2 Corinthians 4: 16-18; 12: 7-10
Paul was no stranger to difficulties. His road was a difficult journey in which he was physically burdened (2 Cor. 11:23-27), spiritually burdened (2 Cor. 11:28) and emotionally burdened (2 Cor. 11:29). We will never fully know all of the physical difficulties that Paul had to overcome. His words to the Galatians gives us an idea of the extent of one of his episodes, “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. (Gal. 4:13). It is certainly more than possible that the physical beatings that Paul had endured left chronic physical difficulties for him. Paul’s hope was to encourage those believers in Corinth who were experiencing pain.
- Having spiritual strength through physical difficulties. 2 Cor. 4: 16-18. Paul uses the “swing” word, “therefore” which connects what is to come with what has already been written. In the previous verses Paul points to the future time when we will be “raised up with Christ” referring to the final resurrection. In light of this glorious truth we are exhorted to “not give up”. That phrase comes from a Greek word meaning to “faint not”. Paul mentions two extremes, the outer man and the inner man. The outer man represents the body, that which can be seen. It is dying from the time of birth, suffering pain, affliction and decay. In awesome contrast we see the inner man, which represents the spirit, or soul. The outer man connects with other men, the inner man connects with God. Therefore the body can suffer with sickness and the inner man can flourish in spiritual strength or be “renewed day by day”. The “outer man” suffers “momentary” affliction, while the “inner man” is being readied for an “eternal weight of glory.” One is created for the temporary therefore it will suffer temporary issues, the other is created for eternity and the temporary only strengthens its readiness. When a Christian is going through physical difficulties his/her focus must be on what cannot be seen. There is great comfort for a Christian in knowing that the things suffered now is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed later!
- God’s grace on display through our weaknesses. 2 Cor. 12: 7b-9a. There is not time to discuss exactly what Paul meant by “thorn in the flesh”. Regardless of what it was the result must have been excruciating for Paul. Notice that Paul begged God in his prayers. The Greek word Paul uses for “begged” gives the picture of a man standing before God pleading his case. With passion Paul asked for God to remove the infirmity, yet God would not. Eventually, Paul came to learn that the thorn may have hindered him in some way, but spiritually was for his benefit. Notice he says “not to exalt myself”, in other words the thorn kept his feet to the ground and his eyes on the Father. That which makes us weak and vulnerable forces us to rely on the grace and strength of God. Our weaknesses can serve us well if we would only see them as God does. That is why the thorn was left. What is better, the outer man unhindered and the inner man hindered or vice-versa? God answered Paul in an unexpected way. “Your weakness displays my power.” His grace is sufficient for our deepest needs.
- Our weakness give opportunity for Christ to be exalted. 2 Cor. 12:9b-10. Paul came to peace with his thorn when we saw it through God’s perspective. Paul says that he will boast, he will take pleasure in infirmities. A strange statement indeed. The greatest prayer we can pray in difficulties is for God to show us his perspective. When we view our infirmities with “spiritual focus” we recognize the power of God and the ministry opportunities that open up to us. It is true that we are most strong spiritually when we recognize how weak we are physically. May our prayer be to know the amazing grace and power of God in the midst of our struggles.