Seeing Grace in the Every Day. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of 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 becoming conceited.

To prevent such spiritual pride from welling up in Paul, he was given a thorn in the flesh.

“to keep me from being conceited” – On the bright side, Paul fully understands the purpose of this “thorn” in his life. It was designed to keep him humbly dependent upon God’s grace as he lived and ministered under the gospel. The word conceited implies that that Paul might view himself as better than others, or that he might look down on others because they had not received the same spiritual experience he had.

“thorn” – The word translated “thorn” (skolops) occurs only here in the New Testament. It refers to something pointed such as a stake for impaling, a medical instrument, or a thorn. “Stake” would be a better translation, though “thorn” has dominated English renderings of the word.412 The metaphor carries “the notion of something sharp and painful which sticks deeply in the flesh and in the will of God defies extracting.

Paul’s point being that God has pinned down his pride through the use of this stake.

The word describes something that causes pain, annoyance—something vexing—and does not especially refer to sickness or affliction it can also refer to some kind of opposition.

What exactly IS his thorn in the flesh?  A plethora of suggestions have been made.

1.  Continual criticism of his physical appearance
2.  Some physical ailment, such as poor eye sight or other sickness.
3.  Some sort of psychological ailment, such as distress, depression, or guilt.
4.  Some spiritual sort of ailment, ie. sexual temptation.
To which john piper responds using verse 10: So you can see that what Paul has in mind here is not sin. He is not talking about a kind of behavior—like we might say he has a weakness for lust; or she has a weakness for overeating. Paul is not talking about bad choices that we make. He is not saying, The power of Christ is perfected in my bad choices. Or: I will all the more gladly boast of my bad choices. Weaknesses here are not imperfect behaviors.
5.  Trouble from adversarial theological groups, ie. the Judiazers. I tend to lean in this direction, especially because Paul describes this thorn as a “messenger”, literally “an angel”.

“was given” – The passive voice implies that God gave it to him. “Martin comments that the verb “to give” (δίδοναι) is used to denote God’s favor (see Gal 3:21; Eph 3:8; 5:19; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Corinthians, 412). Plummer suggests that if Satan were the agent, the verbs, “lay upon” (ἐπιτίθημι, Luke 10:30; 23:36; Acts 16:23), or “cast” (βάλλειν, Rev 2:24) or “put on” (ἐπιβάλλειν, 1 Cor 7:35) would have been more appropriate (The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 348).”

“Satan” – Satan comes as God’s adversary to lure people away from God’s rule, or he comes as God’s proxy to implement trials God authorizes. The story of Job provides the foremost example of the latter.426

APP: if we are not careful, we will let satan take over the things God places or allows in our life and we miss the spiritual lesson(s) God intends to reveal. We forget that God works all things together for good (Rom 8)…that trials are designed to produce maturity within us (Jas 1).

“So the answer to our second question is that the source of our weaknesses may sometimes be Satan and his destructive designs for us; but always our weaknesses are designed by God for our good. This is why the truth of God’s sovereign grace is so precious in the midst of hardship and calamity. God is in control of Satan. Satan does nothing to God’s children that God does not design with infinite skill and love for our good.” – John Piper

APP: Know God is in control of all of life’s circumstances.

“harass” – The verb “to torment” (kolaphizein, “abuse,” “batter”) implies humiliating violence—being slapped around; and the present tense suggests that it was persistent—something that happens over and over again.

Satan was permitted to buffet Paul. The word means “to beat, to strike with the fist.” The tense of the verb indicates that this pain was either constant or recurring.

ILL: Paul was given a spiritual “kick me” sign that he could not remove from his back.

“to keep me from becoming conceited” – 2 times in this verse! Paul’s “thorn” was an effective cure for any mistaken euphoria that visions might evoke. God wanted Paul to remain humble and fully aware of his own weakness. The thorn punctured any pride that might surge within him because of his grand entry into heaven, and the result was that he dealt with others with the meekness and gentleness of Christ (10:1) rather than with the arrogant puffery of Satan.

APP: To dwell on our own excellence is dangerous because it causes us to turn our attention from God’s glory to our own. It stokes the sinful desire to create a circle of admirers for ourselves rather than admirers (disciples) for Christ.

True discipleship is established by the building up of the Christians around us, not by how many spiritual mountain peaks one can claim he has climbed.

APP: Paul’s ambiguity as to his thorn allows for a broader context of personal application, while still applying the same theological and devotional lesson to our own lives. Thorns take many shapes and sizes.

APP: No matter the moment, depend on the grace of God.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

Paul’s initial prayer entreating the Lord to remove the stake (or perhaps the messenger of Satan, since the verb aphistēmi is always used of persons in the NT) indicates that he did not initially appreciate the significance of this affliction nor was it something easily borne.

APP: some incorrect responses to suffering:

1.  Bitterness and anger toward God.
2.  Give up and give in. Some throw themselves a pity party.
3.  Attempt to muscle through with self reliance.

APP: Few are able to value the onset of anything unpleasant or difficult, and they usually grasp its value only in retrospect.

APP: As Jesus accepted the cross through fervent prayer, so Paul has resigned himself to submit to God’s will about his weakness and no longer makes this request. Times come in our lives when we must learn to accept what is inescapable and then listen for what God is saying to us through it. We might find that we are mistaken about what we think is best for us and for God’s work.

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.

Stakes in the flesh are not good, but they also are not bad because they may convey a word from God if we are attuned to hear it. What is important to Paul is the theological word-to-the-wise that his stake in the flesh provided him. It was a constant reminder of God’s grace and God’s power working through him.

Although God’s grace is sufficient, removal of the thorn would have been insufficient because Paul would not continually be dependent on the power of God in his life.

APP: Look for God’s grace in everything and completely rely upon God at all times.

Our tendency is to automatically see affliction and suffering as punishment from God, when in reality, it actually is a gift from God.

“But he said to me” – Literally: “once for all he said to me”.

ILL: “Is that your final answer?”

In fact, in this particular case, God’s denial of Paul’s request turned out to be to Paul’s greater good because it was to God’s greater glory

When we accept our own weakness, we then also learn that we must totally rely upon God. This is why the stake was not some temporary lesson that God would allow quickly to pass. It is the essential necessity, not just for Paul, but for all of us.

In the Christian life, we get many of our blessings through transformation, not substitution. When Paul prayed three times for the removal of his pain, he was asking God for a substitution: “Give me health instead of sickness, deliverance instead of pain and weakness.” Sometimes God does meet the need by substitution; but other times He meets the need by transformation. He does not remove the affliction, but He gives us His grace so that the affliction works for us and not against us.

“My grace” – What is grace? It is God’s provision for our every need when we need it.

“sufficient” – It was a message of sufficient grace. There is never a shortage of grace. God is sufficient for our spiritual ministries (2 Cor. 3:4–6) and our material needs (2 Cor. 9:8) as well as our physical needs (2 Cor. 12:9).

“my power” – We learn from the message given to Paul that God’s grace is not just the unmerited favor that saves us but a force that also sustains us throughout our lives. The modifier “my” in “my power,” is important. Paul is not speaking about power in general, but “the power of Christ” revealed in the crucifixion and resurrection: “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you” (13:4)

“perfect” – The verb “perfected” (teleitai) means “brought to completion” or “is made fully present.” The present tense indicates that it is not yet a finished product but that it is still in process of being made perfect.

“weakness” – The stake makes him acutely aware of his own inadequacies and prevents him from thinking that he is equal to the task alone. It prevents a bloated ego from crowding out the power of God in his life.

“that the power of Christ might rest upon me” – God gives his pride a knockout blow that makes him completely dependent on divine power, not his own. As Bruce puts it, “His prayer was indeed answered, not by his deliverance from the affliction, but by his receiving the necessary grace to bear it.”432 But he received more than grace to bear a vexing affliction; he received the power of Christ.

APP: What God’s people really need is God’s grace and power, not comfortable living. It is my fear that we all live too comfortable.

The deepest need that you and I have in weakness and adversity is not quick relief, but the well-grounded confidence that what is happening to us is part of the greatest purpose of God in the universe—the glorification of the grace and power of his Son—the grace and power that bore him to the cross and kept him there until the work of love was done. That’s what God is building into our lives. That is the meaning of weakness, insults, hardships, persecution, calamity. –John Piper

10 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.

APP: “For the sake of Christ” – As believers, We don’t live our lives for us, but for Jesus.

“insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” –

Insults—when people think of clever ways of making your faith or your lifestyle or your words look stupid or weird or inconsistent. When we were giving out “Finding Your Field of Dreams” at the dome, I heard one man say mockingly, “And the Lord said, Play ball.” And all his friends laughed.

Hardships—circumstances forced upon you, reversals of fortune against your will. This could refer to any situation where you feel trapped. You didn’t plan it or think it would be this way. But there you are, and it’s hard.

Persecutions—wounds or abuses or painful circumstances or acts of prejudice or exploitation from people because of your Christian faith or your Christian moral commitments. It’s when you are not treated fairly. You get a raw deal.

Calamities (or distresses or difficulties or troubles)—the idea is one of pressure or crushing or being weighed down; circumstances that tend to overcome you with stress and tension.

“then I am strong” – He is therefore most powerful when he is least reliant on his own resources. Illusions of our own strength cause us to overlook divine power and results in our rebelliousness against God.

2 Thessalonians Chapter 3

Pray for Us

3 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.

  • “pray for us” – Paul considered prayer one means by which the church could participate with him in his ministry, and he frequently asked for prayers that his ministry might be accomplished and that those who would hinder him might be overcome (cf. Rom 15:30; 2 Cor 1:11; Phil 1:19).

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2 Thessalonians Chapter 2

The Man of Lawlessness

2 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers,

  • In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had tried to calm their concern regarding those Christians who died before Christ’s return. They had adopted the idea that only those believers living when Christ came back would be united with him for his triumphant conquering of earth. Now a new concern is that the Day of the Lord had already occurred. Did they miss it?
  • “coming of our Lord…and our being gathered together to him” –  not two separate events, but one. See 1 Thess. 4.13-18.

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1 Thessalonians Chapter 4

Introduction: Now & Later

When I was a kid, I could always count on my Dad stopping at a convenience store for snacks.  One of my favorites growing up were the Now & Later candies. Apparently they have their name because you’ll enjoy them now and want some more later. I usually just enjoyed mine in the now and didn’t worry much about the later.

Paul combines these two aspect of time in our chapter this week. What we do now impacts the later. How we view the later often impacts what we do now. With this in mind, Paul discusses three important characteristics which believers should embody in the now (1-12) – purity (1-7), love (9-10), and life (11-12). Then, wanting to clear confusion among the church about the later, he speaks about the resurrection and rapture of God’s people (13-18).

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1 Thessalonians Chapter 3

I am certain that I never did grow in grace one-half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain. ~ Charles Spurgeon

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions.

  • The biblical account tells us that Jewish persecution caused Paul to move from Thessalonica to Berea and then to Athens (Acts 17.1-15). It also suggests that Timothy and Silas stayed in Berea when Paul moved on to Athens (17.14,15). We are not told when, but at some point, Paul is joined in Athens by Timothy and possible Silas. Timothy is then dispatched from Athens to provide strength (“establish”) and encourage (“exhort”) faith within the persecuted congregation in Thessalonica. Timothys third purpose is mentioned in verse 3a.
  • “brother” – a term frequently used as a designation for fellow believers.
  • “God’s coworker” – Paul often used the term “fellow worker” for someone who was engaged in mission efforts along side him. Here, however, he refers to Timothy as “God’s coworker”, thus identifying him as one who had his own ministry and could be trusted to adequately “establish” the church there.
  • Not only is Paul supporting Timothy’s trustworthiness and authority to accomplish the further building of the church, he is also communicating the value of the church by sending such an individual.
  • “that no one be moved” – literally means “to shake”. It is best understood to mean one is upset or agitated.

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Sharing the Good News Well: 10 Principles on Evangelism from 2 Thessalonians 2

  1. Reflect & remember how the gospel has impacted your own life (v. 1).
  2. Know that God has entrusted you with the gospel message (v. 4). There is expectation that you share it. You are capable of sharing it.
  3. The gospel is able to stand on its own (v. 5). There is no need for us to change or update it.
  4. The gospel makes God glorious. Not you (v. 6).
  5. As you share the gospel, don’t attempt to force conversions. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job (v. 7).
  6. The gospel is best shared within the context of shared lives (v. 8). Invest yourself in other people.
  7. Live a life that builds gospel integrity (v. 9, 10). When our lives don’t mirror the gospel and God’s Word, we loose our credibility as we share.
  8. Sharing the gospel is personal (v. 12). Show people you genuinely care.
  9. Use the Bible (v. 13) It changes lives. Let God work.
  10. Rejoice when the gospel is received (v. 13). I have witnessed more applause for the service of the church florist than the repentance of a hardened sinner. This strikes me as inappropriate.

1 Thessalonians Chapter 2

Introduction:

The gospel is the good news that the everlasting and ever-increasing joy of the never-boring, ever-satisfying Christ is ours freely and eternally by faith in the sin-forgiving death and hope-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ. – John Piper

In 1 Thess. chapter two, we see the heart of the apostle Paul regarding his desire to share the life-changing gospel of Christ. And why wouldn’t he? He understands and trusts the gospel to work as it is shared. May God grow in us the desire to share with others the redemption freely offered to us through the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross.

Not only does Paul demonstrate the heart of a believer willing to share the good news, he also gives us an example of how to live in order to present the gospel effectively.

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1 Thessalonians Chapter 1

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

  • As is Paul’s usual custom, the epistle begins with salutations from Paul and others in his company, a naming of the recipients, and a short blessing.
  • Interestingly, 1 & 2 Thess. are the only epistles in which Paul does not add a description of himself or those with him (Compare to Colossians 1.1). Perhaps this is due to the early writing of these epistles or his comfort level with the church.
  • The writing also suggest that the epistle’s authorship is actually shared between the three men listed. The first person plural pronoun “we” is used throughout the book.
  • “Silas” – see Acts 15.22-34. An abbreviated form of the longer, Silvanus. Leader in the church in Jerusalem. Also ministered at the church in Antioch. Accompanied Paul on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 15.40).
  • “Timothy” – Originally from Lystra. Mother was a messianic jew and his father was a non-believing Greek. Constant companion to Paul throughout his ministry, Paul’s “son in the faith”.
  • “church” – the term church, in it’s broadest meaning can simply refer to an assembly of social, religious, or political gatherings.
  • However, Paul gives the reader a couple of qualifiers which sets this group apart from others. “In God the Father” – 1) “God” – meaning the God of the Old Testament, whom both Jews and Christians worshipped, and 2) “the Father” – carries the ideas of authority and benevolence. “and the Lord Jesus Christ” – Jesus is designated as “the Christ” the promised one from the Old Testament and as “Lord” or Master. Jesus’ designation as “Lord” become more widely used after his resurrection, though it isn’t completely absent in gospel narratives.
  • “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
        and gave him the name that is above every name,
     that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
        in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
     and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
        to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2.9-11)

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