“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 about my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)
I celebrated another birthday in April. Like all special days on the calendar, there is the persistent reminder that celebrations are forever changed following the death of our son in 2008. A friend acknowledged the pain that I must experience on such days, and then commended me for my strength. I was grateful for his sensitivity and encouragement. But I was reminded of the fact that I am not strong; but I am tethered to One who is. And I recalled a favorite passage of Scripture, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10—“But He (Jesus) 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 about my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Every day, as we seek to follow Jesus, we deal with incessant weaknesses in our bodies, emotions, relationships, vocations, churches. As we are beset with weaknesses (Hebrews 5:2), they tempt us to discouragement. One of the precious gifts of 2 Corinthians is that, through Paul, God teaches us a great gospel paradox of the life of faith: God’s grace is more clearly seen and more deeply savored in our weaknesses than in our strengths.
Paul’s Ultimate Concern: God’s Glory
The passage that I quoted above must be viewed in its context. Remember that Paul wrote this letter with great concern for false “super apostles” who had made their way into the Corinthian church. These parasitic charlatans were maligning Paul and calling into question his reputation. Paul’s concern was not so much for his reputation. He wrote because these men were siphoning glory from God and imperiling the Corinthians by distorting the gospel. He shares with the Corinthians a revelation and a vision from the Lord in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 — Paul’s being caught up in the third heaven. But he refuses to boast about this. And, relevant to our times, he did not go on a book signing tour following this experience.
Why Paul’s reluctance to talk about such an event? He was very concerned that in drawing attention to his gifting, experiences, and endurances he might obscure the grace of God. Boasting about self is dangerous. Those of you who are attracted to the books which clutter bookstores about individuals’ near death, alleged-heaven experiences must pay heed and turn to your Bibles. These are unverifiable and they rob God of His glory.
How do we Measure Up?
I must admit that I am tempted to look at Paul’s faith, courage, tenacity, and work ethic and think, “Next to Paul, I’m one sorry Christian.” And this is the very danger Paul feared. Why? Because when this happens, we look away from Christ, stop trusting in the sufficiency of His grace, and look to how our own experiences and achievements compare with others as the basis for our acceptance with God. Our fallen natures crave self-glory and we seek the admiration and acceptance of others. We want our successes and strengths to be known and our failures and weaknesses hidden. Since strong, competent, high achievers earn human admiration, we are tempted to believe that they impress God in a similar way.
This is the last thing Paul wants us to believe. He knew better than most that it is not human achievements that showcases the grace of God. It is human helplessness. Despite all of his attainments, Paul viewed himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Apart from God’s grace in giving him the free gift of Christ’s righteousness, all of Paul’s achievements were rubbish (Philippians 3:8-9).
Why did he know this in such a profound way? Knowing that indwelling sin in Paul might improperly respond to his power and effectiveness, Christ disciplined him with a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). It would be a constant reminder to Paul that his dependence on Christ was total.
We know from the text that Paul did not immediately recognize the thorn as a gift. He pleaded for deliverance. Jesus replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” This opened up a world of insight for Paul. God showing His strength through weak things has been woven through all of redemptive history, culminating in the cross of Jesus Christ. Like He did for Paul, the Lord has assigned weaknesses for all of His redeemed. By weaknesses, I do not mean sin or foolishness, but different types of constitutional limitations or circumstantial adversities. Barb and I were confronted with ours once again as another birthday celebration without our son moved by. Initially, they may make us groan, or we may look at them as a joy-stealer. But God has given these to us ultimately for our joy — yes, our joy (James 1:2-4 — read this!).
So we reflected on the joy that Andrew brought into our lives for the 21 years God gave him to us on loan. And we reflected on God’s goodness in giving us Andrew in the first place. God is good and He has promised us that He will bring an end to pain and suffering and sadness. As we remembered many wonderful things about our son, we realized that the greatest joy Andrew gave us was the knowledge that, for Andrew, God’s grace was indeed sufficient. And we saw first-hand how His power is perfected in weakness.
Blessings in the Lord Jesus,