Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, July 5, 2015
My Grace Is Sufficient - July 5, 2015 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 09) - Text: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Have you ever thought to yourself, when things were going really well in your life, or so it seemed to you, “I wonder when the next bad thing is going to happen?” “My life seems to be going too well right now, I know something bad has got to happen.” I think we all have those thoughts now and then. I remember back in 1983 when my mother was in the hospital having brain surgery to remove a tumor, she had been having a number of medical problems and at times she seemed to be getting rather discouraged. One day she made the comment, alluding to a verse in Hebrews, “I know the Lord chastens those He loves, I just wish He would love someone else a little more.” Perhaps we all feel that way at times. In our text for today I believe Paul addresses this issue and helps us to understand the grace that our Lord has for us, so much that, to paraphrase another verse from Paul, ‘our momentary hardships will seem like nothing compared to the glory that will be ours in heaven.’
Our text begins with verse one Paul say, “1I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2I 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. 3And 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—4and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6Though 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” (v. 1-6). And then, especially in verse seven Paul says, “7So to keep me from being too elated by 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 being too elated.” (v.7). Paul explains the reason for his thorn in the flesh and this reason is that the Lord had been giving him what he called, “surpassing greatness of revelations.” I have no idea what these revelations were, but you may remember that the Lord originally met Paul in a bright light on the road to Damascus. Rather than the Lord using His usual way of coming to people, through means, at that time He came directly to Paul. I am sure that it must have been a wonderful experience for Paul that the Lord would come to Him directly and reveal His will for Him. How often do we think that it would be great if God would come and speak directly to us to tell us what He has in mind for us? Most of us think it would be great if God actually spoke directly to us, but I am afraid that really is not the case. As skeptical human beings, even if God spoke directly to us, we would question whether it was really God or not, especially if He told us something we did not want to hear. For Paul, the struggle with these great revelations is that evidently they could have caused him to get, what we today call a “big head,” or as Paul says, to become conceited.
In order to keep him from becoming conceited the Lord allowed for Paul to have a “thorn in the flesh.” What this thorn in the flesh was exactly we do not know. Many, many people have speculated on what it might be. Depending on what social, economic or political agenda the person was trying to put forward, Paul’s thorn in the flesh has been analyzed as anything from his having eye problems to his being gay. These struggles with what was Paul’s thorn in the flesh are merely attempts to distract from the Word Paul was trying to get across by changing the subject and getting away from the point of the text. The point of the text is not what was Paul’s thorn in the flesh. The point of the text is that in order to keep Paul from becoming conceited because of the exceedingly great revelations the Lord had been giving him, the Lord also gave him something to keep him humble.
The words of verse eight are a beautiful example to us when we have struggles in our own lives. In verse eight we read that Paul prayed to the Lord. Paul say, “8Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me” (v.8). And we should add that it is implied that the three times he prayed Paul always prayed, “Thy will be done.” Notice that Paul’s example of prayer was patterned after Jesus’ example in the garden. Three times Jesus went to His Father in heaven to pray that the cup of suffering He was about to suffer would be removed from Him, but each time He prayed, “Thy will be done.” Here in our text Paul tells us that three times he prayed to the Lord.
The first part of verse nine is God’s answer and Paul’s response to God’s answer. We read, “9But he 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” (v.9). Like last Sunday, so this Sunday we again hear of God’s grace. Each and every Sunday we should hear of God’s grace. God’s grace is the main thing we are given in our divine service of the Lord. God’s grace is His undeserved love for us. God’s grace is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins. God’s grace is what we need to be reminded of each and every day lest we fall into despair because of our many sins. Paul tells us that God said to Him that His grace is sufficient for him. In other words, quit complaining and worrying about what you perceive to be struggles and remember that I Am the one who is in charge.
Paul prayed that God’s will be done and God is letting Paul know that His will is being done. It is a difficult thing to pray that God’s will be done and mean it. More often than not we may pray for God’s will to be done but we sure would like it if God’s will would be our will. The difficult part in praying for God’s will to be done is to let go and trust that God always knows what is best for us and always does what is best for us, even if we do not see it at the time.
Paul also talks about God’s power and about His power being made perfect in weakness. The best example of that is in the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is a stumbling block for so many people. How can a Savior or anyone who professes to be a Savior, subject themselves to being executed on a cross? It just does not make sense to the logical human thinking that death is a way to life. But that is the beauty of the Gospel. We were subject to death. Not only have we been born in sin, but each and every day we add to our list of sins, and often we add to that list rather uncontrollably. Without thinking we curse God’s name, we call others names, we talk about others in very negative ways behind their backs, we lust and covet, we refuse God’s gifts by absenting ourselves from being in worship and Bible Class, we fail to explain everything in the best possible way. Thanks be to God’s power that Jesus suffered the eternal punishment which should have been ours, in our place. That is God’s power made perfect in Christ’s weakness!
To all of this, in verse ten we read Paul’s response, “10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v.10). Paul’s weakness is very much the same as our weakness. Paul’s weakness and our weakness is that we think we know what we need. We think we know what is best for us and that is what we want God to do for us. The problem is that if we get our own way then, more than likely, things would be even worse than in the first place.
Paul’s weakness and our weakness is also the fact that we suffer temptation. Each and every day we are tempted by the unholy three of, the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. When I say the unholy three of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh I do not mean these three as vague concepts. I mean these three as very real entities that work through anything and everything in our life to try to lead us away from Jesus Christ. Every day we are tempted to give up our faith and give in to the ways of the world.
During these times of weakness and temptation, Paul’s needs are the same as our needs. During these times of weakness and temptation our need is to be weak so God can be strong. By ourselves we cannot overcome sin and temptation. By ourselves we will always fall victim to the temptations of this world, the devil and our own sinful flesh. God alone can overcome sin, death, and the devil. In Jesus Christ, God has already overcome and by faith in Jesus His triumph is our triumph.
Let us take a step back and get back to this text as a whole. What does this text mean for our everyday life? First, this text begins to explain why there are times that our life seems to be flying high and other times it seems we hit the bottom. Our Father in heaven knows that if we get to elated we might get conceited and forget from where our grace comes. So, in order to keep us humble He allows for us to have struggles. When the Lord allows for us to have struggles there are two agendas at work. On the one hand the Lord is allowing us to go through struggles in order to try us, to strengthen our faith. On the other hand Satan is working just as hard through our struggles in order to destroy us.
When we rely on our own strength, we fail. When we rely on the strength of our Father in heaven we win. God’s strength, God’s power, is Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. When struggles and temptations occur in life, if we rely on ourselves we can never stand because we are sinful from the start. But when we rely on the power of God then He succeeds through us. When we rely on the power of God working through us then it is not we who receive praise but it is we who say, to God be the glory.
Yesterday we celebrated 239 years of freedom in this country, especially freedom of religion, that is freedom to worship God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Certainly we have had many years of joy and an easiness of being a Christian. Over the past couple of weeks we have seen how quickly our freedoms are being taken away. The rulings of the nine unelected for life members of the Supreme Court of the United States will and is making living the Christian faith a struggle and this will more than likely only get worse as the devil continues to work in our world to torment Christians. How do we respond? We respond as Paul tells us in our text, that is we respond by knowing that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that His power is made perfect in our weakness so that we will go on boasting all the more gladly of our weaknesses, knowing that the power of Christ does rest upon us. Christ has already won the victory no matter what happens during our short life on this earth. Our response to the struggles of this world are to continue to live our faith, remaining faithful to Jesus, and always being ready to give an answer, a defense of our faith in gentleness and kindness.
The Lord does allow for difficulties and struggles to happen in the lives of His children, not because He does not love us, but because He does love us and because He wants to continually strengthen us in our faith and draw us closer to Himself. The words of our text for today are beautiful words of life reminding us that it is our struggles in life that cause us to pray. When we pray we pray, “Thy will be done,” knowing that especially in our weakness the grace of the Lord will more than be enough for us and that in His helping us God’s power will indeed shine through. Once again we see that God is doing it all and we do rejoice and give Him thanks and praise. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.