Advent: December 10
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
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.
The man in verse 2 is probably Paul himself, who is dissociating himself from the experience for the moment, because, as he explains a little later on, he says he is happy to boast about a man like that, but not directly about himself, or, he’d prefer to talk about his experience rather than himself.
Paul had clearly experienced a special vision, or even something more physical, though Paul was unable to say which. He was also unable to express this ineffable experience in words, but neither could Ezekiel or John, when they saw visions. Such things are too wonderful and excellent for us, and to describe them would only communicate a poor shadow.
It may be that Paul needed a little grounding from God. Even though Paul wanted to talk about the way God had used him in his weakness, he may have found it difficult to keep his feet on the ground. God gave Paul some sort of impediment – some say it may have been a limp (to help him keep his feet to the ground?!), which certainly would have been a nuisance. In fact, God allowed Paul to be afflicted. Despite Paul’s earnest pleas, he would not remove the affliction.
Paul was pointed firmly to the one and only thing he needed – God’s grace. If God wanted Paul to go a hundred miles, then God would enable that journey. Paul did not need to rely on anything of his own, but completely and utterly on God’s grace. All of Paul’s learning and understanding, his experiences, his speeches, his teaching count as nothing because they are of no use unless God’s grace flows through them.
It is the same for us. Should we ever feel that our assessment of what is needed for the task God assigns to is better than his, then we are deluded.
Do you know your weaknesses?
Would you offer them to God alongside your strengths?
Father God, your power is made known in my weakness. That is the most counter-intuitive fact on which you call me to place my trust. Anything of myself will cloud the image of You who works in us to reveal your glory. Amen.