Our Weakness, His Grace

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:1-11, NLT

1 This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord.
2 I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows.
3 Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know
4 that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.
5 That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses.
6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message,
7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.
9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Introduction

Boasting is a temptation we all face, I suppose. I know that for me personally, it is a temptation especially when my labor or achievement is overlooked. Anytime we get into a rivalry, a competition, boasting becomes a huge temptation. I am an Alabama fan but I do not like the song they sing when they win. Its not rubbing salt into the cut. Paul was at a disadvantage. First of all, he was not in Corinth to defend himself from the accusations made by the false teachers. Most false teachers are highly gifted with very good oratorical skills. Generally, they are smooth talkers with winsome personalities. It is very likely that one of the things they were boasting about was their ecstatic experiences, their dreams and visions. This is a big deal in the Eastern world. Here in the West, we talk a different view. I personally don’t put much stock in ecstatic experiences, dreams, visions, speaking in tongues, etc. There are highly subjective, they glorify the flesh and the people who promote and glory in them are either nuts or highly unreliable. I will take a soul winner any day over a person with ecstatic experiences.

Transition

Tonight, we are going to look into Paul’s ecstatic experience and the conclusions that he reaches in regards to experiences verses God’s grace and power.

I. PAUL’S ECSTATIC EXPERIENCE

Paul says it took place 14 years from the writing of this letter which would put it between his escape from Damascus and his being called to Antioch by Barnabas. It could have happen while he was in Tarsus. Some Jews believe in seven heavens with the earth’s atmosphere being the first. The third heaven was know as Paradise. A paradise is a fenced garden like Eden. Some people believe that Paradise is a heavenly version of Eden. It may have been an out of body experience in which Paul saw and heard things that are indescrible, things you cannot express in words, things too sared to utter.


I’ve never had an ecstatic experience, no dreams, no visions, no out of body experience of any kind. But I have experienced some things that I cannot put into words. I have heard things uttered that I cannot repeat. One reason I can’t it that I cannot remember exactly what was said but no one would understand if I could remember. I am comfortable with the belief that these things should not be discussed. I’m not comparing my experience to Paul’s, I’m simply saying I understand his position that these things are not to be discussed.


Whatever the ecstatic experience, it could have left Paul inflated with his self worth because very few others if any had such an experience. God saw immediately that the ecstatic experience could become a source of pride and that brings us to point number two:

II. PAUL’S THORN IN THE FLESH

Look again at verse 7, And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.


The Greek word for thorn is skolops and it means a pointed wooden projectile like a splinter or stake. I like splinter. This rules out a birth defect or a handicap. Paul got the thorn or splinter after he had the ecstatic experience. It was given to him expressly to keep him humble. Splinters are painful and annoying but they are not fatal. I get splinters all the time and I usually have my wife extract them when I get home or come in from the outside.


Robert Tasker points out the many views or speculations as to what the thorn/splinter was and there are many conjectures:

  • Luther believed it was the persecution of the Jews who dogged Paul’s steps and were present everywhere to undermine and sabatogue the Apostle’s work.
  • Calvin believed it was doubt and depression and the temptation to give up the apostlic work.
  • The Catholic church has always held the view that it was carnal temptations: those faced by choosing to live a celibate life.
  • Chrystom believe in was a physical deffect, something about Paul’s appearance that made him unattractive.
  • Tertulliam and Jerome believed it was severe headaches, possibly caused by malaria.
  • Some believe it was eye trouble, again caused by malaria which was very common in the Mediterranean world. 
  • Some believe it was epilepsy.
  • Some believe it was an eye diease.

F.F. Bruce says it was something that came on him after his ecstatic experience and something that was painful to the flesh [body] not the old fleshly nature.


Whatever it was, it was:

  1. It was an instrument used by God to prick the flesh and burst the bubble of the Apostles’ arrogance.
  2. It was a messenger from Satan to buffet Paul [to buffet is to strike with the fist]
  3. It was a teacher and Paul rejoices is the lessons taught. Primarily that God strength is exalted in our weakness.

III. PAUL PRAYER “TAKE IT AWAY”

Three times Paul ask God to remove the thorn, splinter and each time God said “No.” Sometimes we struggle when God says “No” or nothing at all. No one like suffering. We always want God to take the suffering away. I have no idea what the thorn was but I can understand Paul’s distress. None of us want to endure pain or persecution. I don’t think Luther’s suffestion that it was the relentless persecution of the Jews is all that far fetched. They were a thorn in his side. I would certainly ask God to remove them. Whatever it was, God did not take it away for a reason. The reason was to force Paul to depend on HIM. When God puts us in helpless circumstances, we have no choice, we have to depend on HIM. This brings us to our final point…The ANOINTING.

IV. PAUL’S ANOINTING

Verse 9 really caught my attention, Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

The word power, dynamis, dynamic explosive power is used twice in verse nine. I think this is the key. In verse 10 Pauls says, That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul had learned to glory in his weakness because when he was weak, God was strong in him. The dynamic power above is associated with the Holy Spirit. When Paul was weak, God’s anointing power was strong on him. When do we experience the anointing, the filling of God’s spirit? Can a man filled with himself, be filled with God’s Spirit? God’s anointing power works better when we are weak because when we are weak, we realize our need and our dependance on the LORD.

Paul had learned to celebrate his weakness because He had seen God use it over and over again. In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul said, But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. {RSV} I like that, the Holy Spirit is a transcendent and illuminating power, he is the light in the lamp, the glow in the dark. When the anointing power of the Holy Spirit is upon us, people see it and God uses it for His glory. It is really not about our oratorical skills or even our spiritual gifts. Who convicts of sin? Who changes lives? Who leads us to repentance and faith? It is the power of the Holy Spirit.


I like the story of the usher who prayed the same prayer every week, he would pray, “LORD give our pastor unction.” The preacher got a little irritated and so he asked the good brother, “Can you tell me what unction is?” He said, “No, but I can tell when you have it and when you don’t.” I am telling you, the unction is what we are missing. We want to be strong, polished, eloquent but those things accomplish nothing for God’s kingdom, we get the praise for these things but when we are weak and helpless, the Holy Spirit anoints us and God gets the glory. No one would dare give us glory due to our visible weakness.


This is why Paul said, bring on the insults, hardships, the persecution and the troubles: these things will humble me making me feel helpless and then God will use it for His glory.

 

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