How the Lord Gives Strength

2 Corinthians 12:1‑10  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 5
2 Corinthians 12
We are apt to make a mistake in speaking of our weakness and unprofitableness, forgetting that it is when we have done our duty we are unprofitable servants. When we speak of our weakness of spirituality or conduct, we mean our failure. But when Paul speaks of weakness, it is that which makes room for power, " when I am weak then am I strong," and the result fully produced is with the consciousness of there being no strength in us. This is a very different thing to our failure. Our failure ought to lead us to humble ourselves before God for that which led to the failure. If we have not done what we ought, why have we not? We cannot glory in not having done it. There is a strength that the babe in Christ may have, and needs-power guided by wisdom, and that does not fail. When we have not been emptied of self, and are full of self-confidence, we must be broken down; pretension to strength is always in the way for failure. The first step towards failure is forgetting our entire and absolute dependence. As Christians, we know we have no strength, but forget we have none.
This chapter brings out in a remarkable way the dealings of God in giving strength. There is a wonderful scene going on in the heart of man. God does not let us always see it; it would not be good for us; we could not bear it. Sometimes the vail is drawn aside; and, as in the case of Job, the heart is exposed to itself; God and Satan are seen to be there. It is a serious thing when God thus lifts the vail and shows what is going on for good and evil in a poor little heart like ours! God " hath set the world in their heart," and if it ends there, it is all vanity and vexation of spirit.
Another question as a moral question is the WILL of man. (When will is not at work and sorrow comes in, it is the happiest position; for sorrow without will is a means of blessing.) The first who begins that question is God. It is a question of Satan's power, man's will, and God's goodness in the midst of all that. You have the conscience of evil in your hearts, and the evil is too much for you; you do not know what to do with it. This conscience of good and evil has come in by the fall. Adam bad the conscience of good and evil with sin and by sin. He had it by disobedience. Conscience therefore cannot guide a man right. The converted man has the light of God to bear upon it. That shows man what he is. The soul has to own its badness, and to say, God is right. I go with Him morally in condemning myself. God shows man to be vile as to nature, rebellious as to will, and hateful towards God as to his affections. And it is a blessing when He shows it to us: but it is not deliverance. That is another thing. The glory of God's ways is that He puts us down completely as to ourselves, by the fact that our salvation is wrought out by another. When I had done nothing but sin, I find God has condemned sin in the flesh. Where? On Christ. I see my sin all measured and dealt with on the cross. Thus I am brought to God, and in the presence of God no one is proud. It is away from Him (as to the consciousness of it) that pride works.
The beginning of the chapter shows us what a " man in Christ" gets, revelations, &c, (if we do not have these now we shall by and by,) and afterward we see what flesh in a man is, what it may tome to; debates, envyings, wraths, &c., as in the end of the chapter. There are the extremes of both, revelations in the third heaven, and flesh in its worst character. Most Christians are in neither one state nor the other practically.
How sadly we are generally dragging through this world as those who are not capable of having their citizenship in heaven! Of some God was not ashamed to be called their God, because they were looking for a city beyond this world. God is ashamed to be called the God of those whose hearts are only here.
Paul says, "I knew a man in Christ, of such an one will I glory." That is what all Christians should have got hold of. If you are not a man in Christ before God you are lost; it is presumption to think of being anything else. Can I know that I am going to be like Christ in glory, and not glory in it? We must glory. Paul was not glorying in the revelations when he was in them; he had no time then to glory; but he gloried in what was his portion, Christ, his life, righteousness, glory, &c. Paul speaks of these revelations as having been given fourteen years ago. It is not intended that we should always be living in the wonderful enjoyments connected with the glory of Christ: if we were it would be sight, not faith. There was no danger of being puffed up when in the third heaven, it was when he came down to Paul again, there was the danger. There is no danger in the presence of God.
I learn now another thing, viz.; that it is not God's thought at all to alter my flesh, my old nature. The tree is bad; the flesh can be puffed up in Paul in the consciousness of having been in the third heaven. There is no good in me. I am a sinner. This is more than living under the curse of a broken law. Where I am, where my flesh is, I should pervert even the third heavens. In verse 7, we see that God turns that by which Satan would have tempted him, into a rod to keep down his pride. We are not told what the thorn was, but it was something that made him despicable in preaching (alluded to in Galatians) to meet the pride that would come from the revelations. Numbers were converted, not by Paul's eloquence, but by the Lord's power. Their faith was not to be standing in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God.
Thus we have Christ for the man upon earth. We must be brought down to nothing, having no strength in ourselves. The flesh was not allowed to act in Paul, a thorn was sent lest he should be exalted above measure. That is the normal condition of a soul, viz., power given not to sin.
If the heart is exercised in dependence we judge the root of the evil, and it does not come out. Our business is to learn the evil in our character by judging it and not by its coming out. If I have a proud character, and am humbled before God about my pride, I go out, and am more humble than a very humble man by nature. I have not a bad conscience by the flesh being in me, but I have if I allow it to act. The thorn is sent to prevent it.
In verse 9, we see how he came to power. The question of righteousness has been settled by Christ being at the right hand of God. It is a settled thing. It is practically learned when I am saved, and then I have a title to the third heaven. " My strength is made perfect in weakness." The Lord never gives us intrinsic strength. He makes us feel our dependence. I am made to feel my weakness when I see how my flesh would pervert even the blessings that are mine in Christ.
Therefore will I rather glory in infirmities, not in sins, but in infirmities, e.g. distresses, persecutions, &c. The Spirit kept him from that which would have given him a bad conscience.