God will, at times, place us in difficult situations in order to humble and teach us. This happens because it’s our natural proclivity to be prideful and to rely on our own strength and resources. When this happens, He gives us hardship so we’ll cry out to Him for strength and guidance, and He always comes through.
The apostle Paul learned a valuable lesson about God’s grace, but first he had to suffer beyond his ability to cope. The incident occurred when he received special revelation from God and this led him to be puffed up with pride (2 Cor 12:1-6), and the Lord gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to humble him (2 Cor 12:7). No one knows what the “thorn in the flesh” was, but it caused Paul a great amount of suffering. He prayed three times for the Lord to take it away (2 Cor 12:8), but God refused to remove it because it served His purpose. However, the Lord did not leave Paul without the means to handle the suffering, as He told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). Paul wanted the thorn removed. God said no. But then He gave Paul grace that was sufficient to deal with the suffering. The word grace (χάρις charis), as it is used here, refers to divine enablement. It is the strength necessary to cope with a problem that is greater than our ability to handle on our own. God gives grace in proportion to our weakness. The greater our weakness, the more grace He gives. This is a moment by moment grace; always sufficient for the need, and the need is always changing. A problem for many of us is that we think about tomorrow’s problems from the standpoint of today’s grace. But tomorrow’s problems are different than today’s problems, and we cannot expect to deal with tomorrow’s problems with today’s grace. Today’s grace is for today, and tomorrow’s grace will be given to us tomorrow, when we need it. We simply trust the Lord that He sees our needs and will provide for us in each moment. We become relaxed when we realize and accept this.
When Paul came to understand God’s grace and how it worked in his life, he responded properly, saying, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9b). Paul’s weakness, which ebbed and flowed, was always matched by God’s power to do His will. Paul learned to depend on God, day by day, hour by hour, and moment by moment, as the need required. Because God’s grace is always sufficient for the need, Paul could actually boast about his afflictions and weaknesses, for when he was weak, God would supply His strength. Weakness is a blessing if it teaches us to look to God more and to ourselves less. Paul applied this to all of his situations, saying, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Our weakness and God’s power are simultaneously at work in us, much like they were in Christ when He faced the cross, or in Paul, as he dealt with his thorn in the flesh. “The greater we sense our weakness, the more we will sense God’s power (cf. Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13).”
This grace of Christ (13:14) was adequate for Paul, weak as he was, precisely because (gar, “for”) divine power finds its full scope and strength only in human weakness—the greater the Christian’s acknowledged weakness, the more evident Christ’s enabling strength (cf. Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13). But it is not simply that weakness is a prerequisite for power. Both weakness and power existed simultaneously in Paul’s life (note vv. 9b, 10b), as they did in Christ’s ministry and death. Indeed, the cross of Christ forms the supreme example of “power-in-weakness.”
We struggle with suffering for at least two reasons: 1) because it leaves us feeling helpless and vulnerable, and 2) because it’s an affront to our pride. We don’t like to think of ourselves as weak. But suffering is our friend when it exposes our weakness and leads us to lean on Christ every moment of every day, for it’s in that hardship that our faith grows and God’s grace is greatest.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- The Basics of Grace
- God’s Grace to Save
- Not of Works
- Living by Grace
- God’s Favor Toward His People
- Why Believers Show No Grace
 Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 2 Co 12:9.
 Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 397.