II Corinthians 12:9, "And 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 me."
This morning, we live in a world that goes to extreme lengths to remove discomfort. Most of the innovations in recent memory have been to aid and benefit people's comfort or remove extra work from having to be done. The devices that have come out in my lifetime seem to exponentially change the way life looks. However, one of the very adverse side effects of this sweeping technology is that people have been less and less willing to deal with discomfort and suffering in an honorable way. I remember talking to some of the aged in the church when I was a boy, while they relayed their experience of living through the Great Depression. They detailed their daily activities as they searched for ways and means to simply get the necessities of life like food and clothing. When I asked them about how hard it was, they simply shrugged and said, "We were all in the same boat. We all made it through it. The Lord was merciful to spare us." Their suffering was nothing to moan about – everyone else was in bad shape too – but they were more willing to endure and seek the Lord's face for providential care.
In our study verse, we learn many wonderful things from Paul's experience. He has just relayed his account of being taken up into Paradise or the third heaven. While there, he saw and heard things that he was not able to talk about (unspeakable words), and he was not even authorized to do so (not lawful for a man to utter). However, though he could not talk about it, he remembered it fondly and drew great strength from the experience. Yet, with the firsthand knowledge of what heaven was like, he was not exempt from suffering. He still had like passions as we do, and he still stumbled and fell after that rich experience. Paul then relays his circumstance of enduring a thorn in the flesh – a messenger of Satan – that buffeted him and kept him from glorying to over-exaltation about his experience in heaven. Paul beseeches the Lord three times to remove the thorn, and the answer is given in our verse.
Quite often, we hear people quote this verse, but they only quote the part about God's grace being sufficient. However, Paul illustrates how that is realized to its fullest degree. Grace is realized to its fullest degree through the weakness and feebleness of man. While that application fits on the eternal scale (Christ's grace and strength was made perfect through the depraved and wholly fallen condition of man), Paul's point here pertains more to this time world. God's grace is sufficient for today's trials. However, the realization of that grace (our ability to perceive it and use it) depends greatly on how we see ourselves. The weaker we see ourselves, the stronger we see Him and more fittingly appreciate and use the grace bestowed upon us. His grace takes many forms, but quite often (as it was with Paul), the grace is the strength and comfort to get through things. God never (that Scripture records) took the thorn of Paul's flesh away. However, He gave Paul sufficient strength and comfort to get through life with that thorn. Paul's use of that grace was more and more perfect the weaker and weaker he saw his condition.
However, though most people only quote the first half of this verse, some will actually quote the second part (my strength is made perfect in weakness), but only rarely will someone quote the last portion. It is that portion which grabs us now. Paul was willing to glory in his infirmities that the power of Christ would rest upon him. Now, it should be stated clearly that Paul was not some sort of masochist or sadist that enjoyed suffering and misery. Paul did not delight in the fact that he suffered. Compare his language here with Romans 5:3. In both places, he is glorying in suffering and tribulation, but it would be incorrect to say that Paul was delighting in the miserable situation.
Rather, Paul in Romans 5:3 and our verse is teaching that we have ample reason and opportunity to rejoice and glory in the Lord even in the midst of our suffering, infirmity, and tribulation. We do not glory in problems. We glory in the Lord, even in the midst of problems. However, Paul did say something profound in this statement. Paul said that he would "rather" have infirmities. Wow! Why would anyone say that they would rather have it tough than easy? Paul had learned, knew, and understood that his view of the Gloryworld and affection upon Christ was stronger during tough times. Tough times remind us how weak we are. Our weakness reminds us how strong He is. His strength is more fully realized when our weakness is more fully realized.
Therefore, Paul said that he would rather have it tough so that the power of Christ would rest upon him. If he could feel the rich warmth of God's grace enfolding him during days of infirmity (thorn in the flesh) better than he would by getting relief from personal problems, Paul said he would rather deal with the personal problems. No matter how you slice it, that is a profound thought. Let us put it in today's terms. If you knew that it would bring you closer to God (power of Christ would rest upon you), if you did not have a financial nest egg, comfortable home, good vehicles to drive, and good health, would you desire to give up those things? Paul said he would.
Friends, I do not want anyone to think I am advocating "non-materialism" in this world. However, I do believe that we have many things that stand in our way of the power of Christ resting upon us. A wise old minister from my youth was known to say, "It's hard to preach comfort to people who are already comfortable." The gospel should bring us comfort, and God's abiding presence should bring us comfort as well. Yet, if we are so comfortable from all the things of life, we do not feel to need it. Yet, a little loss, a little suffering, and we get shaken back to the realization that we need Him. May we rather – as Paul did – glory in things that may not be as ideal naturally speaking so that we can get closer to the ideal spiritually speaking. When trouble comes, there are two general reactions we can employ: 1. Complain – Why me? or 2. Pray – Lord help. May we glory in the Lord during times when we feel quite weak and are made to feel and know that His strength and sufficient grace is very near unto us.