Does the grace of God meet all our needs?

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the CORINTHIANS – Chapter 12

1 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.
2 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. – 2 Corinthians 12:1-2

This is the introduction to the vision Paul had of heaven. There is understandably some speculation about this passage. Was it Paul’s experience? He writes in the third person, so is he describing another person’s vision? Well later in verse seven he speaks of himself which indicates it was he own experience but maybe he was being very cautious and humble not “boasting” about himself (as the super apostles were). The exact time is not known as the date of this letter is not known but Paul is specific about how long ago it happened. Some speculate that it was when he was stoned as Lystra. Possibly he died and the Lord sent him back. What ever occurred a passage in Philippians reflects Paul’s attitudes:

22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. – Philippians 1:22-24

Paul wants to bless others and to minister for as long as he can for the sake of others. Paul did not know what happened or how it happened so it is best if we do not speculate. He experienced the third heaven. In Jewish tradition the first heaven is our sky, the second heaven is the place of the stars and the third heaven is the throne room of God. Paul had a heavenly vision that sustained him through his trials. His mind was set on the kingdom of God. He kept Jesus ever before his eyes looking towards the salvation and redemption of the message of the gospel.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2


3 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-
4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.
5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses-
6 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. – 2 Corinthians 12:3-6

Paul does not give details of his vision which reiterates the idea that he did not want to boast in his blessed experience but in his infirmities. He does not seem to have spoken publicly for 14 years about this experience and now, when he does, he does not draw attention to himself by giving a glorious description of what he saw and heard. There are other examples of men of God receiving revelations that the Lord tells them not to reveal. For example John in the book of revelation:

And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” – Revelation 10:4

Daniel was so disturbed by his vision the he became ill:

And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it. – Daniel 8:27

The Lord knows what we can handle:

Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” – John 13:7

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. – John 16:12

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. – Deuteronomy 29:29

Paul was obedient and not willing to boast to make himself sound important or reveal things that God had told him to keep silent about. He did not want people to think he was more important that the message of Christ that he preached. He knew he was a chosen vessel and there is nothing in himself that he could trust. Only Christ and Him alone.


7 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.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
9 But he said to herefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

This is such a great passage. Paul was at risk of becoming proud because of the fantastic revelation he had received. The Lord ensures he remained humble by allowing the “thorn in the flesh”. Oh how people would love to know what that was. But the bible does not make it known so therefore we do not know. Our human fleshly nature loves to know what dreadful things other people do, say or experience so we can feel better about ourselves. Just look at the media world, full of gross stories of human deprivation and suffering. Paul prayed that he would be set free but the Lord taught him a most valuable lesson that applies to all of us. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, – 1 Corinthians 1:27-28

We cannot find strength in ourselves to fight sin, death, disease or enemies but we have in us the Spirit of the One who had defeated all of them, Christ Jesus our Lord. The Greek implies that Paul was punched about by Satan, who must have relished in having permission from God to give Paul a hard time. And yet Paul frames it as a gift: “a thorn was given me in the flesh”, the Lord gave him the experience. Paul does not say inflicted me with. Paul was open to say “speak Lord” in this trial and God said “my grace is sufficient”.


9 But 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.
10 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. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

We may consider this passage for a couple of sections as there is so much in these two verses. God spoke to Paul while he was in a place of weakness. Punched about by Satan with the thorn in his flesh, Paul sought the Lord and He heard him but the answer was not to remove the trial but to reveal Himself in the trial. “My grace is sufficient for you”. MY grace. It is the grace of God, us getting what we do not deserve, His steadfast love towards us that means we know we are accepted and loved with His love, His grace. My GRACE. This is the gift from God. The huge price paid for our souls. The “get out of jail free” card that surpasses all other gifts in the universe. We have been set free from death and hell because of the grace of God. Grace shows us we are accepted and pleasing to God. Grace shows us that we are constantly, consistently loved because it is always available to us when we turn to Him. Grace is the strength of God which is available to strengthen us when we are carrying a burden we can not bare. The trial is not removed but we are freely given God’s grace to strengthen us in the trial. My grace IS. Such a small word but so vital. It does not say will be or might be or could be. It IS. Just as the name of God is I am that I am. He IS. And our salvation IS secure. My grace is SUFFICIENT. What God has done for us is enough, it has met the need, no more can be done. We can do no more. He has finished the work. We are saved by grace and there is nothing we can do to deserve it. We have been chosen by the sovereign grace of God to receive His free gift of redemption. All we can do is accept it.
To be continued….. eternally


9 But 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.
10 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. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

The second law of thermodynamics states: “as energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of it is wasted. The Second Law also states that there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state.” But God is the creator of power. When He says “for my power is made perfect in weakness“ He created all the power in the universe and is the source of all that exists. So if God is for us who can be against us?

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:31-32

He created all things and will give us all things. No wonder Paul is content, despite all the trials that he faces. He knows God, he has full assurance of faith in the Son of God. David Guzik comments:

“Paul’s continued – even forced – dependence upon God made him stronger than he would have ever been if his revelations had made him proud and self-sufficient.”

Paul rejoices in his weakness so he can experience the strength of God. Pride leads to destruction

18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. – Proverbs 16:18-19

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

We have this mindset that as we grow up we no longer need our parents, we become independent. That may be true in human relationships but we then tend to apply it to God. We seek “spiritual maturity” that is to be growing strong and independent of God. But that is not right. That leads to pride. True maturity is recognising our state:

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. – Revelation 3:17

All we need is to be found in Christ. All we are is to be realised when we are one with Him. Like those in the “hall of faith”:

33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. – Hebrews 11:33-34

Who were made strong out of weakness.


11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.
12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong! – 2 Corinthians 12:11-13

This translation (the ESV) seems a bit unclear. The NLT is clearer:

11 You have made me act like a fool–boasting like this. You ought to be writing commendations for me, for I am not at all inferior to these “super apostles,” even though I am nothing at all.
12 When I was with you, I certainly gave you proof that I am an apostle. For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you.
13 The only thing I failed to do, which I do in the other churches, was to become a financial burden to you. Please forgive me for this wrong!

Ah ha. Sarcasam again. Paul did not charge the Corinthian church for his ministry and they held this against him. Paul does not want to boast about himself but in Christ Jesus. He is having to spend time defending himself when he considers himself to be of no account. Paul mentions that he performed signs and wonders which reminds us that Paul was used by the Spirit to perform miracles:

19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God-so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; – Romans 15:19

We consider Paul to be a great theologian and apologist but the Lord used him to heal the sick and raise the dead as well:

9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” – Acts 20:9-10

Paul does not mention that he performed miracles much in his epistles, another sign of his humility. Paul knew that the power to transform lives lay in the Word of God not in signs and wonders.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. – Luke 21:33

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, – Luke 24:44-45


14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? – 2 Corinthians 12:14-15

It is good to be reminded the we reap what we sow. Paul is prepared for his life to be spent. But is he looking for a reward? No, His reward is in heaven.

16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit.
17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you?
18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps? – 2 Corinthians 12:16-18

It is interesting how much of this letter is a defence of Paul’s apostleship and ministry. Here Paul is explaining that on this planned third trip he will not take any money from the church as he did not before. His first trip he was in Corinth for eighteen months, the second time (the painful visit) was brief. Now he is coming back and wants to path the way to a positive visit so is trying to deal with their objections and criticism. Paul was not after their money but their hearts. As a spiritual father he wants to pass on a spiritual inheritance. The fear was that Paul would take the money he was collecting for Jerusalem for himself. He responds with sarcasm. Mimicking the words the objectors have used. He points out that he is of the same Spirit as Titus. Paul’s heart is to preach the gospel and win people to Christ. The inheritance we have in Christ is the most precious pearl, the treasure in the field and we need to sell all that we have to gain the Kingdom if God. That is what he wants to pass on to his “children”.


19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.
20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.- 2 Cor 12 19-21

Paul wanted the church at Corinth to be sanctified, set apart for Jesus to be able to use. But he lists the potential sins that either he has heard about them or could be happening which causes him to be humbled, causes him to be of a spirit that knows we are all weak and that he to could fall into these sins. Paul mourns for those who have fallen away as if they had died because without the experience of Christ in there lives they are dead in their sins. If believers, then they will be saved in the last days by fire, where all their dead works will be consumed by the Holy judgment of God and they will be sanctified. But how much better to be in fellowship, hearing the word of God, havingbthe spirit work in their lives now, dealing with the experience of the flesh through the power of the cross. For us the working of the Holy Spirit making us fit for the Master’s use is so precious.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, – Hebrews 2:10-11

14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” – Hebrews 10:14-16

If Jesus was made perfect by the things that He suffered then praise God when we are being purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers

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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.