- Sermon Notes
Facing Troubles With Grace
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
July 31, 2022
Illustration – There was a ship out at sea caught up in a storm.
God allows bad things to happen to good people. He doesn’t cause it, but He allows it. An oxymoron since the Bible says there is no one good and those things can happen.
Romans 3:10, as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;
Psalm 14:3, They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.
Troubles can happen to those in fellowship with God or to those who are already suffering from hardship.
No doubt you’ve had this experience in sharing your faith.
If only bad things happened to bad people and not good and righteous people, perhaps that might be an incentive for some people to believe they would say.
Enter the Apostle Paul; godly, righteous, courageous, bold, honest, faithful, preached Christ, he took up collections for the poor, yet God allowed him to suffer.
He refers to it in our text as his thorn in the flesh; some painful experience he had. He says he prayed three-times, that God would remove it, but God did not respond.
Are you facing troubled times, they don’t always happen when you expect them do they? They are not something you pray for. And sometimes they knock you down a bit and your faith suffers. Troubles are sometimes an affront to your experience with God. We want Him to heal, to soothe our pain, to bring blessings. And sometimes He does that, but not always.
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
I. God Works All Things For Good
This is a great principle and counterintuitive to all that we would normally think.
The natural way of thinking is that God would look for the ultra-talented, the ultra-beautiful, the ultra-powerful and use them.
But no, God is more concerned about the heart. The person who is filled up with himself isn’t much use to God.
Your life and my life – filled with positives and negatives. Those things you expect to see, the positives. But life also has some negatives, not what you expect and often we meet those troubles with unwelcome arms. But we have the manual.
Romans 8:28, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
I have three observations to share with you from our text. And an experience unique to Paul, his thorn experience.
- God blesses us with positives
- God balances us with negatives
- God benefits us with directives
A. God blesses us with positives
Let’s begin with a positive.
Paul mentions a 3rd heaven, many understandably become confused by that, the text might seem a bit obscure and confusing but scholars agree that Paul is actually talking about himself here, but in the 3rd person.
A typical rabbinical way, an autobiographical way, to talk about oneself without boasting.
B. There is glory in obedience
God talked to him verbally and he saw visions for directions, seldom in our lives, but Paul, had supernatural visions.
- Acts 9, road to Damascus, his conversion experience.
- Acts 16, on the beach at Troas – the vision from the man from Macedonia.
- Acts 18 in Corinth, facing opposition, very difficult – he gets a vision from the Lord telling him don’t hold back,
Acts 18:9-10, And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
Later in Jerusalem, Jesus says be of good cheer Paul, you testified of me in Jerusalem, so you must testify of me in Rome.
He was a prisoner the next two years, then shipped off to Rome where he encounters a storm at sea. An Angel appears to Paul and says, do not be afraid, you will see Caesar. God has granted you and those with you your lives.
(v4) Here, Paul gets taken up to heaven, he tells us that, he sees things, but he doesn’t tell us anything.
Being able to articulate in words something wonderful to others who haven’t seen it is perhaps too much to ask. It’s like explaining to a child the wonders of a Godly marriage?
What is the 3rd heaven he saw?
#1 – Terrestrial, the heaven around earth where birds fly – 62 miles deep before space.
#2 – Celestial heaven – the atmosphere, then outer space – planets, sun and moon.
Psalm 19:1, The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
#3 – 3rd heaven – where God’s glory dwells in it’s fullness
Paul calls the 3rd heaven another word, “paradise” and “caught up” means to happen instantly. In Revelation 2, Jesus used that word, paradise, to describe where the tree of life was located.
Paul is saying I had the honor by the King to be Raptured/whisk away by the King into heaven.
Most people who would experience such things write books, make movies, tell everyone and become famous.
We don’t hear about Paul’s experience until 14 years later when we learn about it from him without any details. It’s not to be a source of pride, but God used this to humble him.
C. God balances us with negatives
What is this thorn in the flesh?
Nobody really knows – lots of guesses by famous writers and commentators. Here’s a few:
Constant temptation Epilepsy Migraines
Speech challenges Gout Malaria
What do you think of when you see that word in scripture, a thorn? Greek word is skelos.
Translated means stake, a stake in the flesh. Picture impaled in the flesh, more violent. Don’t think of something small like a splinter. Paul is describing a nagging painful irritation I believe.
The guess I most closely agree, it had to do with his eyes.
Galatians 6:11, see with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
Galatians 4:13-14, but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.
D. Weakness builds strength
But very important is his comment, a thorn was given to me. In the Greek this is a passive comment, God gave this to me as a gift, I did not ask for it.
Then, a messenger of Satan sent to harass me. I know some would say, God would never do that, He would not allow Satan to do that. Really? How about the book of Job.
God could have allowed it to grow Paul’s faith. Like Job, God and Satan were at work but with two different purposes. Satan wanted to destroy and God wanted to develop Paul.
Illustration – Poisons
Paul says, “a thorn was given to me.”
He is experiencing something difficult, hard, troubles, but with God’s grace. What does he do? He prays.
II. Be thankful for the thorns
Paul pleaded with the Lord that the thorn might depart from him. He thought this can’t be the will of God.
Exactly what we do when something hurts us. Lord remove the pain. Our premise; I can live a better life and serve better if this distraction wasn’t here.
If only my body was stronger…
If only my husband wouldn’t…
If only my wife wouldn’t…
If only I didn’t have to work with this person…
Lord, if you would remove this thorn, I would be much better.
We pray and then pray again. Then with more faith, we bring in our friends to pray. The Bible says, God rewards persistent prayer.
But notice, with Paul, a time came he stopped praying after three times to take the thorn away. Why?
We don’t know. Perhaps he remembered his own savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, had his own pain in the Garden of Gethsemane. Father not my will but your will be done.
Paul figured out God had a purpose in this pain.
God knows how to balance out your life. If you only received blessings, you would be spoiled; from miracle to mountaintop. There would be no growth through suffering, no way to identify with others.
Job, after losing everything he said to his wife, shall we expect good from God and not accept adversity?
Job 2:9-10, Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Would you agree afflictions make times of blessings more enjoyable? If only on mountain tops you can’t appreciate the mountaintop because you wouldn’t know the valleys.
Paul changed, from how to get out of this trouble to WHAT can I get out of this trouble. God’s will is worth the journey. A new filter for us to see our troubles through.
Some of you have suffered chronic pain almost, if not, daily and many of you have learned to appreciate all that God gives you despite your suffering.
A. God benefits us with directives
He gives us principles that sustain us. Is He taking pleasure in this pain? No, read the verses again; for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, I am strong.
Follow the thinking here;
(v9) “He” said to me – God said My grace is sufficient.
(v8) Paul speaking to God, I pleaded with God three-times. But isn’t the message to us from v9 infinitely more important?
He’s giving direction here; my grace is sufficient.
God said, my grace is all you need Paul.
God gave Paul a directive. That directive is also meant for us; His grace is sufficient!
You are thinking, God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer. Yes He did, no is an answer. Parents, how many times have you told your children, no? Was that an answer, did it also mean I love you?
Not the answer Paul wanted I’m sure, but God said something better; my grace is sufficient for you. Paul, my favor allows you to endure the thorn in your flesh.
B. The privilege of showcasing God’s grace
We live in a fallen world, evil is all around us, we experience the effect of that every day. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to His kids, but He doesn’t prevent bad things from happening either. In fact, He uses them. God doesn’t step in to keep the effects of creation from happening. God lets trials happen to Christians just like unbelievers.
Matthew 5:45, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Why? So the superiority of the life lived in God can be demonstrated to the observer. We show unbelievers what it means to draw on God’s resources and how to suffer better.
It gives you an entirely different lens to view trials through and a motivation to endure suffering.
2 Corinthians 1:4, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Some people are bitter at life or battered by life. They are mad at everyone. And Some really do get better.
Perhaps you’ve come this evening with a thorn in your flesh, an affliction in your life? God wants to remind you He is really good at making a positive from a negative. But you have to trust Him and He will help you get through it.
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 [b]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 [c]about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with [d]insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.