Of Thorns and Grace

Of Thorns and Grace
January 30, 2022
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Passage: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
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Turn your attention to the book of 2 Corinthians chapter 12. Here Paul takes about the thorns he had in the flesh and the grace of God. So, we're going to talk this morning of thorns and grace.

One of the great questions that people have when it comes to God and suffering. If God is loving, or omnipotent why does God allow us to suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people?

The Book of Job is a good book to study about this type of suffering. Job was a righteous and godly man whom God allowed to suffer.

  • Job 1:8-11

We see that the devil challenged God. Job teaches us a wonderful lesson on the value of patience and endurance.

  • James 5:11

Reconciling the Thorn of Suffering and the Grace of God

Reconciling suffering and God is hard for Christians to grapple with. To the Corinthian Christians, suffering was a big issue. They could not understand how a true apostle of Jesus could suffer to the degree that the apostle Paul has suffered.

They had the same misunderstanding as did Job’s three discomforting friends.

  • Eliphaz - Job 4:7
  • Bildad - Job 8:6
  • Zophar - Job 11:5-6

There was a common belief of that day, and often in this day as well, that if something bad were happening to you, it was because you were a bad person.

Everything was taken from Job, from his family to everything he had and Eliphaz believed it was because he had done something bad.

They're basically saying it was his fault that all these things happened to Job, that because they believed he wasn't a righteous person, that he was suffering.

Yet, we know the real reason he suffered.

This misunderstanding caused Paul’s critics to consider Paul as inferior. Rather than deflect his sufferings, Paul has magnified his sufferings.

  • 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

Not to boast, but to express why suffering should never be a reason to dismiss one as a true servant of Jesus. He's using human reasoning pointing out that things had happened to him. He had suffered, but not because he was any less than the other apostles.

He now lays the trump card of his suffering. Paul does not do this to promote or elevate himself but to express why suffering should never be a reason to dismiss a person as a true servant of Jesus.

Vision of Paradise

  • 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Paul now speaks of himself as a man, who 14 years prior, went up to the third heaven, into paradise.

There are a number of ways that the ancients speak of the heavens above our atmosphere. The first is the sky above us, then the outer atmosphere.

This third Heaven is the Paradise where God is.

  • 2 Corinthians 12:2-3

There were a number of ways that the ancients expressed the different heavens of our creation and the spiritual realm. One way spoke of our sky as the first heaven, space (where the stars and planets are) as the second heaven, and the abode of God as the third heaven. Paul calls this third heaven Paradise, as it is where God dwells.

Now Paul does not know if this was a vision in the physical body was in Paradise, in the literal presence of God. Or, if it was just in the spirit. He heard words that were unspeakable on account of their sacredness. He heard things he was not allowed to repeat.

Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 12:5-6 that he is speaking about himself.

He is not going to boast about himself, even though what he is saying is true. But Paul has not spoken about these things

lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.” — 2 Corinthians 12:6

  • Romans 12:3

Paul is an apostle. He wants them to have the proper acknowledgment of his authority as an apostle. Yet, even he did not want people thinking highly of him in an improper way. Paul does not want to talk about the things he has seen or experienced. Rather, he wants people to see his godly life and his proclamation of the gospel message of Jesus.

He’s not there to “wow” them with his personal experiences. Just look at his godly life and his faithful proclamation of God’s word. How many times do we see people today who claim to be Christians who do not do this?

They want to set themselves apart as special and distinct so they tell stories of visions and dreams that they claim were given to them by God so that you will be impressed and enough listen to them.

There are many false teachers in the world who claim they have a new understanding or new revelation. So many people state they have thought on what is written and have come to a new conclusion. We must take a closer look at ourselves to determine if when we have a new understanding, is it to impress upon ourselves, or if it aligns with God's word.

Please notice that Paul says that he does not do this. He does not use such things to get people to listen to him, even though he had all kinds of experiences that he could have shared. Personal experiences and testimonies are not the points.

His faithful life and his faithful proclamation of the gospel are what people are supposed to see and listen to only. It's like the idea that we don't see the speaker, but rather we see Christ in His Word that is being proclaimed.

Those who teach, speaking flashy stories are seeking to present themselves as something they are not.

This is what Paul did for the Corinthians.

  • 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

Paul simply says, he's glad he didn't baptize but a handful, because he didn't come to get the glory, but rather to know and make known Jesus to those in Corinth. He was there to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul's Enduring Pain

Paul suffered many things.

  • 2 Corinthians 12:7

Think of the New Testament, more than half of it was written by Paul. But, Paul points out that he is suffering for the gospel's sake.

Notice the purpose of the suffering that Paul is experiencing. Two things stand out here.

  1. The thorn in his flesh is a messenger of Satan that is tormenting him.
  2. The messenger of Satan.

Satan is doing the tormenting. Satan uses these trials and sufferings to torment. He uses these things to harass us and trouble us.

This is exactly what we see in the book of Job. Satan tormented Job so that he will turn his faith away from the Lord. Job is afflicted so that it would be revealed that Job serves God for nothing.

This is not God’s purpose. God is not tormenting Paul and God was not harassing Job. God has another purpose by which He allows suffering to happen in the world.

God used allowed this thorn so that Paul’s humility would be maintained. God allows suffering purposefully. He permits it, He doesn't cause it.

Because of free will, God allows these things to happen. God allows suffering so that his purpose and good would be fulfilled in us. Satan uses suffering to torment us, harass us, and attempt to destroy us.

Trying to isolate an incident or event in life as an exclusive work of Satan or of God is an effort in futility.

We often see the scriptures showing us that it is both! Even the cross of Jesus was both. Satan thought that is causing the suffering and death of Christ, he would overthrow God’s design.

Yet, at the same time, God's design was to use Jesus’ suffering and death upon the cross to save the world!

  • Hebrews 2:9-10

Why did Jesus, the Son of God, come to this earth? To suffer unto death!

Satan thought that by causing the suffering and death of Christ, he would overthrow the plan of God. But, it was really the fulfillment of God's plan.

Thus, we see that God allows suffering with His purposes in mind and Satan also acts with his own agenda and purposes.

Paul's Prayerful Petition

  • 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Paul prayed repeatedly to the Lord to have his thorn removed. Paul pleaded with the Lord three times that the suffering would leave him.

Stop and think about this. God told Paul “No” to his prayer, repeatedly. Our request for physical rest and peace often ends with an answer of "no." God even told his apostles “No.” Our requests for physical peace and rest often receive an answer of “No” from the Lord. God says “No.” What should we make of this?

The Grace of God in Suffering

Paul tells us God’s intention toward him regarding his suffering. What was God’s answer?

“My grace is sufficient for thee.” — 2 Corinthians 12:9

God has given us sufficient grace to endure. Notice the answer is not that suffering would be removed. Rather, God has given sufficient grace so that we are able to endure.

Do we believe this? We have what we need for this life.

We have what we need to endure, excel, and flourish as disciples of Christ. We have God’s grace to cope with the weaknesses that are not removed.

Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” reminded him to be humble.

  • James 4:6
  • Luke 14:11

The thorn in the flesh was there to remind Paul to be humble. Think of all the accolades that he was given by some. He could have started to think that he was something, but his suffering reminded him to be humble.

But the rest of verse 9 is just as staggering for us to consider.

For my strength is made perfect in weakness.” —2 Corinthians 12:9

It's when we are out of strength that we learn to rely on God more fully.

God’s power is made perfect through our weaknesses.

It is when we are out of strength that we finally depend on God the most. Suffering is to burn away our pride, self-confidence, and independence. Therefore, we embrace the suffering given to us because we have been given God’s grace which is sufficient to endure and is necessary for the growth of our faith.

It is in our weakness that we learn to turn to God.

  • Philippians 4:11-13

Paul recognized the source of his strength. God always takes humble people to show his strength because the humble are dependent upon God.

Gideon is not a hero. Yet, God came to him to lead the Israelites, and with only three hundred people defeated the Midianites. Yet, God is the hero who takes a fearful man and makes him victorious through God’s power. Moses is an exiled shepherd who becomes the deliverer of God’s people out of Egypt. David is an insignificant shepherd who becomes king of Israel and father to the King of Kings.

It is in our weaknesses that allows God’s power to be put on display. This means we need to think about life and ourselves in a completely new way. Look at the rest of the passage.

Paul's New Perspective on Suffering

  • 2 Corinthians 12:9–10

But the idea is even stronger than this. The Greek word translated “pleasure” is translated “content” by the ESV and is the same word translated in other places “well pleased” or “delight in.

It is the same word used in Matthew 3:17.

This same idea is, as Paul states here is expressed elsewhere.

  • James 1:2-4

He says, count it all joy! How hard is that? You have to have the right perspective concerning the suffering to see the joy.

  • Romans 5:1-5

Paul recognized that he had to endure those things so that he will remember his dependence on God. If God did not allow us to experience these failures, sufferings, and difficulties, we would never rely on Him.

We would continue to think how great we are and how much we are in control over our lives, like the Laodicean Christians.

  • Revelation 3:17-18

They didn't have the humility that is needed to recognize their need for God. It is in our weakness and frailty that we surrender our will to God.

The only way we make it through the trials and pains in my life has been by the power of God. We don't have the power to make it through and do not think we would make it through, without Him sometimes. But, God gives us strength at the right time.

He was content, delighted, and took pleasure in weaknesses and sufferings.

Thus, we learn something extremely valuable. Focusing all of our efforts on removing our difficulties is not the goal. Rather, we are able to look at trials and do exactly what James told us to do.

We need to learn to embrace sufferings, and trials knowing that God is always with His children.

  • James 1:2–4

In times of struggle and trial, we need to draw nigh to God. Even in good times, we need to draw night to God. So we will have the recognition that God is with us.

The only way that God draws nigh to us is when we draw nigh to Him. We begin to draw near to God when we believe that He is. When we believe in God, we believe in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, and based on that we will repent of our sins, confess His name to others, and be baptized for the remission of our sins.

When we turn to Him and draw nigh to Him He will draw nigh to us. We need to turn to Him in obedience, to be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins that we can draw nigh to Him.

If you have questions concerning the grace of God, and sufferings faced in this world, please contact us.

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