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(Part 41)


June 18, 2011
Today’s reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Paul said, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Cor 11:30). Paul we know to be a strong, powerful, effective proclaimer of the gospel. He was a great apostle, even having “visions and revelations” (2 Cor 12:1b), even being “caught up into Paradise and (hearing) ineffable things” (2 Cor 12:4a). Yet the badge of honor he wore was the suffering he underwent as he served Christ. He reveled not in his strength but in his weakness. His paradigm was totally opposite from and contradictory to that of the world. He indeed was a great apostle, but he, like his Lord, knew that the call was to be a suffering servant.

Aside from following the very footsteps of the Master, which leads to the cross, what is it about weakness that is so important in Christian life and service?

Paul understood that pride was one of the strongest enemies of the Christian. As servants, God intends His glory to shine through our life and work (Is 49:3). And why not? If we do the very divine work of God, then inherent in that work is glory. It is God’s work after all.

But many who mightily serve God may begin to think that it is they who are so great, that it is because of their abilities and resources that God’s work is accomplished. Then pride sets in. It might be like the colt on which Jesus rode that thought the hosannahs were directed at him.

And so, with the glory, God gives affliction. This keeps us down-to-earth rather than our heads soaring above the clouds and swelling. It makes us realize how weak and vulnerable we are even as we are able to accomplish great things. It helps us to get back to full dependence on God and not on ourselves.

For Paul, aside from all the hardships, it was the thorn in the flesh. What was God’s purpose? Paul says it twice in the same breath. “Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.” (2 Cor 12:7b). We of course are elated when we bear fruit for God, and rightly so. But Paul was concerned about becoming too elated, to already fall into sinful pride.

Now Paul knew he was intensely committed to God, that he had dedicated his life to Christ, that he would even die for the cause. Given everything that he was already suffering, he felt he could do without the thorn in the flesh, which to him was intolerable. And so he prayed, nay, begged, insistently, “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me” (2 Cor 12:8).

God knew better. Or God wanted to deepen even more Paul’s already deep spirituality. So God gave the principle: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9a). God wanted Paul not just to experience some power, but to experience His power being made perfect in him. That could only happen through intense and seemingly intolerable affliction, where, at the end of our human strength, we rely totally on God’s grace, and become an emptied and humbled instrument that can now accept the fullness of His strength.

Paul understood the point. He could see the connection between human weakness and God’s strength. The less we look to our human strength, the more God can fill us with His own strength. The more we are humanly weak, the more God can be strong in us. And so Paul fully embraced and rejoiced in what God had designed for him: “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” (2 Cor 12:9b).

How about us? God allows us to suffer, but do we realize the redemptive nature of suffering? Do we shun suffering, to the point of veering away when we see the cross on the road? When we are suffering deeply, do we incessantly pray for the cup to be lifted, rather than at some point accepting and even rejoicing? Do we get angry at God, rather than thanking Him for His great purpose in our life in allowing us to suffer? Do we give up on the mission when the going gets really touch, rather than enduring and persevering till the end?

For the true servant of God, affliction is a given. To a great apostle of God, severe and incessant affliction is to be expected. If an angel of Satan beats us as we serve God, we must rejoice, for we are deemed worthy to be afflicted by the enemy.

We must know God’s principle. It is simply this: “when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10b). If that is so, our posture is already defined. “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ” (2 Cor 12:10a).

When we are finally able to grow in that posture, then we may be able to claim, “My God is now my strength!”

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