Summary: God does not promise nations or his children a charmed life, but he does prmise to give us strength, be with us in the struggle, and see us safe to the other side.
2 Corinthians 12:2-10 “Strength in Weakness”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have all heard these words from the Declaration of Independence, whose signing created the birth of a nation—The United States of America. Many of us have had to memorize these words as part of a social studies or history class. This sentence has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language" and "the most potent and consequential words in American history". The passage has often been used to promote the rights of marginalized groups, and came to represent for many people a moral standard for which the United States should strive.
This weekend we are celebrating the signing of this document and the birth of our nation. As we gather for worship this morning, we cannot separate the fact that we are both disciples of Jesus Christ and American citizens. When today’s Scripture passage was read, we heard the words from both of these perspectives. If these words are to impact and influence our lives they must address our duel citizenship.
I believe that Paul has much to say to us as Christians who are both committed followers of Jesus Christ and United States citizens.
The Apostle Paul’s authority was constantly being questioned by those who opposed his ministry. Many did not consider him equal to the disciples because he had never been with Jesus. Paul had also been a persecutor of the Church. With his authority questioned, Paul was forced to defend himself by pointing out both the sacrifice that he had made as an apostle and also the blessings that he had received from God.
In this passage, Paul shares the revelations from God with which he had been blessed. He had been taken up into the very presence of God. He had heard the Trinity conversing among themselves—something that no one else had claimed to have experienced.
Whether or not we have had spiritual experiences similar to Paul, we still, like him have been richly blessed. Some of us have experienced God’s presence in a remarkable way, or we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues, or we have been miraculously healed. Others of us have not had these experiences, but we all live in a country in which we have experienced the blessings of material wealth, comfort, freedom and peace on a level that in almost unparalleled in the world. God’s blessings have been poured in to our lives.
Like Paul, we may be tempted to become too elated, or proud because of God’s abundant blessings in our lives. We may foolishly think that the make and year of the car we drive, or the size and the location of the house in which we live makes us better than others who have not been as blessed as we have. As Americans we might think that we are by definition right and others wrong if they disagree with us. Or, we may consider ourselves better than people from other less industrialized, poorer nations.
Paul cautions against such pride.
THORNS IN THE FLESH
Even though we, as a nation, have been richly blessed, we have still experienced difficult times. We have fought wars for our freedom. We have fought a devastating war between ourselves. Our social structure and preconceived notions have been challenged and changed by forces such as the civil rights movement, opposition to the Viet Nam War, and Watergate. We have had economic depressions and recessions, natural disasters, along with a list of countless other struggles and difficulties.
There are people who might identify some of these difficult situations as judgments by God. It is interesting to note that Paul did not consider his thorn in the flesh to be one of God’s judgments against him. He did identify it as a messenger from Satan, but he also saw it as a gift or blessing from God to keep him from being too elated and to strengthen his relationship with God and others in the church.
We have a tendency to look upon our personal thorns in the flesh as things that are evil. We may understand them to be God’s judgment upon us (what did I do to deserve this). Perhaps we see them as detours and obstacles that have been place in our path to keep us from achieving our goals and dreams. Again, few of us look beyond these difficult, painful times and see both God’s hand in them and the potential beneficial effect that they contain.
We usually forget that in difficult times we usually experience God’s power and presence in a greater way. When people are asked to graph out their lives and mark the high points and the low points, and then to graph out their walk with God, they often discover that the times they felt closest to God were the times when they were struggling.