn was for God’s glory—to protect God’s glory from being diverted to Paul.
5. We cannot accept the gift of God’s grace when we refuse to see trouble as a tool in the hand of God.
Paul said, “To keep me from being conceited, God allowed this to happen.” There was a great purpose for what he was dealing with.
And notice, it was as Paul prayed and took his trouble to the Lord (3 times) that he was able to hear the message of grace speak louder than the message of torment.
6. Do you know that when you go to the Lord in prayer, the Bible says you are “Approaching the Throne of Grace?” Hebrews 4:16
This is how God infuses grace into our lives, through prayer. We are good at talking about our problems, but we need to become experts at talking to God about our problems because that is when He delivers supernatural strength to us.
We want details, don’t we? We want to know why we have to put up with what we are dealing with, and we want to know how long it will last. God isn’t required to explain Himself to us.
7. As we walk by faith, we need to remember that we don’t live on explanations, but we live on the promises of God, and He says His grace will be sufficient.
Notice what Paul said in II Corinthians 12:9: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That word, translated as “rest” means “to spread a tent over.” Listen, when the grace of God is active in your life for one reason, God’s power will rest on you and no matter what else comes your way, you are covered because grace is already operational in your life.
Another by-product of the grace of God that infuses the power of God in your life, it gives you a reason to brag about God.
- Grace isn’t something God does for you. It is something God does in you. You have to give God room to work in your heart, your mind, your situation.
God’s work in us starts with salvation. We can’t expect to have the power of God at work in us if we first haven’t received Him into our hearts and lives through faith in His finished work on the cross. The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Grace is the starting block for us as Christians, and it is God’s grace that sustains us all along the way. We shouldn’t expect God to do anything for us if we haven’t given Him permission to work in us. The empowering work of grace is an inside job. Have you surrendered your life to Christ? Have you responded to the invitation to allow God’s grace to transform you? Are you cooperating with the message of grace you receive when you look to God in prayer so that God has the room to work as He sees fit in your life? Have you experienced the kind of grace Paul did, the sufficient grace of God that is more than enough?