December 2, 2012

Becoming strong by being weak

The Apostle Paul was given a thorn in the flesh. Much speculation is made about what that thorn was, but I’ve not heard too many discuss the reason God gave this to him. As I read today’s devotional passage, I’m thinking that every Christian needs a thorn, whether it is the same as Paul’s or not!
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)

Paul was given an abundance of revelations. That is, God showed him truth upon truth that he might carry out the particular role God gave him. He was an important man in the development of the early church and in the provision of the New Testament. Such status could build spiritual pride so God gave him something to harass him.

I looked up the word “harass” sometimes translated “buffet” and found it means a “rap with the fist.” While not identical, this reminds me of how Gibbs, the boss on NCIS, shows his impatience with foolishness on the part of his staff. When they act silly and know better, or when they boast to excess, he gives them a slap on the side of the head. This humbles them and brings them back to the task at hand. 

Paul’s thorn in the flesh seems to have rapped him continually. He pleaded for its removal but God told him that the weakness it created in him was a good thing; it made him rely on the grace of God.

Paul got it. He learned instead to boast or rejoice in his weakness for he knew that only then could God fill him with His power and use him for His purposes. When this powerful man felt weak, he could not focus on his power or place on the kingdom, but on his need for the power of Christ. 

Every Christian that I know, especially me, is in danger of spiritual pride. God has blessed us “exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) so we have much to be thankful for and much to rejoice in, even to boast about. But boasting puts my eyes and focus in the wrong place. If I am tooting my horn I cannot at the same time raise a toast to the Lord Jesus Christ. For that, God could give me a thorn, such as sewing my lips together so I cannot blow my own horn.

He has His ways of bringing human pride down a peg. What makes me sad (and angry at myself) is that He even has to do this. Yet if Paul, a deeply devout man with great spiritual insight, had problems with spiritual pride, then are any of us exempt? Those who think they are clueless and irreverent will boast too, in their “humble state” — for this is the way we are, prone to focus on ourselves and prone to love attention, even the negative kind.

So to keep me from becoming conceited, I can choose to keep my eyes on Jesus and acknowledge my need of Him, or I can expect that God will rap me often with a thorn. Either way, I’d better be glad that for the sake of Christ, He is not stumped by anything. He knows what to do with my spiritual pride and is never limited by spiritual weakness. For His people, it is His condition of choice.

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