Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NASB)

Most of the speculation I’ve heard about Paul’s thorn has been toward some kind of a physical handicap. It very easily could have been. But we do see, along with that issue, whatever it was, that he also suffered insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties as a part of the benefit package God bestowed on him. Recall: he asked three times to be delivered, but he was not. God told Paul, in no uncertain terms, that grace would be his sufficiency in the matter. As Paul worked this out, he was equipped to conclude and proclaim that his suffering was the platform of his strength—the outworking of Christ’s life through him. Isn’t it ironic that, through unanswered prayer, Paul discovered God’s ways and power?

I am afraid, in our error, the reasoning of many modern Christian’s goes as follows:

We are fortunate that today our revelation has gone beyond Paul. We now know that insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties indicate a satanic attack and must be resisted in Jesus’ name. We stand on the Holy Scripture that says God has given us the unalienable right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. We know our destiny is to ascend to places of greater influence in the arenas of society, industry and politics.

It is rarely said, but today Paul’s contribution to discipleship is passé. Oh yes, he is lauded for his teachings about justification, but what have we done with his embrace of weakness? Do we realize to what degree the message of the kingdom of God has been infiltrated by western values that attempt to mitigate risk and insulate us from hardship? Do our preachers today preach the same kingdom gospel that Paul preached or have we accumulated for ourselves teachers who accommodate our personal and national values?

Another way of asking this question would be, “Do contemporary Christian testimonies highlight deliverance through or deliverances from insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties?”

We have to keep in mind that the kingdom we have been called into is not of this world. Our king is unlike any ruler this world has ever known. This world despised Him because He said they were wrong to store up treasure on earth where moth and rust take their toll. He said this world was wrong to think that ultimate power rested in politics. He said it was wrong to think that true authority came from a title. He said radically crazy things, like the first shall be last and that the last shall ultimately be given first consideration. He said that our Life, Liberty and Joy would be discovered in a Person, not a constitution. And He taught that our rights consisted of taking up our cross and following Him. He taught a wisdom this world is incapable of grasping—in essence, that power is perfected in weakness.

In God’s kingdom, there is an inverse accounting system. On our heart’s balance sheet, what we see in our assets column, God sees as our actual liabilities, and what we see in our liabilities column, God sees as the essential elements from which He can build His Kingdom.

While I’m grateful to Paul for his contribution to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, I am equally grateful to him for showing us the basis for the command to give thanks in all things. I am grateful to him for demonstrating with his life that all things (even what we perceive as the worst things) ultimately, somehow, work together for our good. We are deeply indebted to Paul for revealing that where evil has abounded, grace shall abound all the more. Thank you, Paul, for making the connection between the heartaches of this temporal world and the glory of the next.

Father, You have given men no shortage of opportunity to discover your Life. Reveal to us the hidden (and even unwelcome) pathways of the heart into Your Life. Teach us to rightly inventory our weaknesses that the power of Christ might be expressed through us. Help us to become content with our perceived liabilities that we might discover Jesus our strength, our inheritance, our all in all. Amen.


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