When Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians, he was dealing with some folks who were distorting the lessons and story of Jesus under the guise that they were stronger apostles than even Paul. They claimed to have had visions and visitations they said gave them clearer insight.
In chapter 12, we learn more about Paul’s conversion or possibly a subsequent incident where he was present in the Heavens and heard things no man should hear nor can share. He could not be sure if he was present in body or was lifted out of his body at the time. He had not shared the event before because he felt it was boasting. In response to the challenge of Corinthia’s false teachers though, he felt forced to validate his credentials.
During this part of his letter, Paul relates that it is not his heavenly visions or revelations that validated him. It was his weaknesses. No one knows for sure specifically what Paul is talking about when he talks about his weaknesses. He says he was given a “thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.” (2 Cor 12:7)
Praying to God to take it away, Paul received the response, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) Paul describes insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles suffered for Christ. Could his weaknesses include the attacks like the false teachers were making on his character, his poverty and hard travels, his incarcerations, and shipwrecks? Or was the thorn in his flesh an additional impediment, maybe some physical ailment or deformity?
That makes for some wonderful conversation and thought, but since the finest Biblical scholars haven’t nailed it down yet, we probably won’t here in this blog. What matters is that Paul rejoiced in those weaknesses, suffered for Christ, and they made him stronger.
There is a modern expression taken from this Bible verse. “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” We use it to assure people we will be okay after an incident or to reassure them that they will be okay in time. It is more than a silly expression to use when life goes awry. Making you stronger does not necessarily mean in a physical manner.
A friend of mine was in a horrible accident where he shattered his pelvis and leg. After months of rehabilitation, he came home 60 pounds lighter than he went in. He joked about whether the accident should have killed him because he certainly didn’t feel any stronger. A third friend chirped, “Do you believe in God, yet?” Truth was, my friend said he had many conversations with the lord during his ordeal. “There you go.” He was stronger where it mattered.
We hear stories about people finding Christ when they are at their lowest. That can mean emotionally, physically, or spiritually. When all else seems lost, when we are at our weakest, most of life’s distractions fade to the background. Jesus becomes easier to recognize and hear.
Someone close to me was divorced, depressed, demoralized by a job demotion, and feeling totally alone when she suddenly called to ask me about Christ. She had found him. Our conversation just validated her calling. Today, she gives self-help classes to divorcees. Her weakness made her stronger in her faith and in her worldly life.
Paul’s afflictions kept him humble enough to stay focused on message. All he could do was talk of Christ and Him crucified. There would be no boasting of his personal interactions with the Lord or visits to heaven. We see that all around us today. People suffering with addictions, deformities, and illnesses using their weakness to make other lives better… and in turn strengthening their resolve and faith.
When things don’t appear to be going well in your life; when tragedy strikes or a thorn pokes into your flesh, take it for it is. An opportunity from God to grow in faith and hope and maybe to share that new strength with the rest of God’s children.