7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)
I. WE ARE WEAK
In this passage we learn that even the great apostle Paul did not have an easy life given to him by God. To the contrary, the Lord even gave him a thorn—a hardship—to keep Paul from forgetting that he was weak—we all are weak.
2 Corinthians 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
2 Corinthians 12:8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
Paul had been given much knowledge by God—he would write much of the New Testament—and to keep him from getting a big head about it, God allowed Satan to buffet him.
Paul was made humble and humanly weak—and the Lord refused to take the thorn away because he wanted Paul humble and weak. We’ll see why later, but first, in verse 10, we see Paul gives a list of his weaknesses:
2 Corinthians 12:10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
“infirmities”—usually refers to physical problems. Each of us soon discover that our human bodies are infirm. They are susceptible to colds, cancer, broken bones, thyroid problems, backaches, allergies, etc.
Paul himself probably had poor eyesight (hinted at in Galatians 4:13-15, 6:11), and perhaps some sort of recurring physical illness like malaria (Galatians 4:13).
“reproaches” (ὕβρεσιν from ὕβρις)—Shame, insult, mistreatment. Another weakness Paul suffered was the mistreatment and insults from others, especially the Jewish leaders.
On one occasion, Festus, the Roman governor in Judea, called Paul insane:
24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. (Acts 26:24)
All through his life, false teachers and Pharisees and Roman officials hurled all sorts of insults at Paul. They did so because they felt they were strong and he was weak. Bullies always feel that they are strong when they can mistreat others. Is that true strength? We shall see that it is not.
“necessities” (α νάγκαις from α νάγκη)—Hardships. Think of not having the necessities that we need to live. In his travels and especially in his imprisonments, Paul often found himself without the necessities of life. In prison, with winter approaching, Paul asks Timothy to bring him his cloak:
13 The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:13)
“persecutions” (διωγμοι ς from διωγμός)—Even at the very beginning of his Christian life, Paul suffered persecutions:
22 But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. 23 And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: 24 But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. 25 Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. (Acts 9:22–25)
“distresses” (στενοχωρίαις from στενοχωρία)—This word covers a lot: difficulties, anguishes, troubles, even anxiety. Certainly Paul suffered all those things in his travels and as he attempted to convince hard-hearted men of the truth of Christ and the eternal life that Christ offers.
Paul went through all of these trials “for Christ’s sake:” If he had not received Christ as his Savior, life would have been better for Paul. He would have gone on to become a famous Pharisee, of the first rank, and the first among his peers.
He would have felt strong until his death. Death is the ultimate way that we are shown our weakness. No one escapes it, no one is powerful enough, strong enough to avoid it or survive it alone.
Paul may have suffered great weaknesses for Christ’s sake in this life, but the payback was the great strength he would have at his death—he would know that where he would spent eternity.
Where did that strength come from? We are weak, but God is strong.
II. GOD IS STRONG
Paul’s thorn in the flesh? He prayed three times that the Lord would remove it. How did the Lord answer Paul’s prayer?
2 Corinthians 12:9a And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
“grace”—Grace is God’s undeserved favor to mankind. People tend to think that God owes them an easy, good life. They demand an explanation when things don’t go right. But we’re sinners…we’ve sinned against God, so he doesn’t owe us anything.
If anyone could have legitimately complained against God, it would have been Paul. He could have said, “I received Jesus as my Savior, and since that time I have suffered infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses for Christ’s sake. I demand an explanation.”
But the Lord said to Paul, “My grace [My undeserved favor] is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Paul, you don’t deserve an explanation. I will give you my favor and my strength, but no explanation.”
That will have to be “sufficient for thee,” meaning, that something is enough for someone (BDAG).
“My grace is sufficient for thee”—Literally in the Greek this sentence says, “sufficient for you is my grace.” Greek often places words at the beginning of sentences to emphasize them. The emphasis is on the sufficiency of God’s grace.
How can grace be sufficient? What does grace do to make a difference in our lives?
(1) Grace saves us and makes us right with God:
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
(2) Grace changes our lives, making us live more and act more like the Lord Jesus—it’s a dynamic power that works to change us:
18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)
(3) Grace enables us to perform ministry:
8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (2 Corinthians 9:8)
So grace is God’s undeserved favor, but it is also God’s dynamic power working in the lives of believers to transform us and empower us. Grace is sufficient for us to meet any trial or temptation with victory.
III. WHY LET US BE WEAK?
A. So God’s Strength Is Glorified
The Lord loves it when we are weak. Why? What did the Lord tell Paul? “for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
When we are “strong” (or when we think we are strong), the Lord’s influence in our lives is diminished. It’s not that the Lord becomes weak, certainly not! Instead, we stop depending on him.
When we are weak, however, the Lord is able to make his strength perfect in our lives. Christ achieves his goal in us when we are weak.
What’s his goal? For his strength to be on display in our lives—so that people know that it’s not us that is getting us through the trials.
God wants all the glory, and he doesn’t get it if we are bragging up a storm about how great we are. The Lord loves our weakness because it causes him to shine the most.
Does that upset Paul? Does he complain that God is egotistical to want all the glory? Not at all…he says:
2 Corinthians 12:9b …Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities”—This is a surprise: Paul says that he is gladly rejoicing in his infirmities. He doesn’t mind if the Lord gets all the glory, quite the opposite, he is glad for it.
B. So God’s Strength Is Used
Why is Paul so glad? So…“that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” “rest” means to “take up quarters, take up residence” (BDAG, EDNT). It’s the same word used in John 1:14—
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Christ comes and takes up residence in our lives, empowering us when we are weak.
Do you see why Paul is glad for his weakness? His weakness allowed a greater strength to enter into him…the strength of Christ indwelled him.
You remember the cartoon The Flintstones? Remember the cars? Fred and Barney would hop in and their feet would stick through the floorboards, and they would power the car by running their feet while sitting down.
It was ridiculous because the stone wheels probably would have weighed several hundred pounds each and weren’t perfectly round, so human foot power wouldn’t budge them—and who would want to drive a car with your feet? Why not walk instead?
That’s the human condition. We think that our own strength is great. We imagine that our wisdom and scientific know-how can fix our problems and educate our children better than anything. But all we’re really doing is pushing stone-wheeled cars around with our feet.
God’s strength is like dropping a V-8 into Fred Flintstone’s car. It’s an incredible difference when you are depending on the Lord. It’s amazing what happens when you admit to the Lord that the human way is weak and infirm.
That’s why Paul can say, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities,” and in verse 9 and in verse 10, “I take pleasure in infirmities” and “for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
Can we say the same when we are weak? We can if we are glorying in the strength of the Lord instead of our own strength. We can if we are depending on the Lord in weakness and resting in his power and grace.