In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is struggling through a situation and the Lord tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” As we read Paul’s story, we too can discover how to experience the all-sufficient grace that God promises. There are five scenes or movements in Paul’s life we see in this passage:
In verses 2-5 we read that Paul had a heavenly experience. We aren’t given the exact details of how, but we know it was 14 years earlier. Paradise is only mentioned three times in the New Testament (here, Luke 23:43, and Revelation 2:7) and each time it refers to heaven. In verse 6 he says that he will not boast so that no one would credit him. When we go through hard times, it often seems as if God is not answering our prayers. We wonder, what if the miracle doesn’t come? Paul did not take the credit for this great experience. We can rest in knowing we don’t take the credit if the miracle happens, and we don’t take the criticism if the miracle does not happen. We pray and leave it in God’s hands. We pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Paul continues, “so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself” (v. 7). In this story we read about God and Satan, heaven and a messenger from hell, mentioned in the same passage. God has balanced life with mountain tops and valleys. It can be the best of times and the worst of times all at the same time. Just as God permitted Satan to tempt Adam and Eve, Job, and Peter, he permitted Satan to attack Paul. God even uses Satan to accomplish God’s purposes. We aren’t told the details of Paul’s thorn, but you know yours! All of us have problems and weaknesses. We can resent our thorn and fight it, or we can embrace it and accept it. Don’t let your pain make you a bitter person. Let it make you a better person.
Twice the purpose of the thorn is stated – “so that I would not exalt myself.” It was to keep Paul humble and useable. The purpose was to deliver him from being spiritually proud. He could have bragged about his heavenly experience, but he didn’t. Blessings are dangerous. To whom much is given, much is required. God allowed this to keep Paul useable and it worked! Paul would be much more fruitful this way. Self-sufficient stands in the way of an all-sufficient God. God takes what is broken and, like a recycling plant, makes it useable again. Paul did not simply make the best of it. He made the most of it.
Paul says, “I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me” (v. 8). It drove Paul to his knees. He prayed like Jesus in Gethsemane. Paul prayed and pleaded and begged God. Have you ever had your kids beg for something that you know would not ultimately be for their good? There is no problem God cannot solve and no prayer He cannot answer. He may not answer it the way you think it should be answered, but He is a loving Father and can be trusted.
It turns out God answered Paul’s prayer, but not in the way he thought. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 9-10). We can learn from Paul. We can pray and pour out our hearts to God and then listen and accept His answer. Whatever the pain Paul experienced, God’s grace was more. The greatest revelation was not the glory of Heaven, but the grace of heaven.
God’s statement to Paul was, “My grace is sufficient.” “Is” is present tense. He didn’t say it “will be,” “ought to be,” or “can be,” but that it is. Should a fish be worried about there not being enough water in the ocean? No. There is never a shortage of water in the ocean and there is never a shortage of God’s grace. It IS sufficient and it always will be.
Weakness is the stage on which God displays His power. God does not use us in spite of our weaknesses but because of our weaknesses. Paul said he would “gladly boast” in his weakness. The word means shout! Anyone can praise God when everything goes their way. Will you praise Him when you are hurting, in pain? “Power” here means to spread a tent over. When you are weak God will tabernacle over you and you will feel His presence and power like never before.
You say, “But I have pain and I have prayed but I have not experienced all-sufficient grace. Why?” Three things are necessary. First, you must have a thorn in the flesh – pain, agony. Second, you must have unanswered prayers – mystery. Third, and this is where it gets hard, you must glory (gladly boast) in your infirmities. That’s when you experience the victory!