Sunday, July 29, 2012
ďAnd he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon meĒ (2†Cor. 12:9).
Scripture Reading: 2†Corinthians 12:7-10
Today we will consider a strange paradox in Godís Word. A paradox may be defined as ďan assertion seemingly contradictory, or opposed to common sense, but that yet may be true in fact.Ē Jesus used paradoxes in many of his teachings: the first will be last, the servant will be made ruler, he who dies to self will live, and others. The paradox that we will focus on today is Godís strength made perfect in weakness, or conquest in calamity.
Our text finds a great man of God in deep trouble. Hardship and disappointment all but overwhelmed him. For awhile, even his prayers seemed to bring him only frustration. But through prayer and self-surrender, he came to the place where he was glad to suffer if that meant that the power of Christ would rest on him in a unique way.
1) Conquest in calamity occurs when a suffering person experiences Godís all-sufficient grace.
A suffering person experiences Godís grace to be sufficient for his sins. For someone to know Godís grace, he must understand that he is totally unworthy. There is nothing he can do to make himself deserving. His sinful nature disqualifies him from earning his way to a right relationship with God. As a sinner, a person loves darkness rather than light. One is drawn into sin by his own lust. There is none that is good without Godís grace. People are self-righteous, prejudiced, irritable, cutting, unkind, dishonest, greedy, hateful, selfish, and lustful. Paul had long since known that this was the kind of man he was without Godís grace. Paul came to know that only Godís grace was sufficient to lift him out of his weaknesses and sin.
A suffering person experiences Godís grace to be sufficient for his troubles. Paul found himself to be a victim of Satan. We do not know for certain what the ďthorn in the fleshĒ was, but we do know that it was a malady that was humiliating, agonizing, incurable, and so terrible that he describes it as devilish. In anguish Paul sought the Lord on three different occasions, earnestly begging that the disease be taken from him.
When Godís answer came, it did not come in the form of deliverance from suffering, but in a promise of sustaining grace and a statement of divine purpose. Paul was assured that divine power is made manifest in the time of human need. The reply came in such a way that Paul knew that his pain would always be with him. God said to him, ďMy grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.Ē Paul experienced Godís grace to be sufficient for his troubles.
2) Conquest in calamity occurs when a suffering person allows Godís strength to be made perfect in him.
Godís strength is made perfect through continuing prayer. Paul continued in prayer regarding the ďthorn in the flesh.Ē He earnestly prayed that God would remove the terrible malady. The first and second sessions of prayer brought no answer. He was persistent at the throne of grace. He did not stop until he received the desire of God. When Paulís answer came, he stopped asking.
If we are to find Godís strength made perfect in our lives, we must continue in prayer. The Scriptures indicate that those who seek, find; to those who ask, it will be given; and to those who knock, it will be opened. Jesus indicates that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. In the Old Testament, Jacob gave us an example by wrestling with Godís messenger until the blessings came.
Godís strength is made perfect through accepting his answer. Godís answer may be revealed positively and immediately. When Peter was walking on the water to meet the Savior, he fell into a desperate calamity. Upon hearing Peterís cry of distress, Jesus stretched forth his hand and immediately saved Peter (Matt. 14:22-36). Often God responds to our prayers immediately. In his wisdom, he sees no necessity for our waiting. There are times when he replies in the positive and he gives us the request of our heart. Before our eyes his miracles of answered prayer become realities in our lives.
But sometimes Godís answer is revealed negatively or slowly. Paulís answer from God did not come until he had made his entreaty three times. There will be times when God, in his wisdom, will see that it is best for us to come to him many times with the same prayer request. He has asked us to keep coming to the throne of grace until he gives the answer. When the answer comes, he expects us to be satisfied with his wisdom.
The answer Paul received was clearly negative. God promised that the pain and suffering would never be removed. However, God assured Paul that divine power would be magnified in the occasion of human suffering.
Godís strength is made perfect through gladly accepting oneís weaknesses. When Paul realized that Godís power shows up best in human weakness, he triumphantly cried, ďI will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christís power may rest on me. That is why, for Christís sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strongĒ (2†Cor. 12:9-10 NIV).
This extreme commitment of Paul was no pretense. He verified it with his life. After he and Silas had been cruelly beaten, thrown into the Philippian jail, and locked in stocks, they began singing praises to God for his counting them worthy to suffer for his sake. They gloried in their suffering for Jesusí sake. It is not surprising that following their praise to God, the prison doors were miraculously opened. Not only were they set free, but an entire family received Christ as Lord and Savior.
While in prison in Rome, Paul wrote to the Philippian church: ďRejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! . .Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Ē (Phil. 4:4, 6-7 NIV).
Paulís life was a demonstration of how Godís strength is made perfect in human weakness and suffering. It was from a prison that he wrote: ďI have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strengthĒ (Phil. 4:11-13 NIV).
Godís own Son knew the disappointment of desertion, the heartbreak of betrayal, the blasphemy of unlawful trials, the wounds of a biting whip, the mockery of a crown of thorns, the curses of ridiculing tongues, the shame of a naked death, the agony of being nailed to a cross, and the punishment of humankindís horrible sin. He anticipated all of this in the garden of Gethsemane. He cried, ďO my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wiltĒ (Matt. 26:39).
Now in Conclusion
In our pain, sorrow, agony, heartache, disappointment, poverty, trouble, and incapabilities, we must come to pray, ďYour will be done.Ē
Occasionally in life we meet a person who has an incurable disease or a twisted body causing profound suffering, yet paradoxically seen within that person is a consistently radiant and selfless life through faith in Jesus Christ. This is conquest in calamity.
God bless you all, Pastor Mike