Updated: Jun 1, 2021
This Week's Scripture & Reflection: II Corinthians 12:1-10
One of the human qualities that humanity has gradually begun to more publicly honor and exalt over the past decade is transparency! Countless people from A-list celebrities to social media influencers have shared very intimate details of their lives on various platforms to encourage and connect with individuals who struggle with similar issues! Transparency has revolutionized complex and often controversial subject matters such as mental health, sexuality, romantic, and even familial relationships, to name a few! Admittedly, it's easy for someone to boast in their strengths, especially when multiple people affirm those strengths! To openly express one's weaknesses, however, is not as easy! To this day, being open and vulnerable can be perceived as a form of weakness among certain people in certain social contexts. In the same breath, however, our current society and the world have seen the traumatic and even fatal effects of hoarding internal struggles, which has led many to depart from seeing vulnerability as a weakness, but rather as a beacon of strength and hope to a dying world.
In II Corinthians 12, we see that very familiar internal struggle between the pride that derives from our strengths and the despair that derives from the weight of our weaknesses through the life of the apostle Paul. Upon the first read-through, the first five verses of this passage can seem slightly confusing, as the apostle Paul shifts between addressing himself ("I must go on boasting...I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord") and seemingly another Christian whom he knew ("I know a man in Christ...And I know that this man was caught up..."). In reality, the man in Christ whom Paul is mentioning is himself; he is speaking in the third person to avoid boasting in himself, specifically in the visions and revelations that he has received from the Lord ("caught up to the third heaven...caught up into paradise...heard things that cannot be told..."). In verse 5, we see this contrast between Paul and Paul's reference to himself in the third person when he says, "On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses...".
This idea of boasting in one's weaknesses takes vulnerability and transparency to the next level! It's one thing for a person to openly talk about their weaknesses, especially if those shortcomings are perceived to be shameful and embarrassing among others, and to the individual themselves. But to boast in those shortcomings? One of the challenges people face in choosing to openly discuss their weaknesses is the shame and embarrassment that usually accompany them when doing so! That first step of open confession takes a great deal of courage! But to take pride in weakness as the apostle Paul chose to do? It seems like an oxymoron, but he certainly didn't believe so!
In verse 7, Paul opens up to discuss a struggle of his own, which he describes as "a thorn...in the flesh". Due to the ambiguity of this description, many scholars and theologians over the years have speculated over the exact nature of this thorn; some have proposed that this thorn was an internal psychological struggle unbeknownst to others, an ongoing demonic disturbance of some kind ("a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me") or most popularly, a physical ailment, hence "in the flesh", specifically one that affected Paul's eyes, in contrast to his incomparable spiritual visions from the Lord. Regardless of the exact nature of this thorn, we know that it was a great nuisance to Paul, so much so that he pleaded with the Lord to remove it three times ("Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me"). Rather than remove it, the Lord responds to Paul saying, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
While this thorn was a great nuisance to Paul, he testifies that it was given to him to prevent him from exalting himself ("So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh..."). And while Paul described the thorn as a "messenger of Satan", God in His sovereignty still allowed it to remain in Paul's side, not to torture him, but to remind Paul that His grace was more than enough to sustain and keep him through the challenges of bearing the thorn! The weight of the thorn did not outweigh the grace of God! Moreover, God reminds the apostle Paul that His power working through him was made perfect, or complete in the weakness of a fallen, sinful human being such as himself. This does not denote that God's power in and of itself is incomplete or lacking in any way, but that His power demonstrates itself most effectively and sufficiently when it operates in the weaknesses of the believer through the Holy Spirit!
Therefore, Paul boldly professes that he will boast all the more gladly of his weaknesses, even more than his visions and revelations from the Lord, so that the power of Jesus Christ may rest upon and in him! Prior to receiving this revelation from the Lord, Paul wanted the thorn to be removed permanently! But after receiving this revelation concerning the Lord's grace and power, Paul now takes pride in the thorn in his flesh because it has created a platform for God to constantly demonstrate His power in and through his life. In Paul's eyes, there was no weakness in bearing this thorn; only strength to be gained ("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”)!
The apostle Paul has provided us with a new way to view our daily struggles and wrestles as image-bearers of the Lord who dwell in sinful flesh. Rather than walk in shame and embarrassment over those things that seem to cripple us and hinder our sanctification, we can truly boast in those weaknesses with joy because they serve as a stage for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords to display His matchless, transformative power in our lives! What could truly be better than being a vessel for the God of the universe to demonstrate His power in and through? While God is indeed glorified in our praise & worship, there is nothing truly more glorifying to a perfect God than His imperfect creation yielding to His Spirit and bearing fruit that testifies to what He alone has the ability to do: liberate and transform, among so many other things! Make today the first day that you die to walking in shame over those "thorns" that annoy and plague you from time to time! Invite the Lord to step into your wrestling ring and show off His immeasurable power in your life!