I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:1-10)
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
This is the paradox of the gospel. For when I am weak then I am strong. It doesn’t makes sense but in light of the gospel, the forgiveness of sins, and the death and resurrection of Christ. Even there on the cross, you see this paradox. Christ wins in death. The cross looks like anything but victory. But that is precisely what it is. So it is that with us, God’s power is made manifest even in our own weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. Because God’s victory is already secure in Christ on the cross.
Paul doesn’t go into what this thorn of the flesh was that bothered him. He said it was a messenger of Satan to harass him, the word actually describes Paul being beaten by a demon, taking hits to the face. That is some harassment. Paul says he prayed three times. Three times that it be taken from him. He had trust in prayer. But God did not remove it. Instead he told Paul my grace is sufficient for you.
It perhaps doesn’t seem right. Paul was being hampered in the work he was doing for God, and all he wanted was to do more. But he had to persist amidst trials and tribulations that seemed to him to hold him back. And yet from the perspective of God, his power was being made perfect in the weakness of Paul. Just as Jesus had gained his victory on the cross, in what looks to the world as weakness. Paul’s simple faith in the cross of Christ, in the forgiveness of sins, his persistence in that amidst all that troubled him manifested the glory of Christ.
It really does grate. Many people today are confused when nothing is going right for them. Christian media is constant with the idea that Christians are supposed to be immune from it all. They are supposed to have their act together, and not suffer. They aren’t supposed to be dealing with real life issues at home, but be all wrapped up in their bubble of a fairy tale life, where daughters don’t get pregnant. Sons don’t do drugs. Husbands and wives are as in love today as when they first met and went to a movie they didn’t see.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” What grace we ask? We associate grace with worldly blessings, and not just material things. No, we think of grace as God giving us good health. We think of grace as God giving us loving families. If God truly loved us, we think. Then these trials and tribulations we experience here on earth, they wouldn’t be happening to us. If God truly loved me, my children would be good boys and girls who would want to come to church with me and never give me flack. If God truly loved me, I wouldn’t have to contemplate bankruptcy. If God truly loved me he would give me a way out of this mess.
And the truth is, all too often we are blind to the many earthly blessings God does give us, the daily bread he gives to all people, even all evil people. Many times he are caught between a rock and a hard place, and God does give us a way out. And if we spoke to our pagan neighbor we would find the same thing has happened to them. Yes, God gives daily bread even to evil people, even to unbelievers. We as Christians just happen to know who to thank. G.K. Chesterton became a Christian because he couldn’t stand living in a world with no one to thank for all the rich blessings he experienced. There is truth to that, being able to thank God for faithful spouses, food and drink, devout children and workers, etc. That is a special thing.
But then we are also confronted with this fact. Even as God gives daily bread to all people, even evil people, he also promises that the student is not above the teacher, that what has been done to him will be done to you. That in this world we can expect toil and tribulation. Yes you can. And it is not a sign of God’s disfavor that we are plagued by these things in this world, for his grace, the grace that is made perfect in weakness, is not found in earthly blessings, but in the cross of Christ, where he died for the sins of evil people, wicked people like you, sinful people who are by nature enemies of God. Yes, this is where the grace of God is found. And when we are weak, and find that we have not lived up to God’s law, but in frustration have lashed out at those around us, family or coworkers. When we have given into temptation and find that we are sinful beyond our own imagination, and just can’t seem to quit. Ah but then there is a greater temptation at work, where the devil would beat our faces with our sin, and tell us we are no longer worthy, no longer worthy of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, that flows from the cross, in the body given and the blood shed there for you.
No, but it was just there, just there, there in your sin, that Jesus in his love found reason to come and experience the tribulation with us, and go to the cross to die for your sins. It is just there, that you recognize your inability to keep God’s law, but hold fast to his gospel, that his power is made perfect. Yes. Precisely because we find other things more important than God, you have sin needing to be forgiven, and God found you important enough to give his Son to die for you. You find yourself weak, and have hated your father and mother, but your Father in heaven loves you with grace. You murder, and Christ dies, you commit adultery, and Christ sanctifies his bride in the washing of water in the word. You steal, and Christ in his death steals the victory from death, you bear false witness, and Christ in his death declares you righteous, you covet, and Christ well he so coveted you that he came up with the greatest scheme ever concocted to tempt you away from this world, death and the devil to whom you belonged. He forgave you your sin, and he has never lost that love for you. No, to this day, he forgives your sin, he does so right here with his very body and blood he shed for you. Because his power is made perfect in weakness, and his grace is sufficient.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.