(For some reason, this devotional either did not post on Thursday as scheduled or was somehow dropped online.)
I knew a person back in New Jersey who was called of the Lord into ministry, surprising pretty much everyone. He was born illegitimately, with a doctor talking his mother and grandmother out of seeking out an illegal abortion at the well-known place for it at a particular farm along the river. Being adopted into a church-going family, he did meet the Lord through the work of their local church. Getting involved in youth ministry as a teen, he was not one of the boys you’d expect to end up as a pastor … though maybe as a part of the music team … maybe? But he was more than a bit too earthy in speech and over-aggressive in competitive ventures. Yet somehow, while in college, he ended up surprising everyone by excelling in theology and academics, eventually becoming a church pastor.
You get what I did there? Yes, I talked about myself in a third-person fashion, which is what Paul continues to do as we open today to 2 Corinthians chapter 12. As mentioned yesterday, this passage continues the previous thought – Paul “bragging” about his credentials and experiences that did indeed qualify him over the “super-apostle” frauds who had captured the ears of the Corinthians. And again, we’ll see that these “credentials” were of the sort that demonstrated the reality of Christ’s work in and through Paul – using him in spite of his weaknesses. Only God could do this, therefore Paul was validated by the evidence of this divine strength working through him.
Paul mentions an out of the body experience that he had some 14 years earlier. Not knowing the exact nature of it as technically in the body or out of the body, he knew that it was extraordinary. This was before his missionary travels. We might take from this that it involved a preparatory event for Paul’s years of labors yet ahead – years that would be filled with astonishing experiences requiring an extraordinary endurance beyond the lives of others. Clearly, he was chosen for something very special as an apostle to the Gentiles for the great advance of the gospel worldwide.
In any event, it was amazing. A person chosen for this incredible work and given such incredible conversion and preparatory experiences might have moments where he would begin to think, “I really am a pretty big deal!” That would be rather natural.
To remedy this tendency, God in grace gave Paul a reminder as to who was actually in charge and making the great things happen. The Apostle called this his “thorn in the flesh.” Scholars over the years have debated as to what this was. It is rather certain that it involved some sort of physical malady.
A common suggestion is that it was an opthimalic condition that was possibly even a bit grotesque to view. Supporting this is that Paul used others to write his letters, only rarely speaking of something being in his own handwriting in large letters.
Another primary suggestion is that Paul may have had some sort of speech impediment. We’ve read several times in this series about his appearance and oratorical skills not being extraordinary as compared to those especially gifted in this way. Whatever, by natural appearance, he was unimpressive.
The effect of the “thorn” was to keep Paul humble, while also using it to display the power in his words and ministry as sourced in God, not the flesh. It was a principle of life for Paul, that when he was weak, then he became strong IN CHRIST.
There is timeless truth in this big idea for sure. Yes, it is nice for any of us to have natural gifts, whatever they may be. But they aren’t ultimately worth much without the power of God working through them, or better yet, through our weaknesses and frailties. It is therefore a great privilege to be weak and to see God display his strength in and through us.
2 Corinthians 12:1 – I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.