Grace and Weakness: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
I’m amazed at what this passage is really talking about, and sometimes it seems only those who have actually gone through some intense suffering are able to comprehend what Paul is claiming here. It’s accepted among most biblical scholars that the person Paul refers to in v.2-5 is Paul himself, when he speaks of this man who was caught up in paradise. Paul was given a glimpse of what every Christian desires – heaven. We don’t have much detail of what that experience was like, except that it was inexpressible. In other words, there were no words that Paul could utter or conceive of, that would explain what that experience would be like. This seems to be in line with what most Christians feel when they try to explain what it was like when they experienced God, most of the time we are at a loss for words.
We see in v.5 that Paul says he would boast about such a man, but he only wants to boast about his weaknesses. It’s pretty clear that this experience of paradise was so intense, so amazing, that Paul writes that if he were to boast about anything – this is what he would boast about. Yet even though it was he who went through that amazing heavenly revelation, Paul will speak only about his weakness. Why? Before we get to that, consider what’s going on in here. If someone went through an experience of paradise – given by God himself, wouldn’t it seem logical for that person to share that revelation with as many people as possible? After all, isn’t it our desire to know what heaven is really like – imagine someone with as much spiritual influence as Paul being able to represent what it was like to see heaven? Imagine how encouraging that would be. Yet, Paul is clear. He doesn’t want to speak about that. He reveals himself in v. 6, saying that if he chose to speak about this amazing experience he wouldn’t be a fool b/c he would be speaking the truth and it was Paul’s sincere desire to encourage others. Yet, why then does he not speak about this revelation about heaven itself?
His answer is in v. 6, ‘But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say’. In other words, even though Paul had special access to God via this special revelation he didn’t want to even speak of this experience, knowing full well that it wouldn’t be boasting since he would be speaking the truth. Now, these words don’t come from any Joe but from an apostle – someone whom Christ approached in a vision, someone who was to be God’s representative to the world, someone who was affirmed as an apostle of Christ by those who had lived and were taught by Jesus himself, someone who wrote most of the New Testament – in other words, the revelation came to someone who was qualified in every way to share that revelation with others.
Here we get to the thrust of his message. He, though qualified in every way a human could be qualified to represent Christ, he was given a thorn in his flesh to torment him. Some scholars claim that this torment was his bad eyesight, other scholars claim the torment was his family leaving him – particularly his wife and children. (According to a bunch of scholars, Paul was most likely married and had children – or else he most likely wouldn’t have been accepted as a rabbi.) So Paul prays for the Lord to take this tormenting thorn away from him, v.8. God answers this way: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. God was teaching Paul, that unless Paul – however qualified – was made as weak as possible, that Christ’s power would not be upon him. How can one delight in weakness? It is because this weakness is what gives us strength, for when we are weak we can’t rely on what we have – we completely rely on others when we are really weak. This is precisely why Paul says in v.10 that when he is weak, that’s when he is really strong since he has to constantly rely on God – this is where God’s power works.
I think about what this passage means, and if someone as qualified as Paul is afraid and will not speak about something as wonderfully good as a revelation of paradise, what can I speak about? I’ve often prayed about why it is that those of us who have a strong desire to serve God, that we often are the weakest of them all. The only answer is what the Lord tells Paul here, that God’s grace is sufficient in anything and everything. I think about how ill prepared I am, how unqualified I am to enter into the task of sharing the gospel – making disciples of all nations. How can I even consider that, when I have a hard enough time making disciples in my own nation, in my own backyard? Again, God’s answer is that whatever grace God has imparted on me – whether I see it or not, whether I feel it or not, whether others tell me it’s there or not, whether I can experience it working or not – regardless of my own condition, that God’s grace is enough. So even if we have a case that may be encouraging to others, even if are qualified in every way, if what we share will make others ‘think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say’ then what we are doing is boasting. How does one become weak then, so that one can become strong?
The key here is grace. If this grace is truly available to all, then the same grace that was available to someone as qualified as Paul, is available to me. That I never think of myself as more than I am, regardless of what specific mandates or revelations or experiences I may have been given by God, since what I live on, breathe on is grace. So then even sharing our experiences of God can make us boast, so again we share our weakness we share the only thing we really have that is valuable – God’s grace. This passage really reflects the adage taught to me by some wise believers, ‘the Christian life is one beggar showing another beggar where to find food’.