My Grace is Sufficient for thee

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 23 Sep 2011


“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a).

The second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians is really the 4th known letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

It was Paul who founded the church at Corinth during his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18). When he left them, he wrote a letter to them. But by the providence of God, this letter was lost. It was not an inspired letter.

Then the leaders of the Corinthian church wrote a letter to the apostle Paul asking him some questions. Paul replied to this letter in what is known as 1st Corinthians. 1st Corinthians is therefore the 2nd known letter of Paul to the Corinthians. It was the first inspired letter.

Following this letter, the apostle Paul realized that some instructions which he had given to the church were not carried out by the leaders of the church. Paul had warned them to discipline a man who was having an adulterous affair with his stepmother (1 Cor 5). But the Corinthians apparently did nothing. So Paul decided to visit them. It was a very painful visit because even with him there, the Corinthians still refused to discipline the adulterous man!

When Paul got back to Ephesus, he wrote a very severe letter to the Corinthians. In this letter he probably threatened them that he would cut them off if they were to continue in unrepentance. Now, this letter has also been lost through the providence of God. It was not an inspired letter.

But this letter was so severe that Paul worried about how the Corinthians would react. He sent Titus to convey the letter to Corinth, but he was so troubled by how the Corinthians would react that he went out to Macedonia to see if he could catch Titus on his way back to Ephesus.

Well, his efforts paid off. Titus reported that the Corinthians had repented. They had disciplined the adulterous man, and the man was now repentant and sorrowful.

Paul was overwhelmed with joy; and it was in his exhilaration that he wrote his 4th known letter to the Corinthians,—otherwise known as 2nd Corinthians. In this letter, the apostle opened his heart wide to the Corinthians and he wrote in such a personal way that it is very difficult to discern any systematic structure in the letter.

But because it is a letter which overflowed out of a joyful heart, it contains many beautiful sayings of the apostle Paul and many statements of God’s promises. In fact, there are so many well-known and beloved statements of promises in this book that it is hard to choose one to focus on for our series on the Great and Precious Promises of God. Nevertheless, after some thought, I think, the one promise that will represent this letter very well would be none other than what the Lord said to Paul himself:

My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

The context of these words is familiar to most of us. The apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh. We don’t know what it is. Some think that it might be a problem with his eyesight. Others suggest it might be bouts of depression or impediment of speech. But whatever it might be, one thing is clear: It was bothering Paul. He felt that it was hindering him in his life and ministry. Perhaps he felt that he could not realise his full potential as a minister of the Gospel because of this thorn.

For this reason, he besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him (v. 8). We must not think that Paul simply prayed three times on the matter. In all probably, he would have prayed many times to the Lord to remove the thorn many times. But three times, he must have spent an extended time importunately imploring the Lord, perhaps with fasting.

But each time, Paul waited for a reply from the Lord; and each time, it became obvious that the Lord’s answer was no. And finally, on the third time, the Lord spoke to him. We don’t know how the Lord spoke to him, but we have no reason to doubt that the Lord could have spoken to him directly. The text for our study is essentially what the Lord said unto him.

This, I believe, is a statement of promise rather than a mere statement of fact. And I believe it is a promise for all believers who are walking with Christ. It is a promise that many of us who find ourselves in similar situations as Paul would find comfort in.

We can derive three thoughts from what the Lord is saying. We may briefly state the three thoughts as: (1) The Lord Knows Our Frustrations; (2) Thorns and Grace are His Gifts; and (3) The Lord is Building Us & Magnifying His Name


1. The Lord Knows Our Frustrations

Paul must have felt rather discouraged and helpless because of the thorn afflicting him.  I wonder how many times he must have thought: “How good it would be if this thorn is taken from me! What a difference it will make to my life and ministry if this thorn is taken from me!”

I wonder how many of us have thought and prayed in the same way. How good it will be if I have more energy! What a difference it will make if I had married someone else! What a big difference it will be if I am rich! If only that stain in my life could be removed!

Beloved brethren, if you have ever thought this way, you must remind yourself that the Lord knows. He knows what He is doing in your lives. He knows all your pains and sorrows. He knows all your frustrations and limitations. He is in control. He is with you.

This truth is implied by the eloquent silence of the Lord’s response to Paul’s request to take away the thorn in his flesh. God did not answer him the first two times when he implored the Lord to take away the thorn. But finally on the third time, the Lord answers. But He does not say, “Yes, my child, I will take it away.” Nor does He say, “No, my child, I cannot take it away.”

Our Lord simply says: “My grace is sufficient for thee…  Essentially what He is saying is: “Yes, my child, I know your pains. I know your frustrations. I am not unaware. Nor am I unconcerned. But trust me, my grace is sufficient for you. I am with you and will never leave you nor forsake you…”

Paul does not protest. I think he got the message. He needs to trust the Lord that He knows what is best for him. He needs to be contented under God’s mighty hand.

He needs to stop thinking about how to get out of the situation he is in. He needs to stop wishful thinking in regard to his thorns. He needs to stop fighting. He needs to stop acting as if God does not know or have lost control of the situation.

But secondly, we may learn from our text that…


2. Thorns & Grace are God’s Gifts

The Lord says to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee…” (2 Cor 12:9).

This is a remarkable promise. Not only does the Lord remind Paul that He knows and is in control. He promises to continue to support him with His grace: “My grace is sufficient for thee…

What does the Lord mean by His grace? No doubt the Lord is referring first of all to God’s good will towards him; and secondly to God’s gifts in his heart such as patience, joy, comfort, courage, strength, assurance of the Holy Spirit.

Paul needed to know that God’s ways are not his ways. He thought that the best thing that God could do would be to remove his thorn. But God knew better; and He wants Paul to rest content in Him. He wants Paul to know and appreciate that he does not really lack anything. God is not unaware of his limitations and weaknesses. He is supporting him with all that he needs in terms of providence and gifts.

God does not abandon us in our trials nor leave us to struggle in our own strength. When we feel lonely and weak in our Christian walk and ministry, we are tempted to think that we are all alone. But this is simply not true. Even if we are forsaken by friends and family members. We are never alone. Even when we feel helpless, we are not beyond help. God’s grace is sufficient for us.

It is not wrong to pray for the removal of the thorn in our flesh, whatever it may be. But remember that as God sometimes grants a request in His wrath, so He often denies a request in His love.

Why does He deny our request to remove our thorns which are causing heartaches and irritations?

He denies it because, in the first place, he had a reason for giving us the thorn. Do you realise that every thorn is part of God’s gift to you? Paul did not think of it that way when he beseeched the Lord to remove it. But so soon as the Lord says to him, “my grace is sufficient for thee,” so soon was he able to confess: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities…” (2 Cor 12:9).

Paul could now see that both the thorn, and the grace to live and serve with the thorn are part of God’s gracious package for him.

What about you beloved brethren, youths and children? What is your thorn? Can you see how the thorn and grace to live with it are part of God’s gift for you?

But why? Why does the Lord give you thorns and then grace to live with it? Well, the answer is found in the fact that…


3. The Lord is Building us & Magnifying His Name

The Lord says: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

How is God’s strength made perfect in weakness? I believe in two ways.

In the first place, it is when we are weak that we learn to depend on the Lord. Thus it is when we are weak that we are strongest. This is what Paul means when says, verse 10—“for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

Because those who depend on their own strength and wisdom can never accomplish what they could accomplish in the Lord’s strength. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” says Paul (Phil 4:13). Those who depend on their own strength in their walk with the Lord will tend to give up or become overwhelmed by failures and discouragement, whereas those who depend on the strength of God will press on having the joy of the Lord as their strength (Neh 8:10).

And so in the second place, God’s strength is made perfect in weakness when the world beholds what can be done through a man of great limitations. Should the man whom the Lord chooses to represent Him be a super-hero or super-saint with no thorns or faults at all, then wouldn’t glory redound to the man? But when one who is weak and hindered by a thorn in the flesh is used by God to accomplish great things in His name, then do not the glory redound to God? “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1Cor 1:27).

It is for these two inter-related reasons that Paul could say: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9b)


Conclusion

Beloved brethren, youth and children, do you have a thorn? I believe most of us have. It may be a flaw in your character. It may be something that happened in your life. It may have to do with your family—your children or spouse. It may be a physical or mental infirmity. Whatever it may be, it is my prayer that you will learn to thank God for it too.

Let us learn not only to thank God for the roses in our lives. Let us learn to thank God also for the thorns. Roses without thorns are fake. They show the wisdom and power of man. But roses with thorns show the infinite wisdom and mighty power of God.

Let us learn from the promise that God made with Paul that not only are the thorns in our lives divinely appointed for good reasons, but that the grace of the Lord is sufficient for us to live and serve with the thorns. Amen.