Strength Made Perfect in Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:8‑9  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
It is a natural thought, the first thought perhaps even for a godly soul, to desire an answer of the Lord in the removal of that which is trying and painful. We know the Lord's great compassion—that He cares for His own—that He feels for them and with them; and we are prone to gather from this that He must appear speedily for us when any blow, humiliation, or sorrow comes upon us, specially that which would seem to make the Lord's glory to be questioned and thwarted in various ways. And this was most plainly so in the case before us. The enemy was taking advantage of this thorn in the apostle's flesh to lower the apostle and his work. We are disposed to expect an immediate answer from the Lord in the way of the removal of the trial. It was so with the apostle himself. He cried to the Lord about it; he besought Him thrice that it might depart from him. But he mistook the Lord. It was not so that He heard. The Lord did hear him. But the apostle had this great truth to learn:—the Lord's way of answering is much better than our way of beseeching. Even were it the Apostle Paula man with such an amazing knowledge of what was most suitable to God and most to be desired by His children—even he had to learn that he was not the Lord—an apostle had to learn that the Lord's ways are above our ways. I believe that this desire of an answer from the Lord coming at once in the way of meeting us in our difficulty and sorrow, is rather one that was taught, and that God acted upon in His ways of old, in dealing with His ancient people Israel. When they were in any difficulty or trial, they cried to the Lord, and He heard and delivered them out of their troubles. But it was not so necessarily now. It is not always in removing the distress that God acts. This is not the characteristic way now with Christians. I do not say that He does it not in many a case; for he pities the weakness of His children, and does not lay the same burden upon all.
But there is something more blessed than the mere setting aside of the trial, and that is the power of divine grace which enters into it, and lifts us above it, the distress, it may be, continuing, the sorrow going on, the thorn not removed, but ourselves raised entirely above it. And I believe that this heavenly way of meeting sorrow and trouble, is specially the one in which God triumphs in His dealings with the church. Because it is not power coming into the tribulation, and preserving saints through it, that is the characteristic of the church, any more than it will be a mighty deliverance at the end of the tribulation, and the execution of judgment on surrounding enemies. That is not the manner of the Christian's deliverance. And as it does not answer to the way in which the church will be dealt with at the end, so it is not the principle of the Lord's dealings with us all through. It is a higher thing, the lifting us in spirit above, even while the sorrow may be still adhering to us. Perhaps there is sharp trial, difficulty, and that which is heartbreaking, even in the church of God itself. The apostle must know this in a way that seemed to frustrate all his desires for the blessing of the church. For the thorn given him was something that made him to be scorned in the eyes of others, and that was an immense trial to himself and to every one that loved him, appearing to be a hindrance, even to the work of the Lord through him. What a thing it looked that the Lord should have sent upon him something that he even had not before, that which made him an object of contempt to others; for that is what the thorn in the flesh was. So that, in some unexplained way, carnal persons, who looked to the outward appearance, were in danger of losing their respect for him. It was not that the thorn was a sin, or something evil he did—it was nothing that people commonly call an infirmity, which, as thus applied, is really a sin; but it was something that was entirely beyond the apostle's control, and that made him an object of contempt to others. We can readily conceive more than one thing that would have such an effect; but we are not told what it was, and we ought not to go beyond the word of the Lord. We do know that both the Galatians and Corinthians were affected by it, and even reasoned from it that he was not called to be an apostle. Paul himself was exceedingly tried by it, and brings out this to the Corinthians themselves, He shows them that it had been an immense exercise to his own mind, the more so as he had had special revelations from the Lord; and that, along with this great honor which had been put upon him by God, but which was unseen by men, there was the thorn given to him in the flesh, producing what men could see and feel, and naturally tending to destroy his influence. But the apostle had a deeper lesson to learn than be had ever entered into before, God giving such a sight of Christ, and such a present knowledge of His love, not by removing the trial, nor by a present answer, it may be, but by lifting him in spirit completely above it, so that he should realize the full weight of it, might even know what it was to die daily, because of the sorrowful circumstances of the church, and now also by reason of what he felt in himself; for there was this that was so painful to bear and so apparently undesirable, because of its effect upon the minds of others. Thus he learns that there was something still better. “My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Oh! for faith to rest in this, to believe it about ourselves, to apply it to present circumstances of the church of God, to rest with unhesitating certainty in the assurance that, whatever appearances may be, however plain the impossibility for us to set things right where they are wrong, we may have our confidence unshaken in the Lord, just as one can rest in His salvation and know that it is perfect, so should we be calm in the certainty that Christ is Son over His own house, and that His love to the saints now is as perfect as in the matter of bearing their sins. But as individuals may not enjoy the salvation of Christ, so, too, shall I be weak and cast down if feeble in my faith as to the Lord's care for His Church, and His entrance into its sorrows, or if burdened about it, as though the whole blessing of the Church rested upon me. It is plain that this resting upon Christ as the head of His Church would not make the members less feeling and watchful. On the contrary; where we realize that Christ is identified with everything, the sorrow will be intensely known; but there will be confidence in the Lord when we can confide in nothing else, and our faith will not be disappointed. The Lord is coming Himself, but ere He comes, He never ceases to be head of His own church, nor fails to nourish and cherish it.