My Grace is Sufficient for You
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. 2 Cor. 12: 9
Dear Reader, not only are we as Christians not immune from heartaches, it often seems we experience more of them than the non-Christians around us. But for almost two thousand years, multiplied thousands of believers have found comfort, encouragement, and the strength to endure from God’s words to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12: 9). Paul was no stranger to adversity. Earlier in 2 Corinthians he had spoken of his troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger (2Cor. 6: 4-5). Yet one particular affliction apparently caused him more pain and grief than all the others combined. He referred to it as “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2Cor. 12: 7). We have no idea what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. It’s pointless to speculate. Whatever it was, it was probably a natural hindrance to his ministry. We do know it was a Satanic attack (a messenger of Satan), but it was given to him at the direction of the God whom he loved and served with all his heart.
Paul had had a unique experience. As he described in the opening verses of 2 Corinthians 12, he had been caught up to the “third heaven,” to God’s paradise, and had heard inexpressible things that he was not permitted to tell. This rapturous experience, apparently unique to Paul, could have caused him to be filled with pride had he been left to himself. But God in His infinite wisdom and love for Paul did not leave him exposed to that temptation. Paul himself described God’s gracious tendency against pride this way: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”. 2Cor. 12:7-10
I want to focus particularly on that crucial and blessed statement in 2 Cor. 12: 9, “My grace is sufficient for you,” because it opens to us another dimension of God’s grace. Many of us are familiar with the common definition of grace as God’s unmerited favour to us through Jesus Christ. In verse 9, as well as other Scriptures, we see grace used to mean God’s divine assistance to us through the Holy Spirit. This divine assistance is actually the power of the risen Christ, but it is mediated to us by God’s Spirit.
Here the word grace does not mean as elsewhere God’s favour but is used to indicate the help of the Holy Spirit which comes to us from God’s undeserved favour. Paul used grace in this same sense in 1 Cor.15:10. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” The grace of God, in this connection, is not the love of God, but the influence of the Holy Spirit considered as an unmerited favour. This is not only the theological and popular, but also the scriptural sense of the word grace in many passages. A “popular . . . sense of the word grace” refers to the way we speak when we say something such as, “By God’s grace I was able to love my unloveable neighbour.” We refer, to God’s enabling in an otherwise impossible situation. And we know that the aid we receive comes to us through the influence or help of His Spirit. We can readily see this popular but biblical use of the word grace in a very familiar Scripture written by Paul, Phil. 4:13: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” If, in place of the words “through him who gives me strength,” we substitute the words “by His grace,” verse 13 would read, “I can do everything by His grace.”
First, it is God’s unmerited favour to us through Christ whereby salvation and all other blessings are freely given to us. Second, it is God’s divine assistance to us through the Holy Spirit. Obviously the second meaning is encompassed in the first because the aid of the Spirit is one of the “all other blessings” given to us through Christ. We distinguish these two aspects of grace, however, because the first focuses on God’s grace as the source of all blessings, whereas the second focuses on God’s grace expressed specifically as the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
THE THORN IN THE FLESH
Paul needed grace, but he also needed the thorn in his flesh. Like us, he was susceptible to the temptation of pride, and the thorn was given to check that temptation. As if to emphasise the need of the thorn, Paul twice stated the Lord’s purpose in giving it to him. It was to keep pride at bay. Paul was a humble man. He considered himself “less than the least of all God’s people” and the worst of sinners (Eph. 3: 8; 1 Tim. 1:15); yet he knew he was susceptible to pride, given the right circumstances. All of us are susceptible to pride. And pride stands in direct opposition to grace, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Jam. 4: 6). Pride is often reflective of a self-righteous attitude. We begin to grow in the Christian life, and we see other believers who are not growing as we are. We are tempted to become proud of our spiritual growth. Or we see some Christian fall into temptation, and instead of being concerned, we become critical because of our own self-righteousness.
Pride can manifest itself in very subtle ways. God had a beneficial purpose in giving the thorn, whatever it was, to Paul. And it was God who gave it, even though it was given through the instrumentality of Satan. Satan certainly had no interest in curbing Paul’s temptation to pride; he would have wanted just the opposite. God never allows pain without a purpose in the lives of His children. He never allows Satan, nor circumstances, nor any ill-intending person to afflict us unless He uses that affliction for our good. God never wastes pain. He always causes it to work together for our ultimate good, the good of conforming us more to the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8: 28-29). God’s purpose for Paul’s thorn is clearly stated in the text: “to keep me from becoming conceited” (2 Cor. 12: 7). God never explained to Job the purpose of his unbelievable pain. He left Job to suffer in the dark, so to speak. That is usually our experience. But, as was the case when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, though the devil intends to harm us, God intends it for good (Gen. 50: 20).
THE PRIDE OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY
God never removed Paul’s thorn, despite his anguished pleas. When Paul wrote these words, it had been fourteen years since he had received the surpassingly great revelations (2 Cor. 12: 2). During that time he had suffered many varied adversities. How could he have still needed the thorn to curb any temptation to become conceited? God had an even greater purpose for the thorn. He wanted Paul to experience the sufficiency of His grace. He wanted him to learn that the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit was all he needed. He wanted Paul to learn to lean continually on the Spirit for strength. The sin of self-sufficiency goes all the way back to the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Satan said to Eve, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3: 5). Mankind was created to be dependent upon God: physically, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28); and spiritually, Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15: 5). God intended our dependence on Him to be conscious and continuous. But Satan tempted Eve to assert her autonomy and self-sufficiency. One of the more dramatic and prolonged illustrations of this is found in His miraculous provision for the Israelite nation in the desert. After living forty years in the desert, Moses recounted their experiences in the book of Deuteronomy. This is one of his more vivid recollections Deut. 8: 2-3.
God humbled the people and caused them to hunger before He fed them. He deliberately brought them to the end of themselves. The description in Psalm 107: 5 is apt: “They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away.” Then He fed them miraculously with food they had never tasted before. God wanted them to be acutely aware of the fact that He was feeding them; they were dependent on His provision every day. “The physical dependence illustrates the spiritual dependence of Jesus’ words, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15: 5).
THE SUFFICIENCY OF GRACE
Before we can learn the sufficiency of God’s grace, we must learn the insufficiency of ourselves. The more we see our sinfulness, the more we appreciate grace in its basic meaning of God’s undeserved favour. In a similar manner, the more we see our frailty, weakness, and dependence, the more we appreciate God’s grace in its dimension of His divine assistance. Just as grace shines more brilliantly against the dark background of our sin, so it also shines more brilliantly against the background of our human weakness. Paul’s words in Rom. 5:20 “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” He could have just as aptly said in 2 Cor. 12:9, “But where human weakness increased, grace increased all the more.” That is essentially what he said in different words “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
This power infusing our weakness is a concrete expression of His grace: His power comes to our aid through the ministry of His Spirit in our lives. This is the mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit on our human spirit through which He strengthens us and enables us to meet in a godly fashion whatever circumstances we encounter. We want to feel better in difficult situations, but God wants us to glorify Him in those circumstances. Good feelings may come, or they may not, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether or not we honour God by the way we respond to our circumstances. God’s grace—that is, the enabling power of the Holy Spirit—is given to help us respond in such a way. God’s grace is sufficient.
There is a lesson about grace in the way God distributed the manna to the Israelites in the desert. Exo. 16:16-21 says, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’” The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So we must look to Him anew each day for a new supply. Sometimes we must look for a new supply each hour! We were created for a simple, childlike dependence on Him, but since the Fall we have tended to resist that dependence.
God well knew this tendency when He gave this warning through Moses to the Israelites: You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. Deut. 8:16-18. It is noteworthy that this warning occurs shortly after the reminder in verses 2-3, which was mentioned earlier. Such a self-sufficient attitude is obviously detrimental to our relationship with God, so He works to keep that from happening. He allows our respective thorns in the flesh to remain, giving us grace sufficient to cope with them only day by day. From time to time He brings extraordinary crises into our lives, as He did when Paul was forced to say, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1: 8-9). Despite his ever-present thorn, Paul was brought to a crisis extremity to learn anew to rely not on himself but on God. Whether it is the continuing thorn in the flesh or the extraordinary crisis that sometimes occurs, both are intended by God to keep us conscious of our human weakness and our dependence on Him, so that we might experience the sufficiency of His grace and the adequacy of His power.
Paul’s attitude toward his weakness was vastly different from our usual modern response. We abhor weakness and glory in self-sufficiency and man-made accomplishments. Even Christians flock to hear the sports superstar or the popular entertainer give his or her testimony, simply because of that person’s fame and status. How many of us would make any effort to hear a man who said, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses. . . . I delight in weaknesses. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong”? I think I am only beginning to understand a little bit the validity of Paul’s statement, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Every believer must learn that human weakness and divine grace go hand in hand together.” Paul had learned that lesson well. He said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12: 9). Paul had learned that God’s grace is indeed sufficient; His divine enabling through the power of the Holy Spirit would sustain him in the midst of the torments of his thorn, and in the depths of other weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties (verse 10).
In conclusion, I want to call your attention to the fact that we are not simply passive recipients of God’s grace. Just as the Israelites had to gather day-by-day the manna God graciously provided, so we must appropriate day-by-day the grace that is always sufficient for every need. What is your greatest need right now? Whatever your need at this time, you too can experience the reality of God’s words to Paul: “My grace is sufficient sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s grace is sufficient. It is sufficient for all your needs; it is sufficient regardless of the severity of any one’s need. The Israelites never exhausted God’s supply of manna. It was always there to be gathered every day for forty years. And you will never exhaust the supply of God’s grace. It will always be there every day for you to appropriate as much as you need for whatever your need is. Truly God’s Grace is sufficient for all and in all situations. Remain blessed!
Jesus is Lord!
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