Summary: Sometimes God says no. When you are weakened by His answer, He will strengthen you by His grace.
The late Chuck Colson of Watergate fame shared his experience when God said NO.
The great paradox [of my life] is that every time I walk into a prison and see the faces of men or women who have been transformed by the power of the living God, I realize that the thing God has chosen to use in my life … is none of the successes, achievements, degrees, awards, honors, or cases I won before the Supreme Court. That's not what God's using in my life. What God is using in my life to touch the lives of literally thousands of other people is the fact that I was a convict and went to prison. That was my great defeat, the only thing in my life I didn't succeed in.
1. There is good news and bad news about prayer. Good news: God answers prayer. Bad news: sometimes his answer is “No.” We don’t expect that from God. We assume that God waits in anticipation of our next request, and that we are entitled to receive whatever we ask for.
2. We’ve had some help in developing this opinion, and sadly, some of it has come from the pulpit. Some of the “popular preachers” bring messages of healing, happiness and financial security with statements like, “God wants you to be healed, be happy, be successful, etc.”
3. Imagine how the walls come crashing down when suddenly God’s answer to your prayer is “No.” What happens then? What does one make of such a circumstance? TWM to 2 Co. 12, and we will consider Paul’s testimony concerning a time when God said “no” to him.
[Sometimes God says no. When you are weakened by His answer, He will strengthen you by His grace.]
II. PAUL’S VISION: I know a man in Christ . . .
1. The church at Corinth is troubled by boastful attitudes. Boasting about one’s position or relationship with Christ had become a cause of disagreement between many of the believers and worsened as some claimed to have received special revelations from God.
2. This boasting was dividing the church into two groups: the haves and the have-nots. Such class distinctions are destructive in the church, and Paul knows it. Paul uses this opportunity to teach the young believers, and takes an interesting approach in his teaching:
A. He tells of a man who has had a revelation so spectacular it cannot be topped by anyone. In fact, this man heard inexpressible things, which man is not permitted to tell (7).
B. This man heard these things as he was raptured (caught up) into the third heaven (paradise). Jews believed there were several degrees of heaven (seven to be exact), which explained why they sometimes referred to Yahweh residing “above the heavens.”
C. Interestingly, Paul tells the story about himself, while writing in the third person. Indeed, it is Paul who had this spectacular revelation, and it was not the Damascus Road experience, but another, entirely separate incident.
3. This extraordinary experience could easily have “puffed Paul up.” This revelation had given him insight and understanding unknown to anyone to whom he writes. Interestingly, and directly connected to this event (or so it seems to Paul), is an affliction that enters his life.
III. PAUL’S THORN: To keep me from becoming conceited . . .
1. There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Strong words from a man of God. In Paul’s mind, this thorn was to prevent him from becoming conceited or boastful about the surpassingly great revelations God had given him.
2. The details of Paul’s thorn are not disclosed in scripture. Whether it was an affliction, or an opponent is unimportant. What is important is that Paul asked God to remove it, and God said ‘No’ In fact, God said no three times.
A. How do you explain that? Paul, perhaps the greatest missionary of all time, being turned down by God on such an important request? After all he has done to spread the gospel! It echoes harshly in our ears; it is inexplicable.
B. That’s the point. We see God’s actions on our terms. On our terms, Paul is entitled to having this thorn taken away from him. God sees it differently:
C. Some in the church at Corinth argued that they had demonstrable gifts that attracted attention to them, making them better suited to represent the ministry of God in Corinth.
D. Paul’s thorn worked just the opposite. Though he had great visions and revelations, the power of his ministry was not in his own charisma, but in God’s power. The benefit of this is obvious. Man’s power is limited; God’s is not. Therefore, God could accomplish his work and will both through Paul and in spite of Paul.