Summary: God not only showers us with Saving Grace but also with Enabling Grace. No matter how difficult situations may become, His grace is sufficient to meet every need.
I have always appreciated Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of the Hired Man” since first reading it as a junior in high school. Frost portrays three characters in his poem: Warren, a New England farmer; his wife Mary; and Silas their “hired man.” Silas has worked for Warren and Mary often through the years although leaving them frequently. He has now returned one final time to die at the only home he knows. In the course of their conversation Mary and Warren share their differing opinions about Silas. Warren has lost all patience with Silas, but Mary is compassionate. In their discussion as to how they will receive Silas this one last time the two share their feelings about home and family.
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
they have to take you in.”
Immediately Mary replies:
“I should have called it
something you somehow haven’t to deserve” [--Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man,” 1914, ll. 122-5.].
There is no more beautiful expression of the meaning of God’s grace in my estimation than Mary’s definition of “home.” God’s love, forgiveness, and gift of eternal life are indeed things we do not deserve.
Grace is the undeserved favor God pours out upon us sinners. Although there is only one grace, it has many facets and can be described in numerous ways. There is no more appropriate way to describe God’s grace than in the title of John Newton’s immortal hymn, because His grace is awesomely “Amazing.”
We might look at two aspects of God’s “Amazing Grace” in terms of “Initiating Grace” and “Enabling Grace.” Initiating grace refers to how we are admitted into the family of God; we “are saved by grace through faith” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. We might describe this as God’s grace towards us. Enabling grace, however, refers to how we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for service in His Kingdom. Enabling grace is God’s grace at work within us [W. T. Purkiser, Richard S. Taylor, and Willard H. Taylor, God, Man, and Salvation (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1977), pp. 410-413.]. It is His grace which enables us to serve Him that we want to explore this morning in our text from II Corinthians 12:7-10:
“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. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But 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. 10That 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.”
God’s “Amazing Grace” at work within me empowers me to live in victory even though my life is often full of thorns. What exactly does that mean for our walk and witness as Christian disciples today?
What does the Scripture mean by a “thorn in the flesh?” Let’s begin to answer that question by taking a closer look at our Old Testament Lesson. In Numbers 33:55 the Lord Himself speaks through Moses to warn the Israelites what will befall them if they do not “drive out all the inhabitants” from the Land of Cana: “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell.” People can become “thorns in our sides.” As I keep sharing with you from time to time, I so appreciate my wife Liz’s honest testimony, “I could really be a good Christian if it were not for people.”
We all have to deal with difficult people in our lives, not only in our daily society but oftentimes in the Church as well. We all remember the times we have been tormented by people who are obnoxious, overbearing, inconsiderate, rude, arrogant, malicious, belligerent, aloof, thoughtless, uncaring, self-centered, egotistical, selfish, annoying, domineering, haughty, insolent, authoritarian, bossy, offensive, judgmental, vulgar, rude, or just plain hateful. Yes, people can be a thorn in the side or a thorn in the flesh.
Recall those words of Moses in Numbers 33:55, “those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in our sides.” In Light Through an Easter Window, K. G. Pillai makes this observation concerning this text: “When used as a figure of speech, a thorn in the flesh always refers to irritating or bothersome people” [--K. G., Light Through an Eastern Window (New York: Robert Speller and Sons, 1963), p. 109.].