Summary: Paul learned to accept his thorn in the flesh as a gift from God, and allowed it to bless and benefit his life.
A. I want to start with a true story that illustrates the overall lesson I hope we will learn today.
B. The story is told of a 10-year-old boy who decided to study Judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.
1. The boy began lessons with an old Japanese Judo master.
2. The boy was doing well, but he couldn't understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move.
a. “Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn't I be learning more moves?”
b. “This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you'll ever need to know,” the Sensei replied.
3. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.
4. Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament.
a. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches.
b. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy used his one move to win the match.
c. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.
d. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced.
e. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched.
f. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the Sensei intervened.
g. “No,” the Sensei insisted, “Let him continue. I assure you, the boy will be fine.”
h. Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: He dropped his guard.
i. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him.
j. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.
5. On the way home, the boy and Sensei reviewed every move in each and every match.
6. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.
a. "Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?"
7. The Sensei answered, “You won for two reasons.
a. “First, you've almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of Judo.”
b. “And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left wrist, and you, obviously, don’t have a left wrist.”
C. As hard as it might be for us to understand, here is one of the most important spiritual lessons God can teach us…
1. Our greatest weakness can turn out to be our greatest strength.
2. Our greatest loss can turn out to be our greatest gain.
3. Our greatest suffering can turn out to be our greatest blessing.
D. In the section of 2 Corinthians that we are studying today, we come to the climax of Paul’s defense of his apostleship.
1. As we noticed last week, Paul was reticent to draw attention to himself and to write about his personal experiences, but there was no other way to address the problem and defend himself.
2. Interestingly enough, to avoid exalting himself any more than necessary, Paul began describing this lofty experience in the third person.
3. He began, “I know a man…” and it isn’t until verse 7 that we realize that Paul, himself, is the man who had this experience.
4. Let’s work our way through this section and learn what lessons we can from the vision, the thorn and the grace.
I. The Vision – God Honored Him
A. As we have seen in our study up to this point, Paul’s opponents were happy to boast about themselves and their accomplishments and their letters of recommendation.
1. They may also have been boasting about their spiritual experiences and their wonderful visions and revelations.
2. Surely the Christians there in Corinth stood in awe of them.
3. Surely these opponents must be super-spiritual, super-apostles to have had these kinds of experiences, right?
4. Maybe the Corinthians were saying that these opponents must be greater than Paul, because Paul hadn’t told them about any visions.
B. So, against Paul’s usual practice and against his own godly desires, he decided to play their game.
1. He wrote: I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2I 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. 3And I know that this man - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows - 4was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 5I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6Even 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. (2 Cor. 12:1-6)