Summary: God wants us to know weakness, so that glory is given to him and not to ourselves because in our weakness God’s grace shines.
Are you satisfied with your life? What I mean is this: Are you content? Are you happy with what you have been given? Or are you the kind of person who is constantly searching – moving from one activity under heaven to another? It is necessary for us to ask such searching questions because, unfortunately, we live in a world that teaches us to be unhappy, discontented people. Our culture promotes that idea. “God wants me to be happy!” Many people exclaim. And it’s true. God wants us to be satisfied. But so many of us are tempted to find happiness and satisfaction on our own terms.
McDonald’s used to have the slogan: “You deserve a break today”. That sums up our human philosophy on life. Whether it’s food, cars, cash, jewelry, or anything else, the consistent message is: “you have the right to own this. You’re entitled to possess that.”
We live in a world of instant self-gratification, and that idea has seeped into the church. Some churches even promote this attitude. They teach that you deserve to be healthy and wealthy, and free of pain. But such thinking sets people up for a fall. When we have expectations of the kind of life we feel we deserve, then what happens when things don’t the way we expect? We feel betrayed, that somehow God has let us down.
This is why the Holy Spirit led St. Paul to record these words in 2 Corinthians. The apostle Paul takes us back to the basics of what we truly deserve and what we can expect from God. And so to a world filled with selfish hearts, St. Paul proclaims: GOD’S GRACE IS SUFFICIENT. He explains this for us in a most personal way. He tells us that God’s grace is plenty 1) Even When He Sticks Us With a Thorn. And the reason for this is that God, in his grace, 2) Provides Strength in Weakness.
1) Even When He Sticks Us With a Thorn
Have you ever had a splinter? They are the most annoying things. You can’t seem to get it out, and every time you rub your hand against something you are sharply reminded that it’s there. If you don’t remove it, it becomes infected, and swells. What was once a simple, little splinter has become a huge irritation. Paul was experiencing that same irritation. What this thorn in his life was, we’re not certain. Some claim it was a form of epilepsy. Others claim it was a recurring bout with Malaria, severe migraine headaches, or even a speech impediment. We just don’t know. Whatever it was, it was chaffing Paul, it was under his skin, and it was bothering him to no end. No matter how much he picked at it, he couldn’t seem to get that problem out of his life.
Perhaps a splinter isn’t the best description for what Paul suffered. He uses the word “thorn” yet; in the Greek language the word more literally describes a “spike, or stake.” This was no minor irritation, from which he suffered. This thorn, or problem, took away his ability to function, perhaps even hindering him from doing his work as an apostle.
Notice how else the apostle describes this weakness. He says it is a “messenger of Satan.” Now, we might wonder how that can be since Paul admits that God is the one who gave him this problem. What we have here is a hint of God’s all-surpassing power, even in the face of evil. Satan is bent on bringing down the Christian Church. He will stop at nothing to try and destroy our faith in Jesus, our Savior. He will even try to use the problems of this life to accomplish such a task. But God is bigger than the devil. And in the hands of our almighty God even big, scary Satan is nothing more than an unwitting tool. Satan would have seen this “thorn” as a way to bring suffering on Paul and to break down his hope in Christ, but God used it to accomplish his good purpose of keeping Paul humble in his faith.
Realize the apostle Paul had been granted an unusual gift from God. The Lord had given Paul visions of paradise in heaven. And so, to keep Paul from becoming puffed up with arrogance – thinking he was better than those who didn’t receive such visions – God gave him an affliction that would constantly remind the apostle that we was still a weak sinner, completely dependant on God’s grace.
This was no accident; God gave this ailment to the apostle. This happened to Paul, not because he was outside of God’s will, but because he was in it. This happened to Paul in order to mold his character, to make him more and more holy – living more and more as a child of God.