Thursday, November 15, 2018
2 Corinthians 12:6 – 10 (NLT) 6I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it. I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message, 7even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud. 8Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. 10Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
For the third time in his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul addresses the subject of hardships. In his first reference to trials and trouble (2 Cor. 1:8-9) we learned that hardship is designed by God to teach us to trust Him. In his second reference to hardships we learned that they are the measuring stick of our true Christ-like character. Now, Paul teaches us that hardships are the means by which God controls our pride and keeps us humble.
In a moment of great transparency Paul reveals to us that he struggled with pride. Paul had been granted a privilege that no other person has experienced since the ascension of Jesus into glory. He saw the risen Lord in person, and for three years Jesus personally taught him his theology. (See Galatians 1) Earlier in this chapter Paul said, Let me tell about the visions and revelations I received from the Lord. 2I was caught up into the third heaven fourteen years ago. 3Whether my body was there or just my spirit, I don’t know; only God knows. 4But I do know that I was caught up into paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be told. 5That experience is something worth boasting about.
Paul had every reason to boast about his spiritual experiences and to use them as a validation of his authority over people. Paul also knew that his pride could cause him to displace God as the focus of His ministry and draw all of the attention to Himself. So, he adds a qualifier at the end of his statement – but I am not going to do it. I am going to boast only about my weaknesses.
God also knew that Paul would struggle with pride, as we all do, so He gave Satan permission to torment Paul with a thorn in the flesh. We are not told what it was, and that’s a good thing. If we knew what the specific thorn was, then we might be tempted to believe that because we don’t have it we are not proud and don’t need to be humbled.
The Holy Spirit is teaching us a principle – hardships are designed by God to keep us from becoming proud. Hardships reveal our weaknesses. Hardships reveal our inabilities to control life and its circumstances. Hardships reveal our need for companionship and comfort. Hardships allow the power of God to be fully expressed in us, because we are forced to admit that our power is useless to solve the problem.
According to Paul, there are two ways to live each day. First, we can live according to our own strengths and experiences, using our knowledge to determine the context and outcome of each event. In this choice, hardships are the opportunities provided to us to prove ourselves and to gain confidence in who we are.
Or, second, we can live humbly before God, recognizing that every hardship is an opportunity for God to prove Himself to us and for our faith in Him to grow.
Consider the two alternatives carefully. Paul says that the second option makes him the strongest. The rules of logic say this – if we are strongest when we admit we are weak, then we must be weakest when we think we are strong. If we try to accentuate our strengths and handle our hardships in our own abilities, we will be proven weak. But, if we admit our weaknesses, then the power of God is able to work through us and we will experience His strength.
It all boils down to what our motives are – do we want recognition or do we want the focus to be on God. Remember what Paul said – I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message. How we let God handle our hardships becomes the evidence of our faith.
Our present hardships, whether temporary or permanent thorns, are a gift from God to keep His power fully working in our lives by reminding us of how weak we really are. Stop fighting it. Stop trying to fix it. God is using our weakness to reveal His power.
Let your faith and trust in God grow by letting go. His outcomes are perfect for His glory and your good. Trust His grace to be sufficient for you today and every day.