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“Whenever I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong”: Sermon 7/8/2018

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Pastor Debbie Spangler

Sermon Text: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

The title of today’s sermon is “Whenever I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong”. This is what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about his “thorn in the flesh” and God’s word to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made in weakness.” These are those words in the Bible, those spiritual teachings, that baffle us. They are known as “paradoxes”. A paradox is defined as a seemingly self-contradictory declaration but is in fact true. To some, such biblical paradoxes may seem somewhat ridiculous and yet such are the words of God which were written for our admonition and instruction. We have one in today’s reading and I will also focus on a few more—all from the New Testament.

In verses 7-10 of 2 Corinthians 12, Paul turns his attention to the subject of boasting. Paul was forbidden to speak about what he saw in heaven, the revelations earlier alluded to.  Paul had concerns that if he did share his private experiences, others would go beyond boasting in his apostolic work to glorifying him as an apostle, so that is why he is restraining himself. So rather than trumpeting his visions aloud, he restrained himself. But his restraint was not the result of his own moral willpower. God kept him from such conceit by granting him “a thorn in or against his flesh”, that is ”a messenger of Satan” sent to batter or torment him. His opponents called into question Paul’s legitimacy since Paul was unable to overcome his “thorn”.

The exact nature of this “thorn” has been a matter of much debate. The main belief is that it was some personal sickness. The other options are to understand them as referring to his inner temptations, or to his being persecuted by his opponents. Paul remains silent about the nature of his “thorn”. He is not interested in the medical diagnosis of his weakness but in its theological origin (sent by Satan but given by God), in its cause (Paul’s great revelations) , and in its purpose (to afflict Paul in order to keep him from becoming conceited).

At first, Paul reacted to his “thorn in the flesh” as would be expected: he prayed that the Lord would remove the “thorn.” Paul is no Stoic, who sees the thorn as an opportunity for self-mastery and endurance. Nor is he a theological masochist, who glorifies suffering itself. When suffering hits, Paul prays for deliverance. That Paul prayed three times may simply be a conventional way to emphasize that the prayer was repeated.

Instead of removing the thorn, Christ declared that his own grace would be sufficient for Paul in the midst of his suffering, for his weakness would provide the platform for perfecting the Lord’s power. Paul’s sufferings can never outstrip God’s supply of grace. For this reason, he will “all the more gladly” boast in his weaknesses instead of his revelations, in order that the power of Christ may dwell on him. The promise of God’s grace and power leads Paul to be “pleased in his sufferings” rather than continuing to pray for their removal, because he now knows that “when” he is weak, “then” he is strong. For to boast in his weakness is, at the same time, to boast in what the Lord is doing by His grace and power.

Would you like the world to see the power of Christ rest in you? Then serve God faithfully in spite of sickness, trials, troubles. We all have weaknesses which God can use to make us aware of our limitations, and keep us humble and useful!

Here’s an example: Elisa Morgan wrote that her parents divorced when she was five. Her older sister, younger brother and herself were raised by her alcoholic mother. She says: “While my mother meant well, most of my memories are of my mothering her rather than her mothering me. Alcohol altered her love, turning it into something that wasn’t love. I remember her weaving down the hall of our ranch home in Houston, Texas, glass of scotch in hand. She would wake me at 2 am just to make sure I was asleep. I would wake her up at 7 am to try to get her off to work. Sure there were good times like Christmas and birthdays when she went all out and celebrated us as children. But even those days ended in the warped glow of alcohol. What she did right was lost in what she did wrong.

Elisa said that when she was asked to consider leading MOPS International, a vital Christian ministry that nurtures mothers, she went straight to her knees. How could God use her—who had never been mothered—to nurture other mothers? The answer came as she looked into the eyes of other moms around her and saw their needs mirroring her own. God would take her deficits and make them her offering. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” [Elisa Morgan, Christian Parenting Today]

Now, let’s take a look at a few other paradoxes found in the New Testament:
•  Exaltation through Humility: James 4: 10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” God has never been pleased with the proud, boastful and over-confidant. We know that Lucifer in his madness became Satan. He wanted to be exalted like God but he fell. The Most High God sees to it that all who will desire to be exalted out of His will and timing will ultimately fall. What a contrast Satan is from Christ who humbled himself but was exalted!
•  Receiving through Giving: Acts 20: 35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (last part of the verse). Giving is quite foolish to selfish people. The world’s philosophy is—it’s much better to work and work, save, earn all you can, get rich, keep and withhold. Some of the most miserable people on earth are those who take and take. Some of the happiest people are givers for they manifest God in their unselfish attitude. God Himself is the greatest giver. God will bless you beyond what you need so you may have the blessing of becoming His channel of blessing! Cheerfully and willingly give of your time, talent and treasure for God’s glory and in return receive love, joy, peace, and contentment.
•  Freedom from Servitude: Romans 6: 18: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Men think they are free since they are not in prison cells. The truth is there is another form of imprisonment and bondage which is spiritual and moral in nature. Many are enslaved by fear, doubt, hatred, vices, and sin that add to life’s hardship. In personally knowing Christ and living righteously and obediently one can be free from sin.
•  Gaining Through Losing: Philippians 3: 7-8: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ….” Materialism and love of money have always been the greatest hindrances to a personal living relationship with the Lord. People who are materialistic never have any thoughts of sacrificing and offering anything for Him who died and gave Himself for them. After receiving Christ as our Lord and Savior, we need to accept the fact that we are to live a life of service and sacrifice for Him. Only then can we be truly satisfied. You can gain the whole world but lose your own soul (Mark 8:36) or like Paul you can lose earthly opportunities but gain Christ and lay up treasure in heaven.
•  Living Through Dying: John 12: 24: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Jesus was foretelling his own death. The kernel of wheat that falls to the ground and dies also grows and becomes productive. This is an agricultural principle but also a spiritual principle. Death to the old self is the first step to Christian growth. God says that the flesh must be crucified with its sinful lusts (Galatians 5:24). The more you die to self the more Christ is seen in you! John the Baptist said that Christ must increase and we must decrease (John 3:30).
•  Finding Through Losing: Matthew 10: 39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” People try to find the meaning of life in earthly pursuits, in trying to succeed and prosper, and in trying to enjoy their material possessions—only to find out too late that nothing on earth really satisfies the soul. Without Jesus, life is meaningless---because Jesus is the very essence of life. He is everything that our soul longs for. Jesus will still be Lord and King without you, but you are nothing without Jesus!

Lord, grant us your wisdom that we may come to understand these great truths of the Bible that seem so contradictory but point to your grace that is sufficient for us. Amen.