“Power Made Perfect in Weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2018

“Power Made Perfect in Weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

The words that engage our attention this morning and that will bring comfort to our souls are these verses from our Epistle reading, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, where St. Paul writes: “But he [the Lord] 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.” This is our text. And so our theme for this message: “Power Made Perfect in Weakness.”

Now that sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Power made perfect in weakness? How can this be? It doesn’t sound right. It sounds rather paradoxical. Power and weakness are kind of opposites, aren’t they? But it’s true. Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness. That’s what St. Paul discovered in his life. And that’s what we will discover too.

First of all, though, what was the situation, what was the context, for Paul writing these words? Let’s provide a little background for our text. Here’s what was going on. In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is addressing a situation in which his ministry was being attacked and undermined. Some false apostles were going around, telling people that they shouldn’t listen to Paul: “He’s not a real apostle, you know. He wasn’t one of the twelve who went around with Jesus. And I mean, look at him! He’s not very impressive, is he? Always going around, getting in trouble, being run out of towns. Poor, run down, bedraggled. Does it look like the Lord is blessing him? I think not! And he’s not that impressive of a speaker, is he? Not much to look at. Who does this guy think he is? So don’t listen to Paul. Listen to us instead.”

That’s what was going on. These so-called “super-apostles” were going around, undermining Paul’s ministry. So now in the closing chapters of 2 Corinthians, Paul addresses the situation. It’s not because Paul is so interested in defending himself, per se. No, it’s more a case of Paul defending his ministry, his gospel ministry, the apostleship that the Lord himself had entrusted him with. It’s for the sake of the gospel of Christ that Paul now addresses the situation.

The false apostles had been putting down Paul and puffing up themselves. So now Paul is going to do a little boasting of his own. Boasting, but in a very ironic sense. He will talk about his glorious experiences, but that is not what he is really boasting in. Listen to what he says: “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”

Paul says here, “I know a man in Christ” who had this marvelous spiritual experience. Now clearly, Paul is referring to himself. But he says it in a way so as to be indirect: “I know a man.” You see, Paul really does not want to call attention to himself. But he’s saying, “Look, if I really wanted to boast about myself, like those ‘super-apostles’ do, I could do that. I have had some pretty amazing experiences in the Lord. Why, fourteen years ago the Lord gave me a special heavenly revelation. Let’s see if those super-apostles can top that!”

Now I’m guessing, friends, that none of us here have had a spiritual experience as glorious as what Paul had. I for one have never been caught up to the third heaven, or even to the second floor. And I’m guessing you haven’t either. But are there things you might want to boast about in your experience as a Christian? “Why, I’ve been a faithful Christian all my life! I’ve been a regular in church all these years! Look at the offices I’ve held! I’ve served in the auxiliary. The other members all say I’m a good worker. And I bet I’m one of the top givers, too!” So maybe you or I have not been caught up into paradise, but there’s probably a little boasting we could do.

I’m reminded, though, of what Paul wrote in Philippians. There he lists his religious pedigree: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee,” and so on. But then he says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. . . . I count those things as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Now Paul is saying the same sort of thing here in 2 Corinthians. For after this boasting about his glorious spiritual experience, he goes on to say: “I will not boast, except of my weaknesses–though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.” You see, Paul doesn’t want the attention to be on him. He wants the attention to be focused on his life-giving message, the gospel of Christ. So actually, if Paul appears weak, that’s just fine and dandy with him. Let all the glory go to Christ.

Paul then gives an example from his life of how the Lord kept him humble. He writes: “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.” Now look at that! Here was St. Paul–you could say the greatest of the apostles, who would accomplish more for Christ and the spread of the gospel than anyone in human history–and what does the Lord do to him? He gives him a thorn in the flesh! He lets Satan afflict him in some way. Perhaps this was a physical malady, we’re not exactly sure. But in any case, it kept Paul humble, which is a good thing. The Lord used this affliction to keep Paul from getting puffed up and to keep him relying on the Lord for his strength.

Paul prayed to the Lord that he might take this thorn in the flesh from him, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the Lord gave him a better answer. He said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Oh, what an answer this is! Much better than anything we could ask! “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Dear Christian friends, this is an answer for you! The Lord’s grace is sufficient for you! The Lord’s power is made perfect in your weakness! Let us learn the truth of these words in our lives!

If you have the Lord’s grace, that will be enough, more than enough. “My grace,” Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Yes, his grace encompasses all the gifts he freely gives. Grace is God’s undeserved favor, everything he gives you that Christ Jesus earned for you. I think of it like this: Grace, G-R-A-C-E, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Jesus earned your “in” with God by what he did for you. He fulfilled God’s Law on your behalf. Jesus kept all the commandments you have broken, you have failed to keep. And yet, though innocent, he bore your sins in his body on the cross. Jesus suffered the punishment you and I deserve. The death penalty had to be served. Three times Jesus prayed that his suffering might be taken from him. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but thy will be done.” And so Jesus willingly went to the cross to bear the sin of the world. He literally was given a thorn in the flesh, a whole crown full of thorns, pressed on his head. He took the nails in his hands and feet. He suffered the utter abandonment by God that we sinners deserve.

Christ’s power was made perfect in weakness. For in his being weak, in his suffering a humiliating death for us sinners, Jesus paradoxically displayed his power, crushing the serpent’s head and delivering us from judgment and death. His resurrection shows it, that the victory remains with life. Jesus is your righteousness, your forgiveness, and your life!

Dear friends, the gospel doesn’t appear very impressive or powerful. The message of the cross may sound like foolishness to the world. It sounds like weakness, not power. But for us who are being saved, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Therefore, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

This is why Paul could boast in his weaknesses. And so can you. We are secure in Christ. We know our salvation rests secure in him. This is why we can be weak. This is why we can even boast in our weaknesses. It actually causes us to rely on Jesus all the more!

And so Paul writes: “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.”

“When I am weak, then I am strong.” How is it for you? Do you feel your weaknesses? Maybe you know someone who suffers from loneliness and depression. Maybe you know somebody who has a thorn in the flesh, who has all kinds of physical ailments, and they’re not getting better. Dear friends, the Lord has a word for us today: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Oh, dear ones, take this to heart today! The Lord is speaking to you this hour: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

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Published in: on July 7, 2018 at 11:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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