2018-2-25 His Grace Is Sufficient for Thee

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          February 25, 2018

“His Grace Is Sufficient for Thee”
2 Corinthians 12:1-10

How much we enjoy the strength that God provides.  He gives us power to live our lives and to accomplish our needful tasks generally, and He gives the power to serve Him capably in ministry as well.  Like most of our blessings, though, we think of His strength but little until we discover it is gone: either for a short time or, alas, for a long time.  We face this from time to time as we walk this long walk of faith and discipleship with Jesus Christ—and some of us may be staring headlong at it today.  Let us one and all hear God’s Good News concerning this condition.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

These words occur in the middle of Paul’s vigorous defense (10:1-13:14) of his ministry as an apostle to his problem church—the church at Corinth.  Some in this somewhat proud, divided, immoral church pass this verdict upon Paul, “…his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account.”  Hence, Paul defends his calling invoking several items in his favor: such as his apostle-level authority in the churches (and that conferred by Christ), his notably high level of suffering, his unusual visions and hearings granted by God, and his signs and wonders performed in Corinth.

Our passage today occurs as Paul notes things he has seen and heard in glorious realms—things truly of a most exalted nature.  Paul testifies to seeing and hearing, some fourteen years before this second canonical letter to Corinth, things that few ever see or hear before Glory—and, in the case of the things heard, things impossible to tell just now.  Over these things, or over such a one, Paul will not boast.  His boast is two-fold.  Elsewhere in the Corinthian correspondence, he boasts in the Lord alone.  Here, he boasts in his weakness—and that to a pointed, glorious purpose.

Paul testifies in verse seven that there was given to him a thorn in the flesh—in order to keep him from conceit that may come upon the surpassing greatness of these visions.  We do not know the precise form of the proverbial thorn.  It could have been physical, such as eye trouble or epilepsy, among others.  It could have been spiritual, such as a special temptation or attack directly from the evil one, or it could have been some affliction directed at his mental or emotional state.  There is much we do not know, but this much we do know.  The thorn was a messenger of Satan to harass him.  The Greek word here rendered harass in the English Standard Version (kolaphizo [kolafizw]) means most literally to strike with fist, and, more broadly, it means to harm.  This thorn, whatever it was, was no minor irritation.  It was a source of pain and vexation to Paul’s person and soul.  We know also that he wanted the thorn removed.  In fact, Paul besought the Lord thrice in order that it might be removed.  After this beseeching, the Lord spoke to Paul—and what He said to Paul bolsters both his faith and ours.

The Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  Hence, we see that God, in His good providence, did not remove the thorn—at least not at this time.  The thorn remained, but it remained with mercies accompanying.  Paul, led by the Spirit, sees the matter aright.  He then boasts all the more gladly of his weaknesses—and he does this because, in those weaknesses, the power of Christ rests on him.  Paul, armed with this knowledge, delights (or is pleased with, or enjoys, or prefers, Greek eudokeo [eudokew]) in a number of things that people ordinarily shirk when possible.

Paul delights in his weaknesses, or his incapacities.  He ascribes glory to God when he accomplishes things only with great difficulty, and he does the same when he cannot accomplish certain things that he desires to do.  He delights in insults, when he incurs them for faithful representation of Christ.  Paul delights in hardships, or troubles.  He delights in persecutions, for, like the earlier apostles, he is counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the sake of Christ’s Name (Acts 5:41).  He also delights in calamities, or distresses, for he knows well the One Who ordains everything for His glory and, somehow, for our good.

These are strange things for one to embrace with joy.  Why does Paul feel this way?  He knows, and he states, that when he is weak, then he is strong.  Remember that God’s power is perfected, or completed, or a host of similar terms, in our weakness (Greek teleioo [teleiow]).  We see His power, His love, and so much more when we have nothing left by which to affect our situation.  We see His strength far surpassing our own, and we see His limitless strength exerted on our behalf—and that to His glory and to our good.

Steven Curtis Chapman, on his 1988 album entitled Real-Life Conversations, includes the selection entitled “His Strength Is Perfect.”  The words to the chorus are these:

“His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on
Raised in His power, the weak become strong
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect”[1]

The case is the same with each of us: God’s grace, in Christ Jesus, is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect in weakness.  Now we, armed with this, receive some takeaways from this place.

First, God may not remove our trials—even upon repeated petition for such.  This does not sound good on first hearing; we want all of our troubles gone—and we want them gone yesterday.  Just as God dealt in loving, sovereign mercy to continue Paul’s thorn in the flesh, He may see fit—on the same basis to continue ours as well.  Second, God’s grace—manifest in His Presence and provision—will be present in our places of weakness and incapacity.  He promised to be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), and He promised never to leave us nor forsake us (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5).  He will have compassion on us when He sees our strength is gone (Deuteronomy 32:36), and He will pour His power through our weakness.  Then, third, when we are weak, He is strong in us.  We see His strength in us, we know that the strength is His and not ours, and we glory in Him Who loves us and sustains us in every providential turn.  Most gladly, then, can we glory in our weaknesses, so that the power of Christ Himself may rest upon us.  Who wouldn’t want that?

AMEN.

[1] “His Strength Is Perfect,” words and music by Steven Curtis Chapman and Jerry Salley.  Copyright 1988 Sparrow Song/Greg Nelson Music (Admin. EMI Christian Music Publishing) and Careers-BMG Music/Multisongs (a div. of Careers-BMG Music).  Information obtained at https://hymnary.org/text/his_strength_is_perfect_when_our_streng (accessed February 23, 2018).

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