2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: ‘’We must form our estimate of men less from their achievements and failures and more from their sufferings.’’
It is thought that in this passage Paul was probably talking about his own experience, in a humble way. In the opening verses he talks about knowing ”a man in Christ” who had a glorious visit to ”the third heaven” (2), but then he seems to identify himself as this man in (7). There are times when preachers may feel it is wise to give personal sermon illustrations in such a fashion. It appears to be the case that along with great privilege there also comes great responsibility, and there can be great cost too(7). Paul got to see ‘’surpassingly great revelations’’ but at the same time he paid no small price. There are gifts from God that don’t feel like gifts: ”there was given me” (7). There are things God gives His children that are like medicine; they leave a nasty taste in the mouth but they are for our benefit. I remember a preacher quoting someone who said: ”We weep at blessings clothed as sorrows”. That may take a little bit of thinking about , but the longer you have been a Christian the more likely it is that you will have experienced some of these ‘blessings’. ‘’Because of the extravagance of these revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty!’’ The Message.
No one can say with certainty what Paul’s ‘’thorn’’ was (7). Clearly, it was something Satan was allowed to do to Him (see also Job 1, 2 and Luke 22:31-34), but Paul knew that the devil was not in charge and that the Lord could remove it if He chose to do so (8). It may well be that the ‘’thorn’’ can take many forms, but it is something that comes our way to keep us humble and dependent on God, trusting in His power and not our own strength. I can think of difficult experiences that have driven me to prayer and fasting and caused me to cling harder to ‘the Rock who is higher than I.’ I’m sure you can too. A close relative once wondered out loud in conversation with me, ‘Why is it I have to face suffering to really have the prayer life that I should?’
Paul’s intercession was earnest (8). It was intense and heartfelt. He ‘’pleaded’’. ‘’At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it.’’ The Message. It is important to take note that Paul’s prayer was answered, but the specific request was denied (9). He got a very clear answer from God. He knew precisely what the Lord had said. There would not be a removal of the cause of weakness but an infusion of divine strength (9a). Do we fail to see some answers to prayer because they arrive in a different guise to the one we expected?
Paul’s response was not to kick back at God’s answer and complain (9b, 10). He wanted to know ‘’Christ’s power’’; he wanted to live and work in true strength. So he fully submitted to God’s work in him, even though his initial response was to say, ‘Please could I not have this?!’ (8). We might say that it was a blessing ‘clothed’ as a sorrow, and Paul came to see that. ‘’Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size…I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.’’ The Message.
R.T. Kendall says that ‘’suffering is the key to anointing.’’
Prayer: I thank you Lord that you turn our weaknesses into your ‘’opportunities’’ so that the glory goes to you.