The Beautiful Strength of Weakness
Topic: Weakness Passage: 2 Corinthians 12:1–12:10
Grace Community Church
May 23, 2021
The Beautiful Strength of Weakness
Before we open God’s word, today is the last service that John and Sharon Folkert’s will be attending as they move to Rochester and on behalf of the church I just want to say what a joy it has been to get to know you, and how much we appreciate the many ways you have gotten involved and been a blessing to Grace. We will miss you and pray the very best for you!
Let’s turn together to 2 Cor. 12 as we continue to read what has become known as The Fool’s Speech.. We will have the passage on the screen as well.
As we saw last week, Paul has had to resort to boasting in order to win the hearts of the Corinthians and convince them of the legitimacy of his apostleship and undermine the legitimacy of the false apostles who boast that they are better servants of Christ but are actually servants of the devil.
So Paul boasts, but to our surprise he turns boasting on its head. The false apostles boast of their strengths. Paul boasts of his weakness. They boast of how great and strong and respected they are. Paul boasts in the humiliation of his suffering for Jesus. He boasts about his shame. Weakness.
The word for “boast” means to glory in and sometimes boasting is good. Just as there is bad cholesterol and good cholesterol, there is bad boasting and good boasting. Bad boasting is when we glory in ourselves. Good boasting is when we glory in the Lord. We were not created to project our own glory, we were created to reflect God’s glory, and that’s where we find our joy and meaning and confidence.
Until chapter 12 Paul glories in his weakness but in chapter 12 Paul seems to switch it up and starts to boast about a pretty awesome strength. Let’s read verses 1-10
12 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. 2 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. 3 And 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— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 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. 7 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. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 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
The title of today’s message is The Beautiful Strength of Weakness. Let’s pray.
Let’s talk through these verses and see what’s being said here, and then we’ll consider some of the applications these verses carry in our lives.
Paul speaks about a “man he knows” who fourteen years earlier was caught up to the third heaven. Most scholars agree that the “man” Paul is speaking of is actually Paul himself and he refers to himself in the third person in order to put some literary distance between the boast and himself.
He shifts his boast to spiritual visions and revelations, and once again his boast far exceeds anything the phony apostles could say. Fourteen years ago, Paul says he was caught up to the third heaven. In Hebrew thought the first heaven is the earth’s atmosphere, the second heaven is what we know as the universe, with the moon, sun, and stars. The third heaven is that spiritual realm where God is. Paul doesn’t know if he was physically caught up in body, or if he was caught up out of body, which tells us it was so vivid and so real, that it felt physical. Whether it was or not, he didn’t know.
There he saw things that he says were inexpressible. Beyond describing. The Bible tells us that it hasn’t even entered our minds what God has prepared for us in heaven – it’s that good! It’s beyond our imagination, it’s beyond our words. What is heaven like? Paul saw. How does the brilliance of God’s glory radiate through heaven? Paul saw. What do glorified people look like? Paul saw. What do angels look like? Paul saw. What is the atmosphere of heaven? Paul felt it. Is there grass, are there trees, are there animals? What are the buildings like? We know the beauty of this earth, and that’s all we know. What is heaven like? Paul saw.
And he wasn’t allowed to speak of it. God had him sign an NDA – non disclosure agreement. There have been people who have claimed to go to heaven, there are books written about what they saw. I can’t speak to what they experienced, but reading that God didn’t allow the Apostle Paul to speak of what he saw, I find myself a bit skeptical of those claims.
Paul kept this amazing spiritual experience to himself for fourteen years, and the only reason he shares it now is to validate the apostolic ministry and authority God had given him.
Look with me at verse 5 & 6: On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 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. (vv. 5-6)
The NIV says, so that no one may think more of me than is warranted by what I say and do (NIV). Paul didn’t want people thinking more of him that was warranted.
Let’s pause here for a moment. If we’re honest, we don’t mind people thinking more of us than is warranted. What we don’t want is for people to think less of us – warranted or not. Boasting isn’t all that concerned about reality, boasting is about making people see us as more than we are.
Pride isn’t rooted in reality, humility is. CS Lewis said true humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. Humility is the desire to be known for who we are – nothing more, nothing less. There’s a beautiful freedom in being freed from the tyranny of obsessing over ourselves. As we glory in Jesus Christ, the self-centered chains are cut and we are freed up to glory in God’s true glory rather than try to manufacture a phony glory for ourselves.
Paul wants people to see him as he is – nothing more, nothing less. But this boast seems as if Paul is glorying in his superior spirituality, and he is…but only in order to introduce another weakness:
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 (vs. 7)
People have tried to figure out what this thorn in the flesh was. Speculations include a physical affliction, a physical deformity, epilepsy, chronic disease, migraines, or poor eyesight.
Other’s believe it was some kind of persistent, ongoing persecution and opposition. They see “messenger of Satan” as people who kept harassing and hobbling Paul as he attempted to carry out his ministry.
Since Paul doesn’t identify what it was, we really can’t know with certainty and apparently don’t need to know. We do know three things about this thorn.1) it was given to him to keep him from getting spiritually proud from the revelations God gave him. 2) it was given to him by God. That’s clear because the purpose of the thorn is a good one, and Paul says it was given (implying by God) to him. 3) at the same time, whatever it was, it was a messenger of Satan who’s purpose for it was to harass Paul. But again he repeats, God’s purpose for it was to keep him from getting conceited.
Paul asked God three times to remove it. Three times God said “no”. The reason? God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
God wanted Paul to experience weakness so that he would have to rely on God’s strength because God’s strength is what this world needs to see. Paul’s boast wasn’t “look at me!” it was, “look at Christ!” His boast wasn’t “look at what I can do!” it was, “look at what Christ can do!”
There is a beautiful strength in weakness when it brings us to a place of reliance on Christ’s strength instead of our own.
What’s in Your Weakness?
How can this passage apply to us? We aren’t apostles, we haven’t been to heaven, but there are precious ways these verses apply to every believer.
Let’s begin by asking this question: what’s in your weakness? God didn’t mass produce Paul’s thorn. It was for him, specifically. Peter didn’t have Paul’s thorn, but no doubt he had some other area of weakness that kept him relying on God’s grace.
Each of us have weaknesses that are particular to us. I’m not talking about sinful weaknesses, although we do need God’s grace and strength to overcome sin. I’m talking about weaknesses like frailty or inability or physical or emotional affliction, or some kind of persecution or oppression. The great Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers and evangelists of all time, struggled with deep and debilitating depression most of his life. God didn’t take it away – He could have, but He didn’t. He taught Spurgeon to rely on His grace through times of depression, for His grace is sufficient for us.
We can pray and ask God to remove the thorn. Lord, heal me of this affliction, lift this emotional sadness,
change my situation, remove that person who seems committed to making my life miserable. Whatever it is, we can pray and ask God to take the thorn away. We should! Paul prayed three times. He didn’t ask once and stop. He prayed and prayed and prayed. We can too.
And if God takes it away – praise Him! But sometimes God will answer “no”.
When God allows the thorn to remain, don’t waste your weakness. Let it press you closer to Christ. Let it move your reliance from self to God. Pray, “Lord, I can’t do it. You will need to do it through me.” God loves that kind of prayer because that’s what the world needs to see. Not our strength, but God’s strength shining through us.
There is a beautiful strength in weakness when it causes us to fall upon the grace and strength of Christ.
The false apostles boasted in their strength and greatness, and they made no good spiritual impact on the world.
Paul gloried in his weakness: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 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. Vv. 9-10)
The goal isn’t weakness. It’s the power of Christ. The point isn’t weakness, it’s strength. God’s strength. The beautiful strength of Christ displayed through our weakness.
Let’s take a moment to allow the Spirit to minister to us in our weakness. What’s in your weakness? Is there a particular weakness that has been coming to mind this morning? Invite the Lord to meet you there. When a broken bone heals it grows stronger where it was broken.
Rejection – Parents, spouse, friends, even just an inner sense of rejection from people. wounded deeply, hobbled in relationships. What’s in your weakness? Rejection.
Believe this, press into this: God’s acceptance is sufficient for you. You are accepted in the beloved. Allow His unconditional acceptance in Christ to fill you and heal you.
Insecurity – we all have them, but I’m talking a deeper sense of “not measuring up”. Thorn to you. Fear that you will be “found out” as a fraud or imposter, just because you feel insecure about who you are. “Not enough” is written across your heart.
When I was going through an intensely insecure time when I was in high school, I remember going on a church retreat and a young woman came with us who sang and wrote songs and she shared a song called Be My Security. “Be my security, my strength in adversity. And when all the world seems to let me down, be more than the world to me.”
I asked her to sing it many times over that retreat – it ministered deeply to my heart.
Let’s pray. Maybe there’s some other weakness, some other thorn – lay it at the altar as we pray.
More in Messy Grace: Second Corinthians
June 13, 2021Examine Yourselves Part Two
June 6, 2021Examine Yourselves Part One
May 29, 2021Minimizing Mess, Maximizing Grace in Relationships