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Summary: God does not always remove affliction, but uses it to reveal his power as we embrace our weakness.

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We’ve been talking this month about suffering, because I know how many of you have been going through difficult things in recent times. (Let me say that if you want a copy of these 7 messages on “Making Sense of Suffering,” sign up on the tape request form on that little desk in the back corner.) Perhaps right now you, or those close to you, are passing through some storm of life that you have pleaded with God to remove, but he has chosen not to. Why? Why wouldn’t a loving God give us relief from crushing trials? Why would he allow us to go through pain and loss, through sickness and deprivation? And you might be wondering how you’re going to make it, because you don’t feel like you’ve got anything left in your tank. Its so important at times like this to get God’s perspective on things. As we look into God’s word, at the experience of the apostle Paul, I want to encourage you that God does not always remove affliction, but uses it to reveal his power as we embrace our weakness.

I. GOD’S PURPOSE IS FULFILLED THROUGH SUFFERING (7-8)

“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. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”

A. GOD ALLOWED THE APOSTLE PAUL TO UNDERGO AFFLICTION

1. let’s look at verses 1-6 for a moment to understand why

a. context: Paul defending himself against certain opponents

- people who had gone to Corinth after him

= who were trying to undermine his ministry

- they claimed to be “super-apostles”: higher / better than him

= with more authority from God than he had

- one evidence they gave to establish their credentials…

= the great visions and revelations they claimed to have

b. thus (1), Paul says: “I must go on boasting”

- he doesn’t want to have to toot his own horn

= but his detractors have forced him to talk about his experiences

c. when he says “I know a man” (2): he’s talking about himself

- but he is reticent to draw attention to this experience he had

= because he is trying to report his experience

= while at the same time not drawing attention to it

- he was caught up in some kind of visionary experience to 3rd heaven

= this doesn’t mean the Celestial Kingdom

= in the Greek world: three levels of the heavens

= the atmosphere; the stars above; the abode of God

= he was given a vision of the dwelling place of God

d. unlike some preachers and personalities today…

- Paul refused to call attention to his extraordinary experience

= that’s why he gives almost no details about the vision

- even though he had lived among the Corinthians for almost 2 years…

= it appears: he had never spoken of this experience that whole time

- but now he has to

= because the Corinthian believers are in danger of being led astray

- the tension is: he has to bolster his own credibility for their sake

= but he doesn’t want to boast about what he has seen / experienced

e. (6): he didn’t want anyone to measure him based on anything…

- but by his words and actions alone

Understanding that background, we can see…

2. God’s immediate purpose for the trials in Paul’s life

a. (7) = “to keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations”

- for Paul, the visions he received created a spiritual danger in his life

- the incredible nature of what he experienced

= coupled with Paul’s own natural giftedness / abilities

= created the conditions for spiritual pride / arrogance

b. God acted to keep Paul humble

- by allowing him to be afflicted

B. NOBODY REALLY KNOWS WHAT PAUL’S AFFLICTION WAS

1. (7): “a thorn in the flesh”

a. there has been tremendous debate about what this is

- a “thorn” is sharp and causes pain

= this implies: the torment had to do with physical infirmity

- I believe probably a permanent personal illness of some kind

= one early tradition suggested that Paul suffered from debilitating migraine headaches

= but that’s mere speculation

b. because he isn’t interested in telling us the details

- only the significance of his affliction

2. (7) also: “a messenger of Satan”

a. in some way, the affliction was sent by Satan

- but at the same time, given by God as part of his purpose

b. what this demonstrates: Satan may try to throw things at you

- but if he does, it can only be because God allows it

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