God doesn’t promise to remove the suffering from the Christian, but he does redirect the sufferer to the Solution, Jesus Christ. The grace of God overwhelms our weaknesses so completely that God turns our weaknesses into something positive and in so doing God builds his church!
“Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When do you have enough? Some might say you never have enough time or money. Others might say if we have health and happiness we have enough. How many children are enough? How much do you have to do before you can say that you have done enough? My wife would say you have enough food only when there are leftovers. Enough. Everyone measures what it takes to have enough differently.
St. Paul might have thought that he had enough. He was once a Pharisee of Pharisees. Maybe he was OK with that. Then he became a Christian and that was enough for him. He knew that God had blessed him with far more than he deserved. He was grateful to Christ for his salvation and for the privilege of being an ambassador for Christ with his life. He had enough. He was content. But then he lost his health and he didn’t think he had enough anymore. He had a lot to learn about what is enough. We do too. In our text today, God taught the apostle Paul an important lesson about how much is enough. It is a lesson we all need to learn.
God’s grace is enough
To appreciate the gift of weakness
To build God’s church
Fourteen years before St. Paul wrote this letter, God had given him a vision of heaven itself. He saw and heard things that he could not put in to words. St. Paul’s integrity had been challenged again and again by false teachers. They attacked his credentials as a Christian missionary. God had allowed him to see things that no one else on earth had seen. He endured hardships for the sake of the gospel from being whipped nearly to death on more than one occasion. He had been stoned, beaten with rods, shipwrecked, imprisoned, lost at sea, faced danger in cities, in countries, from his own people and from outsiders. Yet, he worked hard for the gospel than anyone. Couldn’t one say, Paul had done enough? No! He hadn’t done anything. God’s grace…. Does it all. So “there was given him a thorn in the flesh.” This thorn in the flesh would become a tool God used to lead Paul to appreciate the gift of weakness. In his weakness he learned that God’s grace is enough.
It is easy to get confused about what is important in life. We tend to think we are much more important than we are! We forget that we are but dust from the earth that flourishes for a little while during which time we have the opportunity to learn about the grace of God. And then we die. What we do can’t save us or anyone else. What matters, all that matters, is the grace of God.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Paul suffered from some kind of painful, physical weakness. Speculation abounds as to the specifics of his “thorn in the flesh.” God hasn’t revealed the specifics. That’s not important. What is important is that we understand suffering as an instrument Satan uses to try to prevent us from being the kind of Christian God created us to be. St. Paul’s thorn was no accident. It “was given” to him. God turned an evil ploy of Satan into a precious gift!
God taught Paul to appreciate the gift of weakness.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” Don’t think that Paul only prayed three times about this. Rather, there were three special times when the apostle gave special attention to this problem in prayer. He appealed to God to remove the thorn. God answered his prayers differently! He taught Paul to appreciate the gift of weakness.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” When we sinners imagine that we still have some power with which to serve God or man, we are unfit instruments for the Lord’s work. God’s grace is an attribute he alone possesses. God’s grace is God’s attitude toward sinners. God’s grace prompted him to send his Son into the world to save us all. God’s grace is the reason why the sins of the world were weighed down on Christ on the cross. God’s grace is God’s unconditional, unlimited love directed toward vile, wretched, hardened undeserving sinners. God’s grace is enough to save sinners. Nothing more is needed. The weaker we are physically or emotionally, the better are we able to appreciate that God’s grace is enough.
A story is told that years ago in the northeastern United States codfish was a big commercial business. There was a market for eastern cod all over, especially on the West Coast. The demand posed a problem to the shippers. At first, they froze the cod, then shipped them to the West Coast, but the freezing took away much of the flavor. So, they experimented with shipping them alive, in tanks of seawater, but that proved even worse.
Not only was it more expensive, the cod still lost its flavor and, in addition, became soft and mushy. The texture was seriously affected. Finally, some creative person solved the problem in a most unusual manner. The codfish were placed in the tank of water along with their natural enemy--the catfish. From the time the cod left the East Coast until it arrived at its westernmost destination, those ornery catfish chased the cod all over the tank. And, when the cod arrived at the market, they were as fresh as when they were first caught. There was no loss of flavor nor was the texture affected. If anything, it was better than before. Each one of us is in a tank of particular and inescapable danger. It is difficult enough to get by day by day. But in addition to our situation, there are these ornery "thorns in the flesh” to bring sufficient tension that keeps us alive, alert, fresh and growing. God calls it a gift to us to shape our character to appreciate the gift of weakness so that we might see that God’s grace is enough.
God’s grace is enough to build God’s church. St. Paul wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” There is no need any longer to ask God to take the thorn in the flesh away. You have God’s answer! You don’t need good health – you need the grace of God! You want God to take the problems out of your life. But, maybe God wants to use those problems to lead you to see how utterly dependent you are on the grace of God. God builds his church using the grace of God to lead sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. All you need in life is the grace of God.
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” St. Paul strings together a list of the troubles he faces on a daily basis. Weakness – from lack of food or sleep, perhaps. Weakness from his illnesses – more likely! Insults – on a daily basis Paul was ridiculed for his Christian convictions. Hardships, persecutions, difficulties, – the chapter before talks about all of this: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the church.”
And still the grace of God is enough to build God’s church. Opposition to the gospel will never go away. God doesn’t promise to remove the suffering from the Christian, but he does redirect the sufferer to the Solution, Jesus Christ. The grace of God overwhelms our weaknesses so completely that God turns our weaknesses into something positive and in so doing God builds his church!
When do you have enough? You have enough when you understand the grace of God that has saved you.