“Peace – be still – experience my peace as I surround you with my love. Set aside the tumult of noise which the world is clamouring and be still. Let the only noise that you hear be the sound of My grace as it comes crashing in waves over you. Waves of joy, waves of forgiveness, waves of love, waves of a new power to love and to live in the victory I have won for you and My kingdom. Pause at the beginning of this new day and consider My grace which is so much more than just an attitude I have towards you – consider and experience it. Open your mind and I will help you as you seek to know this incomparable never-ending gift I flood you and the world with.”
How often have you been frustrated with things that are happening in your life? Of the way things are working out in the lives of your children or close friends? How often have you been frustrated by ill-health or some other challenge which has affected your quality of life? Have you stopped and considered that these very frustrations may actually have been “given you” in the words of Paul in Corinthians 12:7? That there has been a purpose behind this frustrating experience?
We come in today’s reading to the climax of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. This represents, in the words of Scott Haferman, “the theological substructure of the whole letter”. It summarizes the message that Paul has been trying to bring across from the first chapter.
Let us start by picking up the context from last time again. Paul has been warding off the attacks by the false apostles which have arisen in Corinth. He has been confronting and challenging them on several fronts. They have especially been boasting about their prowess and speaking ability and comparing it to Paul’s lack of super speech and his frail appearance. They have pointed out his many bad experiences are a sign that he has no power and therefore cannot be a true Apostle.
From 11:16 Paul picks up the intensity of his argument by turning to an almost sarcastic revelation of all the bad experiences he has been having, as an Apostle. He is actually boasting in these experiences. Seventeen verses devoted to the hardships he has experienced. Just as you start wondering if he is crazy wanting to boast about these things we come to a verse which actually reveals the point he is trying to make. 11:30 “If I must boast I will boast of the things that show my weakness” Four times in the next 12 vv (1: 5; v 9; v9 again; v 10) he repeats this intention he has of boasting about his weakness. But in 12; 9,10 he reveals exactly why he can and feels he must boast in his weakness. Can you see why?
Can you see why this is actually the very core of the gospel message? As I have often said before and will go on repeating. If your life is chugging along OK and your relationships are fairly good and your Christianity involves nothing more than going through the motions of Church, bible study, prayer etc, then you actually don’t need the power of Jesus which is released in you and for you through the gospel. You look no different to every one else and have no witness to the world. In fact it becomes easy to join the chorus of the world complaining about all the “inconveniences” that everyone experiences.
But God wants more for you and your relationship with Him. God wants us to be humbly dependent on Him, recognizing that He is the Provider of all we have. He wants us to appreciate Him, and how could we appreciate Him more than when we experience His power and guidance when we are struggling with health or other problems? So Paul has come to he conclusion which God wants all of us to come to, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness”.
I’ll never forget my first experience of the truth of this passage when in 1983 I dragged myself out of bed with severe flu while my partner was away on leave, so that I could deal with a farm emergency. As I drove, barely able to make out the road ahead, I kept repeating, “my grace is sufficient for you” and it was. In this year during the 9 months of my experience with Long Covid, this was my repeated mantra, when I felt I could not go on any longer, “My grace is sufficient for you”, then I could pick myself up in His grace and go on. And you know what? His grace was always sufficient. More than sufficient.
That is the deep overriding message of 2 Corinthians. So we can say, with Paul, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong”. 12:12.
Just a remark or two to add to this, Firstly Paul says that he was given a messenger from Satan. Who gave it? Well God, in His loving mercy, but He used Satan to implement the message. He was given this message for his ultimate benefit. Mmmm makes you think.
Secondly there is the seemingly strange statement where Paul says he prayed and pleaded with the Lord to take it away three times. I have often wondered why the only prayed 3 times, if it was so serious. Without going into detail, it seems the use of he expression 3 times should not be taken literally. It symbolizes a continual devotion to pleading and the number 3 symbolizes completeness. he prayed often and he prayed enough. So the problem wasn’t with his prayer or lack of it, it was a question of God saying “wait” or “no”. And in the mean time my grace will sustain you.
Friends, grace is so much more than God’s attitude of giving us what we don’t deserve. It involves every aspect of our relationship with Him. By His grace he sustains us at every level. By grace he changes our lives, constantly intervening in multiple ways. No wonder Newton’s hymn is so popular. God’s grace is truly amazing. I personally just want to get to know and understand it personally in a greater and deeper way. Unfortunately there is no better place to experience it than when we are suffering. However, it infuses every aspect of our lives and if we will only be sensitive to it we will be more and more aware of it.
Blessed week for all of you immersed in God’s amazing and all-pervading grace.