2 Cor 12:1-10 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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.
Paul has many experiences of God that he could have shared to show how "anointed" an apostle he is, but he has refrained from doing so. But the Corinthian believers were going after the "super-apostles" who captivated their hearts with their amazing eloquence and new revelations about Jesus, the Spirit and the Gospel. Paul has no choice but to share his own spiritual experiences in order to establish his credentials and credibility as the true apostle of Christ: "For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works" (v.11-12). The real test of a true apostle is not talk but power. These "super-apostles" can really talk and inspire the listeners with their new theology. But the real test of true apostleship is not talk but power--"signs and wonders and mighty works."
Paul feels compelled to share his experience of being caught up in paradise ("third heaven") to pull these straying Corinthian believers back to the true path. So, he shares how he was caught up ("raptured") to the third heaven fourteen years earlier. He saw and heard things that he could not give expressions too--there were no earthly comparisions to eternal glories he experienced. God has pulled aside the curtain so that he could have a glimpse of the heavenly rewards that await true believers. And he was so awed by what he saw and heard, there was a real danger he could become puffed up. So in order that Paul would not become too elated by his spiritual experience, he was given what he calls a "thorn in the flesh". Some scholars have identified that with some physical infirmity, but Paul's own explanation of this thorn is that it is "a messenger of Satan sent to harass me, to keep me from being too elated." One wisecrack suggested that it was probably his wife! But this thorn was definitely a person who was harassing Paul and making his life miserable.
Those who are in full-time ministry are very likely to have our own "thorn in the flesh" who makes our lives miserable. The natural reaction to this thorn is to pray for its removal: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me" (2 Cor 12:8). But God has allowed this thorn to remain to keep him humble. Instead of removing the thorn, God grants Paul the grace to endure it: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (v.9). When faced with similar adversary in our congregation or leadership rank, we should thank God that these "messengers of Satan" who keep us from letting our successes get into our head because we have become too "elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations."
True grace is not experienced when everything goes our way. True grace is experienced when things do not go our way (when it seems like God's favour is all but gone). True grace is God's power experienced in moments of weakness and discouragement: "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" (2 Cor 12:10). If we think grace will guarantee us a smooth and trouble-free life, we need to re-examine our theology in the light of Scripture.
Father, thank You true grace is not experienced when everything goes our way. True grace is experienced when things are not going our way. Amen.