- Sermon Notes
Power in Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:1-15
In this last section of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, he’s addressing a problem of great concern to him personally. Paul planted that church and many of the churches in the areas of Asia minor, Greece, Achaia, and Macedonia, but some Jews were going around to the churches teaching the people that if they wanted a right relationship to God, they needed to follow all the Jewish laws, become circumcised, and take on every other aspect of Judaism.
Apparently, they came in bold and brash, arrogantly bragging about their credentials as Jews, but at the same time throwing Paul under the bus by saying that Paul was of the flesh because his gospel of grace only encouraged people into fleshly living. They couldn’t have been more wrong and Paul is incensed that they would come into the churches he planted and disrupt their spiritual growth by trying to drag them back into legalism.
Not only that, they were taking advantage of the churches by taking up offerings for themselves. That was too much, Paul takes them on with some very strong words. This is actually a problem in many parts of the world today. The modern pastors in Nigeria and many countries in Africa, including the DRC are making big business out of using the same approach; flamboyant and braggadocious, they take advantage of the church taking millions for themselves.
This is a spiritual battle, Paul wrote, but the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, they are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.
He also wrote, “But he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord. For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.” And then later in chapter 11, “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
Then, in an interesting turn, Paul does some boasting himself. But what does he boast about? He boasts about his weaknesses, the distresses, the persecutions, and the difficulties he suffered for the sake of Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:22-30
But this is where we see Paul’s faith and gain a great insight into what it means to see God’s strength, God’s power, and God’s provision in our lives.
I. Power is Perfected in Weakness
- This is a great principle and counterintuitive to all that we would normally think. You would think that God would take power and expound on it.
- The natural way of thinking is that God would look for the ultra-talented, the ultra-beautiful, the ultra-powerful and use them.
- No, God is more concerned about the heart. The person who is filled up with himself isn’t much use to God.
2 Samuel 16:7, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
- Jesus Himself was born in the humblest of circumstances. Born in a stable, laid in a manger, surrounded by poverty.
- From this chapter we see that God even sees to it that we don’t exalt ourselves.
A. He who exalts himself will be humbled
- This is a spiritual principle that we see in several places of scripture. Here’s one example…
Luke 14:11, Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
- Paul said in verse 7 that because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations Paul received, to keep him from exalting himself, there was given a thorn in his flesh. We’re not sure exactly what this might be.
- When we hear the word ‘thorn’ we think of a thorn from a rosebush or something similar, but the word in Greek is actually used for tent peg. It was serious.
- Interestingly, Paul says that the thorn in his flesh was a messenger of Satan. That, no doubt, is a surprise to many. Which reminds me of a story.
Illus - During the Great Depression there were two cabins next to each other some distance out of town. In one lived a crotchety old man who was an atheist. In the other was an old woman who was a devout Christian…
- In other words, though it was from Satan, God allowed it to remain because it served the purpose of preventing spiritual pride. And pride is one of the greatest obstacles to true spiritual maturity.
- God will find a way to keep us humble…
Illus - A young preacher was invited to give a message on a special occasion and God richly blessed the message and it had a great impact. Afterwards, going home with his wife, evidently enjoying himself in his own heart, said, “I wonder how many great preachers there are in the world?” His wife replied dryly, “Probably one less than you think!” God knows how to keep us humble.
B. God’s grace is sufficient
- Three times Paul asked, no, he entreated three times that the thorn in his flesh would leave him.
- God’s answer to Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” In other words, God wanted this weakness to remain so that Paul would see the sufficiency of grace.
Illus - Jacob insisted on doing things by his own clever sufficiency. But his manipulations only came back to bite him - and hard. God determined to use him, but he had to be humbled. One night, God sent an angel who wrestled with Jacob until daybreak. He could have defeated him in three seconds, but God let him wrestle all night. As light dawned, the angel dislocated his hip and still Jacob wouldn’t let go, saying, “I won’t let go unless you bless me.” The angel then said, “What is your name?...”
- Sometimes we have to come to the end of ourselves and accept that the grace of God is sufficient.
- Paul’s prayer was not answered the way he desired, but Paul was content with the answer. This is a key to spiritual maturity. Can we accept that God may have a purpose for difficult things?
- God may withhold something we strongly desire in order to give us something that’s much better.
1 Corinthians 3:4-5, Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves… Our adequacy is from God.
C. There is glory in weakness
- Verse 9 - I would rather boast about my weaknesses, Paul wrote, than about my strengths.
- These false apostles were boasting about their accomplishments and commending themselves; they were probably bragging about how they were living by the letter of the law.
- There’s no strength in that, Paul is saying, the more you glory in yourself, the less God’s strength is there. Paul is saying that the opposite is true; he would rather boast of his weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in him.
- Power is perfected in weakness.
Psalm 73:26, 28, My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. As for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.
Illus - One of the most powerful illustrations I have ever known is that of Nic Vuijicic. Born without arms or legs, he struggled with depression and loneliness, questioning the purpose of life or if he even had a purpose. It was his faith in God that gave him purpose in life. Nick says, “If God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet, then He will certainly use any willing heart!” Millions have heard the gospel.
- The key is understanding this principle. Our pride and self-sufficiency get in the way when there is difficulty or weakness. People get angry with God when He doesn’t empower their self-sufficiency, but if we could only understand that these are opportunities for God to demonstrate His provision.
Luke 9:24, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. What is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits his soul?”
Illus - When we were going through bible school and ran out of money for food, I actually became excited, anticipating that God would do something.
II. Be Content in Weaknesses
- Verse 10 - therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, etc.
- Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not a sinful weakness. We can’t say, “The thorn in my flesh is weakness for chocolate and God hasn’t removed this thorn, so I must learn to be content.” No, it’s troubles in life.
- It’s often times our attitude about these difficulties that gets in the way. Paul knows that God can use these things to manifest His glory and His power, so he is well content with them.
- There are many, many people who would give up at the first sign of distress. This is a life lesson for all of us. Don’t let these troubles discourage or dishearten you, God is using them to shape your life and to manifest His power.
A. “When I am weak, then I am strong”
- Not only does Paul not get discouraged by all the troubles he endured, he saw them as a way for God to demonstrate His power.
Philippians 4:11-13, I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going the hungry, of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
- The secret of being content is knowing that God is the strength of your life and that you can do all things through Him.
- The people of greatest spiritual impact were often those who suffered and endured through many of life’s trials and troubles.
Illus – Joseph received great promises that God would use him in high and glorious places, but then spent many years suffering; betrayed by his brothers, sold as a slave into Egypt, betrayed by the man’s wife, held in prison falsely accused, but God used it all in his life.
Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
- The key is faith; knowing that God uses our troubles, we are even content in them, looking for God to demonstrate His power.
- I said many times before that if you believe God brings beauty out of ashes, then you’ll be watching and waiting for God to move. If you do not believe, you won’t be looking and you’ll be left with ashes.
2 Chronicles 16:9, The eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the whole earth in order to show Himself strong in behalf of those whose hearts are completely His.
- Paul would never take advantage of this church that he planted himself. He saw them as his own children.
- “I don’t seek what’s yours, but you,” Paul wrote.
- The same is true of God, He wants your heart and He wants to pour Himself into your life to bless and edify. He spent freely by offering Himself.
2 Corinthians 8:9, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
- Paul is giving us a great example of a life that follows after Christ and willingly spends and is spent to bless those around him.
- Paul’s motive is love. When you love you spend and give of yourself. Love is what makes us something. God is love and the more you draw near to Him, the more you also love.
1 Corinthians 13:2, If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Luke 6:45, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; …for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”
- Love is its own reward. You love simply because it’s the condition of your heart. Love delights to give itself away; that’s the nature of God Himself.
- Wouldn’t it be wonderful to look back on your life and know that you spent your life well?
2 Corinthians 12:1-15 NASB
1 Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago-whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows-such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know how such a man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows- 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. 5 On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. 6 For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.
7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
11 I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. 13 For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
14 Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?