2 Corinthians 12:7-10
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.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
This is a pretty familiar portion of the Declaration of Independence that our nation’s founding fathers signed on July 4th, 1776. It’s still something that we value very much today.
First, we want to live. And it’s not just life that we want. We won’t settle for little huts, walking down to the river for water, wearing the same cloths every day, and eating the same food all the time. We want life, a life of endless opportunities. We want a life where our day to day necessities are what the rest of the world would call lavish luxuries.
Second, we want freedom. We have so much freedom I’m not sure our brains could even process what it would be like to be in complete servitude, to be put under someone else unwillingly. We have freedom to be able to pick our own jobs, our own houses, our own friends, our own religions and so much more. We want all these freedoms because it makes us feel like we are in control.
Third, we want to be happy, or at least the ability to pursue what will make us happy. And that happiness will be different for everyone. But this country is all about making myself happy. If something, like meat for example, makes me happy, then I should be able to get meat and eat it. And if somehow you don’t like meat, then you should be able to go places where you don’t have to eat meat. America provides what makes people happy.
These things make America what it is. You can say what you want about politics or whatever else is potentially irritating to you, but America is pretty good at giving life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
What if I told you that all those delightful things that so many, many people in America call rights were no longer beneficial for you? What if I said that a nice cushy life wasn’t in the cards, that you would not have freedom to make your own choices, and that you could no longer pursue so vigorously the things that make you happy? What if I told you that you would live where none of those things would be easily accessible? In fact, what if none of those things would be available at all? What if the only thing you could expect were the things mentioned here in 2 Corinthians 12: weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties?
Would you boast about that kind of life? Would you be happy?
I think not! Because this is America. This is where we want life, liberty, and the pursuit of my own personal happiness. If anything gets in the way of that, it’s unacceptable. That’s when we start looking for targets. Because the reason I don’t have the life I want, the freedom from all the garbage, and the constant happiness that must be mine could not possibly be my doing. It could not be something in me. The weakness has to be outside. If anything is wrong, it’s because of something or someone else.
Maybe it has to be the government. It has to be those detached, delusional villains who don’t care about us. They just want their power, to rest on their laurels. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep their position. They are taking the liberties and the happiness that we want.
Or maybe the weakness is coming from those around me. Some friends never do anything for you except for accepting your invitations and goodwill. Some family members are willing to take all your encouragement, all your motivation, all your compassion, and all of your assistance but are never willing to reciprocate back to you. It’s almost like they are sucking the life and the pursuit of happiness right out of you.
Or maybe the weakness is caused by my enemies. They are secretly or not so secretly trying to secure my downfall. They want me to deal with stress. They want me to put up with insults. They love to cause hardships and difficulties.
Do you know what it’s called when you think the weakness is with everyone else, that you are the strong one, when everyone can reach the level to which you have risen? Conceit. It’s that exalted life that we love so much in America. It’s putting all the weaknesses on someone else and taking all the strength and the praise for yourself.
The Apostle Paul was an amazing man. He had personally seen Jesus risen from the dead. That changed him into the missionary we know. He had personally learned the gospel from Jesus himself. He had personally carried that gospel message to people all over the Mediterranean world. He had personally found the courage to make it through all sorts of challenges to continue God’s mission work. If anyone could be praised as the prime example of a Christian, it was Paul. If anyone could find the strength and resolve to be the best witness for Christ, it was Paul. If anyone could brag about his stories and his life, it was Paul.
God didn’t want Paul to be conceited, so God himself allowed a messenger of Satan to afflict and torment Paul. The weakness was not from someone or something else. It was a thorn in the flesh, an illness, a disease, a disadvantage that Paul could not get rid of. He had to deal with the fact that he had a weakness.
He tells us that on three separate occasions he pleaded with the Lord to remove this weakness. That’s a great thing to do. If there are problems and burdens that you are facing, take it to the Lord in prayer. If Jesus himself felt it important and necessary to take breaks often and spend time in prayer with his Father, then it’s good for you, too. It is a way to leave everything with the only one who can take away problems and give you the strength to face each situation with his peace and joy.
It’s just that the Lord might not give you the answer that you want him to. He knows what is going to be good for your faith and for your eternity. He knows that light and momentary hardships cannot compare to the eternal glory that far outweighs any pain we experience on earth. He knows that sometimes you need to be weak.
This is what our gracious Father says to Paul about his weakness. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Sometimes we need to be weak so we can see that someone else is stronger. Sometimes we need to have weaknesses so that we stop trying to pursue our own sinful kind of life, liberty, and happiness and simply enjoy the love and forgiveness of God. In fact, it’s not just sometimes that we need that. We need God’s grace and his power all the time.
See that’s where delight really happens. It happens when I know someone else is looking out for me and that I don’t have to look out for myself. It happens when I stop trying to pin the weaknesses on others and start relying on God’s strength. It happens when I see all the weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties as blessings that keep me close to a God who loves me and gave himself up for me. Only when I am brought down so low, can I look up and see someone so high and powerful.
And that’s what Jesus came to do. He sank so low, so that he could bring you and me up so high, as high as the heavens are above the earth. He was put into the weakest positions: born in a barn, tempted relentlessly, publicly discredited, arrested unfairly, accused untruthfully, killed innocently. He faced the worst so that you and I could have the best. When he was exalted, it shows us where we will be when we are with him forever.
These weakness that we have now are such a blessing, are such a delight for us for a couple reasons. One, they will never be the kind of difficulties that we deserve. We deserve death and hell, but God in his grace will not give any of that punishment to those who believe in Jesus. Two, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
People often pray when there is a disaster, a health scare, a financial crash, a family emergency. They see the trouble and they look to God for help. That’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for our relationship with God. It’s a good thing for our faith. When life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not going too well, then God’s grace and power is needed.
So because he loves us so much, God allows the weaknesses to pop up in your life so that your eyes and prayers are directed where they need to be. It’s not just a few days of the year that we need this reminder. It is every day and all day. We have total and complete dependence on Jesus every single second of the day. If you need an ouchie, an illness or a disease to recognize that, then thank God he was there to give it to you and to get you through it. If you need a rude neighbor, a needy friend, a brazen child to get you on your knees is prayer, then thank God he was there to give them to you and to get you through it. If you need a completely chaotic political situation to see that no country can provide what God’s eternal home can, then thank God he was there to give it to you and to get you through it.
Peace is found in God’s grace and his power, and that’s why the Apostle Paul could say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” If the power of Christ rests on you, your doing pretty good. Because that power forgives sin, destroys death, protects against Satan, and opens the door to your heavenly home.
My brothers and sisters, be thankful for the country we have. But even more, be thankful for the weaknesses you have. Be thankful that you have God’s all-sufficient grace and his almighty power. Be thankful that when you are weak, he is strong. Amen.