In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says that he doesn’t want anyone to give him credit “beyond what they see in my life or hear in my message.” What do people see in our lives?
1 Samuel, chapter 13; 1 Chronicles, chapters 2-3; 2 Corinthians, chapter 12
2 Corinthians 12:5-10 (NLT):
That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
On the reading schedule that I use, 2 Corinthians chapter 12 shows up twice each year. I’ve reflected on this passage several times in the six years I’ve been using this method. Every time it appears on the schedule, I think, “Well, there’s nothing more for me to see here!” And then I read it, and God brings something else to light that I hadn’t noticed before.
The phrase which caught my attention today is in verse 6: I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message. What a powerful thought! Our world strives for credit and recognition. “Look at me! Notice me! See what I’ve done!” From the time that we’re young, we long for people to notice us. Unfortunately, much of that longing is self-oriented; we want to be noticed because we want to be applauded, or rewarded.
To keep me from becoming proud…
Paul recognizes the danger of such longing, so he goes on to talk about the ways that God can be glorified in us. First, we don’t talk about what we have done; we talk about what God has done in us. I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they see in my life or hear in my message. But that’s not the end of the matter, because people can see our lives and still applaud us rather than God. We have to be on guard against Satan’s attempts to turn our attention back onto ourselves, rather than to God.
The second danger is to become complacent. We would think that Paul, after all he had been through, would not be subject to complacency and pride. But he recognized that the danger still lurked in his life: To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh. Although he refers to this “thorn” – whatever it was – as a messenger from Satan, he says that it was given to him. That means that he considered that thorn as coming from God. We probably don’t like to hear that; it’s much easier for us to think that any difficulty we face is an attack by the enemy.
Paul obviously didn’t think that. He believed that this particular challenge – this thorn in my flesh – was given to him to protect him against the spiritual cancer of pride. So after asking God three times to remove it, he chose to embrace God’s sustaining grace and all that it could do in him. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
Most of us probably don’t think that way. Many believers today hold onto the hope that following Jesus means that everything in our lives will be wonderful. Frankly, the only way I can imagine people thinking that is if they haven’t read the New Testament! Jesus told us we would suffer and be persecuted. Most of the disciples were martyred for their faith. The New Testament writers remind us frequently that struggles will be part of our journey:
- “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2-3, NLT).
- “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine” (1 Peter 1:6-7a, NLT).
- “I know about your suffering and your poverty – but you are rich!…Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:9a, 10, NLT)
We need to acknowledge, and even embrace our weakness – because that will open the door for God to display His work in us!
Father, we confess that it is hard for us to acknowledge our weaknesses. We’re very skilled at putting on a good front, trying to hold everything together in our own strength. That way leads to disaster! Help us to acknowledge our weaknesses, because your strength is displayed in our weakness. Teach us to recognize how you are at work in us, so that we might embrace your plan and purposes for us each day.
Thank you for reminding us that struggles are not always a sign of your displeasure. Sometimes, you allow the struggles to come as an opportunity for us to grow. Teach us to discern the difference between struggles that we’ve caused through our own failures and disobedience, and those that you’ve allowed in order to make us stronger. Help us to always stay focused on you, so that people will glorify you because of “what they can see in my life or hear in my message.” Amen.