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2 Corinthians 12:9
The Sufficiency of Grace
When Paul pleads for the ‘thorn in his flesh’ to be removed, the Lord’s response is, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The grace of God is sufficient. God’s grace and goodness towards His people is enough. The apostle Paul came to one of the climatic points of the grace of God. He is understanding and expressing something of the grace of God. In chapter 8 he shows the generosity of the Lord Jesus. He goes on to describe this, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
The Lord Jesus, who is rich in glory, comes to people like us, who are destined for destruction because of our sins. He comes like one of us and lives a perfect life amongst us. He bears our greatest poverty; He bears our sin, goes to the cross for us so we can be exalted and lifted up to God.
Here, Paul tells us about the grace of God in Jesus Christ and how immense it is. He does it in the context of his own weakness and the trials he has faced. Against the backdrop of human weakness, the grace of God shines ever brighter. Paul gives his example – he’s a well-known character in Corinth but others have come in and tried to push him aside. Theses ‘super’ apostles have false ministry. The apostle Paul looks so weak. He speaks far less eloquently. He comes and speaks about a man who died on a cross in weakness for the sins of His people. Though the ‘super’ apostles comes with so much more, he would rather make a big deal about his weakness, so he’s seen less and Jesus Christ is seen more. Against the dark background, the grace of God shines far brighter.
Paul has a weakness which he pleads three time of the Lord to take away from him. We may have prayed for things to be taken away. Paul prayed and pleaded with God. As he pleads with God, he gets an answer which might seem quite surprising. It teaches about Christian weakness and the greatness of God’s grace.
How does God respond to Paul’s plea? 14 years preciously, Paul had an unspeakably glorious vision. He was forbidden from telling what it was about. He was lifted up into the third heaven and saw amazing things. How have the past 14 years been for the apostle after this experience? Has life been easy after this wonderful experience? No! He had 14 years of great difficulty. He had been given a ‘thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.’ It’s always there, he is always aware of it. It hurts. It has been given to him to keep him grounded. He pleads three times for it to go, but the answer is no.
Why does the Lord not take the ‘thorn’ away from Paul? The Lord graciously gives Paul a reason. It is because of the grace of God. The Christian can know that the answer, whether it’s a yes or no, it is always gracious. He always deals kindly with His people. Everything He gives to His people, even trials and difficulties, are gifts from the hand of a gracious God. The thorn is because of God’s grace. Spurgeon suffered persistent troubles and reflected, “The greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness.” There can be great blessings in the hardships of life.
We have to assume that the Lord Jesus means the same thing as He did in when He said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul is being taught, in the midst of the trial he is facing, the gospel of Jesus Christ is enough. The Lord tells Paul that His grace is sufficient. The grace found in the gospel is all that the Christian needs. We need that grace more than we need our trials to go away.
How does the Christian measure the gift from the Lord? We measure the goodness of a gift by which it makes us love the Lord Jesus more. It is a good gift, no matter how painful it is, if it makes you love the Lord Jesus more. Have you seen the preciousness of Jesus Christ in His gospel? Have you come to understand just how wonderful He is? Have you begun to see beyond the trials and the difficulties, He’s worth much more than anything else?
Who is it who can know the sufficiency of God’s grace? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In the first instance it is the apostle Paul. We don’t know what his ‘thorn in the flesh’ was, whether it was a physical illness, false apostles (11:13), or a spiritual struggle from the churches. Some suggest it could be a possible sin he struggles with, but I don’t think so. My surprise is that Paul only struggled with one trial. The truth is, we don’t know, it is left open.
The apostle Paul is an example of someone who is weak. The words are spoken to any who come in weakness who walk with the Lord. In your weaknesses what do you need? The grace of Christ. Christ died for the ungodly. The grace of God is sufficient for any weakness. There’s enough vagueness here to realise God’s grace is enough for any of us. It is sufficient in every area of life – in redemption, in dealing with our sin. The most gracious act of God is seen in the Lord Jesus Christ dying on the cross for our sins. It is finished! It is sufficient for the work of redemption. It’s sufficient in every circumstance of life. You can lose every comfort but if you have the grace of God, if you can know that Jesus Christ is yours, then you have enough, you have all you’ll ever need.
In the end, as we stand before God in judgement, in His presence, what can we offer? Nothing. Even in the best aspects of your life, you can’t deal with the problem of sin. We come and we have Jesus. Nothing but Jesus. God says, ‘Enter in,’ you’re righteous in the sight of God. Can you say, ‘God’s grace is enough for me?’
How is it that God’s grace is sufficient for us? “My grace is for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God is all-powerful, awesome and mighty. He sustains the universe. He sent His Son into the world and raised Him from the dead as a new creation.
Where do we see most clearly the wondrous grace found in God made perfect? When, out of our weakness, God powerfully displays the glory of His grace, when God works in the weakest of situations. We see it in the wonderful things Jesus says and does in His ministry, in His miracles. But it is most powerful as Jesus Christ laid in a tomb and was then raised from the dead – power out of weakness. When God saves you, He takes you lout of death and sin and brings you to life and uses us in our weakness. This shows the sufficiency of God’s grace. Do your hardships of life draw you nearer to Christ? Christian trials draw you nearer to Christ.
What effect should it have? “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b). That’s how Paul sees the right response. He is not a professional victim. He boasts in his weakness as a vehicle for displaying the power of Christ. When our weakness is our characterising feature, then we see how great the Lord is. Without grasping the grace and goodness of God towards sinners, this doesn’t make sense. Apart from the grace of God, we seek the need to cover our faults. You don’t need to do that. The God of heaven show grace to all sinners. He knows how weak we are and He loves to deal kindly with us. He doesn’t exploit us in our weakness. He saves us from our sin and uses our frailty to display His glory in all the world. We need to stop, step back and see the big picture. There is a God in heaven who shows His grace towards sinners. In our weakness we must magnify the greatness of God by being totally satisfied in the grace of God.
Let your legacy not be some façade of strength, but let it be the strength of Christ. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).