Online Worship for Trinity Nine – Sunday August 9, 2020
Bible Text: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 | Preacher: Andrew Schaller | Sermon for Trinity Nine – Sunday August 9, 2020
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
When something difficult (we call it ‘bad’) happens to us or we are troubled by a ‘reoccurring problem,’ we often become frustrated. We begin to ask, ‘Why did this happen?’ ‘Why would God let this happen to me?’ ‘Can anything good come out of this?’ I think that you would agree that these questions are being asked by great many people in 2020.
“Can trouble be a good thing?” We obtain direction and find answers in the Word of God before us this morning.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV)
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –
Its fun watching people open gifts, isn’t it? It’s especially fun if you are the giver because you get to see the reaction on the face of the person receiving the gift. If you are just a bystander, you may have the following thoughts: “Wow, that’s a nice gift…I’d sure like one of those.” “Ouch, I don’t think that’s going to fit, are they trying to send a message?” “Now there is a gift he can have I wouldn’t want one of those.” It’s difficult to not imagine receiving the gifts ourselves.
God gave the Apostle Paul many and varied gifts (few of them came in boxes) some of which are mentioned in the Bible. When we look at the gifts given him, we’d like to have some of them ourselves (fearlessness in the face of persecution), while others we really wouldn’t.
God gave Paul these gifts because He had chosen him to serve as a prophet and to communicate His Word (especially to the Gentiles). Jesus personally called Paul to be His Apostle on the road outside the city of Damascus. He also revealed to him the truths he was to proclaim and then enabled him to see and do things that few others ever had. God directed his steps on his missionary journeys, sometimes even speaking to him in visions and dreams.
Can you say the same?
We might not covet everything that came with those gifts. We’ve all heard it said that with great wealth comes great responsibility. Well, with great gifts came temptations to pride and self-centeredness. When we put ourselves in Paul’s sandals and see the great things that the Lord Jesus accomplished through Paul, we can see how easy it would be to become conceited and proud. It would be easy for others to exalt Him and give him more credit (and more fault) than he deserved.
Paul might have become like some of the professional athletes of our day, who seem to think that because of their gifts they can do whatever they want. There were times when others lifted Paul to ‘god status’. Our sinful flesh might quickly warm up to that!
It would have been tempting to glorify the man Paul, rather than the object of his message, Jesus Christ. So, God gave Paul another ‘gift’ to him to keep him balanced. The Apostle didn’t much like the gift; in fact, he called it ‘a thorn in the flesh.’ He understood why it was given him.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
It was some kind of physical problem, a thorn in the flesh. We don’t know exactly what it was and we won’t guess. However, we can say how and why it came to Paul.
God allowed this thorn to come to Paul, and allowed Satan to ‘beat on him’ through this thorn. God allowed it for Paul’s spiritual and eternal good, to help him to see that He was dependent upon Him.
Likewise, God may allow Satan to trouble us but his purpose is always our spiritual and eternal good. Satan would have pain and suffering lead us to turn from God and our faith fail; but God overrides Satan’s purposes and assures us in His Word that (Romans 8:28):
… all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
In Paul’s case, this difficulty was given to keep him from becoming proud and conceited. We might call it ‘tough love.’ God’s purpose in allowing physical pain and suffering was to remind Paul that Jesus was his strength and he was utterly dependent upon Him. The things that Paul might have taken pride in were accomplished by the power of Christ.
Now there was a time when Paul didn’t think of this as a good thing. He believed it a hindrance to his ministry, so he asked repeatedly that it be taken away.
8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
How could his trouble be a good thing? He repeatedly asked that it be taken away from him. It wasn’t wrong to ask, so long as it was a prayer and not a demand.
In this respect, we should learn from Paul. We should be so persistent in our prayers (it may have been over 14 years). Still, when we pray we should remember that we are coming to a superior, not a peer, and ask that God’s will be done. In so praying, let us remember that God’s deliverance may not take the form we might like, but it will be what our Father has determined is best for us.
In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: “Your will be done.” The Father’s answer was not to take the suffering of the cross from Him and he bore it willingly for us.
Paul also prayed that this ‘thorn’ be removed, but God’s answer was not to remove it, but to grant him the grace to endure it.
Why didn’t God take it away? Was He punishing Paul for his former life? Does God delight in our pain? We shouldn’t even ask such foolish questions. Suffice it to say that it was what was best for Paul, chosen by the one who sees past, present and future.
Has God given you a thorn in the flesh? Is there trouble in your life? Do you wonder why God has allowed it?
Don’t despair! God sent His Son to bear your sin and guilt, to die for your wrongs. He has made you his own dear child by faith in His Son. As a believer in Jesus, you can be certain that God doesn’t hate you, nor is He punishing you for sin. He has already punished Jesus in your place.
So, if God’s not punishing me, why are these things coming upon me? This is a proper question, as are these:
Have you been turning away from the Lord and His Word? Do you find that other things take precedence in your life and in your family life?
Have you been forgetting where the real power in your life lies? Have you been boasting about your accomplishments and making plans for the future without His Will and Word in mind?
Have you been avoiding talking to someone who needs to hear the truth from you? Have you been about the Father’s business?
Thank God for thorns, whatever form they may take, because they serve to humble us and to remind us that we are weak and dependant. We are created beings that desperately need the Creator. Instead of complaining, remember what the Lord said to Paul when he asked that his thorn be removed:
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The LORD said, “NO, I won’t take this from you, because my grace is all you need to handle it.” “I won’t take it from you because only after you have seen your inability, are you are ready to be an instrument of my power.” The same LORD has promised you that He will enable you to stand if you will only rely upon Him and not on your own strength and power!
The LORD told Paul, “My grace is all you need.” God’s grace is His undeserved love in Christ. God’s grace, the depth of that love is fully realized and appreciated when people see their sinfulness. God’s grace is best viewed against the backdrop of our guilt. When we suffer in this life, let us remember:
God could have condemned us. God could have given us what we deserved and simply cast us away into an eternity of suffering in Hell.
God could have resolved to punish us every day for our every sin of thought, word and deed. He could have…but He didn’t.
God chose to punish His Son and thus have mercy on us.
God’s Grace, His undeserved love for us in Christ will never abandon us. He will not change his mind or his covenant. God’s love for us in Christ is mightier than every trouble and can support us in every ordeal.
In order that we may see and appreciate His Grace, God uses His Law to lead us to despair of our own strength and power to please God. He shows us that there is nothing good in us by nature and that we have earned eternal death. Then, to those at their weakest, to those with broken and contrite hearts He comes on His mission of mercy.
He sends His Spirit to reveal that He has delivered us by His power and through the righteous life of His Son. He promises all those who trust in Him that they are safe and that no one can pluck them out of His Hand. This Gospel is so powerful that it empowers us to serve Him.
We, who have seen what we truly deserve but have not received, boast in the LORD. The Spirit of God may also teach us even to be thankful in trouble because Christ our Savior again comes into focus. Thus Paul could say:
Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
It is a gift of God to see in mistreatment, necessity, persecution, distress, pain and suffering – not the absence of God’s Love, but its presence. When at our weakest, when the distractions are stripped away, we are fit instruments to see and express His power and grace.
Is this a gift we want?
Thorns and thistles in the garden remind us of the curse of sin. A rainbow after a storm reminds us of God’s promise never again to destroy all life on earth as He once did in the Flood.
Strife, trouble and persecution can be a gift of God meant to keep us humble, to show our weakness, that we look again to Christ our Savior.
May God strengthen the faith He has given that we also see strife in this way.