And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 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. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. — 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
The apostle Paul wrote those words just after he was caught up into the heavenly realm and heard things that cannot be told. I’m struck by two things as I read this passage.
- God is sovereign over our trials.
- God’s grace is sufficient during our trials.
Paul was given ‘a thorn in the flesh’. We don’t know what this was, but we do know it wasn’t beyond God’s control. The text says it was a messenger of Satan to harass Paul. Immediately I think of the story of Job. God allowed Satan to attack Job, his family, and his property, but all within the scope of God’s rule and dominion. Satan was permitted to go so far when dealing with Job.
Paul’s thorn may have come by means of Satan, but it wasn’t outside of God’s control. The text doesn’t tell us God gave Satan permission the same way we are told about what happened to Job, but we do know God allowed it for His purposes because Paul tell us the thorn was given to keep him from being too conceited. Satan isn’t concerned with Paul NOT being conceited, so this must be the work of God, or, at least, allowed by God for His purposes.
Although we don’t know what the ‘thorn’ was, Paul goes on to highlight other trials he had suffered. In verse 10 he speaks of infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses. If you study the life of Paul, you find this list is short. He suffered many things.
By citing these in the same passage as the thorn, Paul is saying these things also serve the sovereign purpose of God. In fact, he tells the reader that he suffers these things ‘for the sake of Christ.’ So, God has a purpose in Paul’s suffering. In Philippians 1 Paul says it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard that his imprisonment was for Christ. All of Paul’s sufferings serve a purpose – some advance the Gospel, some teach him humility, some teach him to find satisfaction in God alone no matter his circumstances.
What do you think the purpose of your current trials are? What is God doing in your life? Is he showing forth His power in your weakness? Do you believe your trials are under His control?
Be assured, trials are as much ordained for you as those of Job and Paul.
Paul knows his trials are ordained for him because he pleaded three times with the Lord about the thorn. God gave an answer in verse 9, “My grace is sufficient for thee…” We may not hear directly from God as Paul did, but we can have just as much certainty that our trials serve God’s purposes. God’s grace is sufficient for you and me and the trials we face today.
Do you see what God is telling you from Paul’s letter. In this text, the living Word of God, the Holy Spirit is saying, “God is sovereign over your life, He hasn’t abandoned you, He hasn’t given up on you, in fact, your trials are evidence that he is working in and through you – for your good and His exaltation.”
Some things can only be learned, truly learned and understood, by being there and going through the situation. We all know the phrase, “You had to be there.” The sufficiency of God’s grace through trials functions this way – you have to experience it to really understand. We can read it in the text, we can even teach it, but until we have pleaded with God and wrestled with our own hearts we can’t know God’s sustaining grace.
This may be one reason God allows our suffering – it is a means of allowing us to know Him intimately as Sustainer, Provider, Comforter. The only way we can know God’s comforting grace is to first be uncomfortable. The only way we can appreciate God’s provision is to find ourselves in need and then see God provide.
But God’s grace doesn’t always come in the form of physical, tangible help. This is part of the lesson Paul learned. To the person who has learned God’s grace, it provides more security than a full pantry, a large bank account, or a perfectly healthy body.
God’s sufficient grace sustains weak people, not by giving them power or strength, but by highlighting the power of God and directing us to rely on Him. God told Paul, “my strength (God’s strength) is made perfect in weakness.” Paul says, therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses. Paul doesn’t say God would strengthen him and therefore Paul would have reason to boast. No, Paul will boast, even when remaining weak, because in his weakness the power of Christ rest upon him (verse 9).
True suffering is to suffer a soul which doubts the sovereignty of God, or a heart which doesn’t trust Christ in the midst of trials. True suffering is to suffer in this world and not learn or understand God’s all-sufficient grace. Paul pleaded three times and then heard from God and yielded to God’s will. We mentally know God’s grace is sufficient, but until we yield to the sovereign purposes of God, we will struggle to understand God’s grace.
The ultimate example of yielding to God’s purposes is found in the story of Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26). Christ, like Paul, pleaded with the Father three times. Christ yielded to the Father’s will; the cross was the result. The suffering of Christ served the pinnacle of God’s purposes.
God was sovereign over Paul’s trials and over Christ crucifixion; God is sovereign over our trials as well. God’s grace was enough for Paul and you can trust that God’s grace is sufficient for the trials you are enduring today.