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God's Grace Is Sufficient

1 Corinthians 12:1-10

Jim Davis

As Christians we can have peace and comfort knowing that God's grace furnishes what is lacking in our lives due to personal weakness. Knowing Christ fills our inadequacy is a great source of encouragement. We know that Christ is equal to any task we face. Knowing that God is not asking us to do anything that he is not willing to accomplish through us is our greatest source of encouragement. I think that this was the comfort that Paul received in times of trouble.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (NIV)

The following verses teach us how God comforts.

2 Corinthians 1:7-11
And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (NIV)

Our hope lies in God who is working in our circumstances. Setting our hope on God's grace at work in and through us is our greatest source of comfort. This is our greatest source of hope for those around us who are undergoing trials and tribulations.  Paul was confident of God’s grace at work in the Corinthians.

God's Grace is Balanced

Paul gives us a new outlook on our weaknesses. The ability to accomplish God’s tasks does not rely on our adequacy, but on God's sufficiency.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. And I know that this man-- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say. To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NIV)

Paul had many visions. His conversion was the result of a vision of Christ (Acts 9:3; 22:6). He had a vision from God when he was called to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17). God gave Paul direction through visions throughout his ministry to encourage him. He was called to Macedonian through a vision (Acts 16:9). When times got tough when he was preaching in Corinth God encouraged him through a vision (Acts 18:9-10). He was encouraged through a vision from God as he was on trial (Acts 23:11). An angel appeared to him on the deck of a hopeless storm tossed ship to give him encouragement. Such honor as this would make most men proud (Acts 27:33).

He didn't go around boasting of his visions and privileges as an apostle. His surpassingly great revelations were not what qualified him to do the work of an apostle. It was his thorn in the flesh that made him strong, for it reminded him of the source of his strength.

1 Corinthians 4:7
For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (NIV)

Our world boasts of its strengths and diminishes its weakness. Paul boasted of his weaknesses and diminished his strengths. Paul reveals a vision he had fourteen years earlier. God honored Paul by allowing him to see the unseen and hear the unheard. However, God gave Paul a balanced life by putting him in touch with his own weaknesses. God allowed the messenger of Satan to torment Paul by giving him a thorn in the flesh.

Peter Marshal said, "It is a fact of Christian experience that life is a series of troughs and peaks. In His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, God relies on the troughs more than the peaks. And some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else." (Peter Marshall quoted in A Better Tomorrow, Fall 1993)

Our successes are our greatest threat. Success has a way of telling us we have arrived. For this reason God allowed Paul to be humbled by his weaknesses. I remember a person I met in military service. He used to tell everyone how he was offered a great job, but he turned it down. It was a true story, and it was a great opportunity. However, I talked to the same individual years later and he was telling the same story. He was merely satisfied going through life just thinking he had been somebody because he was offered that job.

One of my college professors told a story of a preacher who was a great orator. He indicated that the preacher said that you only need twelve good sermons to preach. However, the preacher wasn't in full time ministry, he mostly held gospel meetings throughout the country. He could use those sermons over and over. They were great sermons, but they limited his growth and potential for the Lord. I wonder how great he could have been if he had thrown those sermons away and developed new ones. He ended up bitter at the very brotherhood he spent his life working for. If he had continued seeking instead of reaching a plateau his end may have been much different.

Paul's Jewish arrogance had reached epidemic proportions as he hunted down Christians dragging them to prison (Acts 8:1-5). His knowledge of Jewish law and tradition had taken its toll. Pride had taken its toll, now God made him humble to reveal his greatest strength.

"The most efficient means of ruining a person's character is to grant that person unbroken success. We think success is good; failure is bad. We believe that we should avoid failure at all costs.

"What's wrong with these ideas? They ignore the fact that our God uses failure to bring about good—He uses them to drive us to Him, to prepare us for future success, to get our lives back on track, to help us see ourselves more clearly, to help us see others more compassionately.

"Failure keeps us humble, and humility is a good thing in God's Kingdom. Without failure, we would quickly forget who is really in control, who is really invincible and omnipotent. We'd start to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.

"In the weeks before World War II, the French took great pride in their Maginot Line. It would, they boasted; protect them from the German army. It was invincible, impenetrable. And so it may have been, but it didn't stop the Germans. They went around it, through Belgium, and successfully invaded France.

"France's pride left her blind to a very critical weak spot in her defenses. Likewise, when success comes too easily and too often, we get puffed up with pride and become vulnerable to temptations aimed at our blind spots. Humility is our best defense, and humility is cultivated through failure.

"Another unique fruit of failure is the ability to understand the sorrows of others. When your business fails, you are likely to find that your best comforter and encourager is someone who has survived a similar ordeal.

"When a top aide to President Reagan, attempted suicide after the Iran Contra ordeal, former President Nixon visited him in the hospital. Nixon knew what it was like to fail in public office and be embarrassed by public scandal. Who better to encourage, to believe that life was still worth living? Failure gives us ‘insight and empathy’ we could learn in no other way.

"The next time failure leaves you feeling empty handed, look again. You may find you've received a priceless gift--the opportunity to grow in Christian character and to minister to another." ("The God of Second Chances" by Robert Moeller. Pursuit, Spring 1995. Pages 12-15.)

It was the discipline of God's grace that made Paul strong. God's grace saves, but its design is such that it will not overrule God's law of reaping and sowing. God forgives the sin, but he must allow us to reap what we sow. As we reap the harvest of our ways it makes us dependent upon God’s power for survival.

Many commentators focus on describing Paul's thorn in the flesh. However, the focal point is not the thorn, but it is God's power in weakness. God allowed Satan to give Paul something he could not handle. He was stretched beyond his limitations to make him realize that he was dependent upon God's strength.

How God's Enabling Power Works

Paul prayed for God to remove his thorn. God refused. Paul was like each of us. He wanted God to remove the difficult circumstance. Oswald Chambers wrote, "I feel sorry for the believer who has not something in his life that he wishes were not there." (Quoted in Church Disciple, Winter 1994)

God wants to reveal his power over the circumstances. God gives us our circumstances to make us dependent upon the One who is the master of every circumstance. We must realize that Satan and his demons are stronger than we are. God allows us to become so weak that we might depend upon his strength.

God's grace is sufficient without enabling us to stand-alone. If we could master our own circumstance we wouldn't need God. Our impossible circumstances point us to the One who sustains us when we are too weak to stand on our own. In the weakest of moments there is always sufficient strength in God's grace to sustain us. God's grace sustains us when Satan attacks.

2 Corinthians 3:4-6
Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-- not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (NIV)

"Knowing your own strength is a fine thing. Recognizing your own weakness is even better. What is really bad, what hurts and finally defeats us, is mistaking a weakness for a strength." (Sydney J. Harris--quoted in Leadership, Fall 1993)

If God's grace saves despite our weaknesses, surely that same grace is able to sustain us when we seek to do his will.

1 Corinthians 10:12-13
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (NIV)

As you observe Paul’s life you realize that numerous times he came to the end of his rope. Each time Paul came to the end of his rope God provided a way for him to stand up under the trial. God intervened each time and made Paul's affliction work for him rather than against him. It didn't matter if he was escaping over the wall in a basket, or on a sinking ship, or in prison, or suffering from a personal attack by Satan. God's grace always sustained him regardless of Paul's inability to see his way through. Paul experienced the power of God at work overruling the god of his circumstances, which was Satan the ruler and prince of the power of the air.

Paul's resume boasted of his weakness that made him dependent upon God’s sufficiency. Paul had to look beyond himself for the strength to endure. We are totally dependent upon the sustaining power of God. Most resumes dwell on the applicant's strengths, but Paul dwelt on God's in his weakness.

There are two kinds of limitations. Some are God-ordained and some are self-made. Many of the people in the Bible who accomplished great things for God recognized their talents and gifts. Such talents and gifts are thought to be blessings from God and disabilities or failures appear to be punishments. But there is a danger in this thought, as God can and does use our shortcomings as well as our abilities. If we had unlimited power we would forget that we need God. We come to the cross because of our needs. ("My limitations" by Lou Ann Smith. Decision, Sep 1987. Page 6.)

God knows how to balance burdens and blessings, suffering and glory. God is capable of blending the circumstances of our lives together in such a way as to help and not hinder, to strengthen and not weaken, to give a sense of direction when we feel lost, to allow him to receive the glory without robbing us of our dignity.

The Paradox of God’s Revelation

Whatever we become in this life, or could dream of becoming in this life, can never compare to the way we will see ourselves when we see ourselves as God sees us (1 Corinthians 13:12). When Paul is caught up to heaven the wonders are so great that there are no words to express them. God stripped away the veil of time for Paul so that he could see what God sees. Then God allows Satan to enter Paul's life to humble him. There was and unfathomable paradox between what Paul saw in heaven and what he was experiencing on earth. How weak he must have felt after experiencing the glory of what was to be. After the vision Paul needed the sufficiency that only grace affords.

Paul's vision made him acutely aware of his need of God's grace. It was God's grace that made him realize that his troubles were a gift from God. When Paul accepted the thorn as a gift he received God's power to sustain him. Initially, he prayed give me strength instead of weakness, but eventually it was his weakness that gave him his strength.

The only explanation that God gave Paul was "My grace is sufficient." Our lives are not sustained because we can explain what God is doing; they are sustained because we can trust in what God is doing, though we will never understand his ways. Faith in God allows us to go as far as we can while trusting in God's grace to overcome the insurmountable difficulties we face.

In one survey, nearly nine out of ten respondents reported that they were able to find a more positive meaning in life through a painful experience (divorce, death of a family member, illness, etc.). (As quoted in InfoSearch via Critique, Issue #8, 1991)

God is not asking us to endure our hardships. There are many out there enduring the hardships of life. God is asking us to persevere, keep at it, to carry on, to stick with it, as we trust in his possibilities. In doing so God will lift us above our circumstances as he develops our character. Satan appears to be a tyrant who controls our circumstances, but in the hands of God Satan becomes our servant that works for us as God overrules his evil schemes to build our character.

Conclusion:

An unknown poet writes these comments:

"Circumstances! How we pet them; how we give them right of way!
But the Master never planned that we should fall beneath their sway.
Paul made circumstances serve him, made them glorify his Lord;
He turned each trial into blessing as he boldly preached the Word.
'These things turned to my advantage,' this old warrior oft would say.
'For our good they work together,' though they seem to shroud the day."
 
 

 

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