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.
The second epistle to the Church of Corinth is the most biographical and least doctrinal epistle of Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he reprimanded them and corrected them, and when Titus returned to Paul with a report of how the Corinthians received his letter [2 Cor 7:6-7], there was also news that some people from Corinth had began to question Paul‘s authority as an apostle. This was troubling, for if Paul‘s apostleship was questioned, his teachings and commands would be meaningless. Much of 2 Corinthians was devoted to Paul‘s explanation of his apostleship and how he lives, and we learn a lot more about Paul here than in any other of his epistles. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul insists on boasting about his weaknesses, specially mentioning the thorn in his flesh [2 Cor 12:7], and in verse 9 he explains why he boasts in his weaknesses.
Analysis: Unanswered prayers
At first glance it will seem as if Paul‘s prayer was not answered. Paul prayed three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed from him [2 Cor 12:8] – he was a good man, a man of faith, a righteous man. While the thorn in his flesh was not mentioned, God did answer, yet not in the way that Paul had expected or desired. He pleaded for God to remove the thorn from him, but God told him, my grace is enough for you, my power is made perfect in your weaknesses. God‘s grace is more than enough for us. No matter how we ‘use’ or ‘take’ it, we can never exhaust it, we can never deplete it.
God‘s grace is the basis of anything good that comes from the Lord. Hope. Faith. It’s all based on the salvation that is rooted in God‘s grace. Christ? It’s God‘s grace too. When he says my grace is sufficient for you, he’s just about saying that you can conquer your circumstances with what I’ve already given you. I can do everything through him who gives me strength [Phil 4:13].
God always listens to our prayers. He might not always answer – more often than not, he answers our prayers in ways we do not anticipate. We cannot expect God to answer our prayers in the way we want Him to. God is God, we’re not God. This faith is not one of convenience, where you turn to God simply to make your life easier. It is a faith of convenant, a faith rooted in hope in God‘s promise. David prayed fervently for the life of the child [2 Sam 12:16], fasting and spending his nights on the ground, yet the child still died [2 Sam 12:18]. Job prayed again and again for deliverance and vindication, yet God does not answer until far later [Job 30:20]. Jesus prayed for his cup to be removed, but we know it wasn’t [Mark 14:36].
Sometimes, God‘s grace can be shown better not when he answers our prayers in the way that we desire. Had God removed the thorn in Paul‘s flesh, we might be reading about gratitude in 2 Corinthians 12 instead of grace. Paul understood the purpose of the thorn in his flesh, and celebrated the purpose of the thorn even if he has to suffer from the pain caused by it. The pain of the thorn reminds him to be humble before God in a time when he was daily preaching the great revelations of Christ, at a time when he as leader, as teacher, as apostle yielded immense authority and power. Sometimes, God simply have a far greater plan for us than what we have for ourselves. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thought [Isaiah 55:9]. Through our trials God will support us, he will give us strength, sufficient strength for us to overcome our trials. He will support us and walk with us through it all. He could just remove the trial altogether. But it wouldn’t be a trial, then, would it? If Job‘s suffering ended the day he prayed for deliverance, he would have learnt nothing, would he? His three friends would have learnt nothing. And the theology of suffering wouldn’t be so clear to us today. We often do not know what we should pray for, after all [Romans 8:26].
Through our weaknesses, God‘s power is made perfect. Through our flaws, God‘s power is magnified. Through our imperfections, our insufficiencies, our failures, our temptations – God‘s power will shine. Thank God then for our flaws, or the mistakes that we make, or the thorns in our flesh, because it is through our own failings that we see God‘s grace. It is through our imperfections that we see God‘s work in our lives. When we are strong, and when things are going well, we often don’t realise the extent of God‘s power. We often are blinded to the fact that it was God who had given us that. Yet when men are desperate, in suffering, in pain, we tend to be able to see clearer that it is not our own strength, but God‘s.
Analysis: Delight in weaknesses
I think it extremely difficult to delight in my weaknesses. We live in a meritocratic and bureaucratic society. We delight in our strengths and frown on our weaknesses. Yet, again, God‘s words teaches us the opposite of how society functions. Let us not conform to society, but be transformed in the renewing of our minds [Romans 12:2]. It is not masochism, no matter how much boasting gladly in weaknesses and taking delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties – sound like it is. This delight is merely rooted in the fact that Paul counts it a privilege and an honour, as he is enjoying the work of God, he is enjoying the grace of God in abundance. This delight is not so much of pleasure, but more of contentment and satisfaction in the Lord.
God‘s grace is more than enough for us – is a prayer that I often pray without really knowing what I’m saying. A lot of times I pray it and expect something to happen. But God has already given his grace to us. In him we can draw on the strength and the comfort to conquer our difficulties. It is a great comfort, a great assurance. At times we ask God for deliverance, but in Him we can already draw the strength to face our difficulties. God has already given us what is enough – His grace. We have no reason to fear the trials that lie ahead of us.
It is a daily lesson, it is a daily prayer. Indeed, God‘s grace is sufficient for you and me.
God bless you,