Dear Church Family,
We had a wonderful conference this past weekend with our guest speaker, Dr. Carl Trueman, speaking on “A Theologian of the Cross.” On Friday and Saturday, Dr. Trueman gave lectures on the life of Martin Luther, emphasizing the development and implications of what it means to be a theologian of the cross. On Sunday morning, Dr. Trueman developed this theme a bit more in the adult Sunday school class when he taught from 1 Corinthians 1. And, in our worship service, we heard a sermon from 1 Samuel 1.
The information and audio recordings from the conference are available on the church website: http://providencemidland.org/mrtc2016. Those audio recordings are also available, along with recordings of the Sunday school lesson and sermon, on the audio page of our church website: http://providencemidland.org/audio.
A Thorn in the Flesh
If you attended the conference, you heard Dr. Trueman mention how Martin Luther’s idea of the theology (or theologian) of the cross was really just the Apostle Paul’s theology of the Christian life – especially as it is expressed in his letters to the church in Corinth. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to look at some of the specific applications that Paul draws out concerning this doctrine from near the end of 2 Corinthians.
Consider what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12, verses 7-10
7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-- to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
As an Apostle, specially called to communicate God’s Word revealed to him, Paul intimates that he might have been tempted to exalt himself – to think of himself as more important than he ought. So, a thorn in the flesh (perhaps some kind of physical affliction) was given to him. What’s truly fascinating is that Paul describes this affliction as “a messenger of Satan.” This thorn in the flesh had a demonic origin, but it was used by God for Paul’s good. God rules and works all things for the good of His people – even those of demonic origin!
So, the first thing that we should note is that God used a messenger of Satan for the purpose of keeping Paul humble. The second thing that we should notice is that after Paul prayed three times for this thorn in the flesh to be removed, God denied Paul’s request, but He was not silent. The Lord explained, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is the central point of this passage.
Because the grace of God is sufficient – His grace is enough – there is no need to go looking elsewhere for power. In fact, power doesn’t come through powerful means at all; power is perfected in weakness. That is to say, the true power of God finds its terminus (its end) in weakness. This is the way it was in Christ’s work of salvation. It was through the weakness of the cross through which Christ overcame the world (John 16:33) and conquered Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The point of the Lord’s explanation to Paul – “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” – is this: Just as God’s power was perfected in the weakness of the cross of Christ, so too is God’s power perfected in the weakness of those who have been saved.
Two Points of Application
But, in this passage, Paul doesn’t end there with the revelation that God’s grace is sufficient, for power is perfected in weakness. Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying that when reading Scripture one should always ask, “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?” That’s a good adage to apply in this passage. Paul follows the statement about power being perfected in weakness with two “therefores” – two points of application.
(1) Boasting in weakness
The first point of application comes at the end of 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
If you want the power of Christ to dwell in you – to tabernacle on you – then boast in your weakness (and continue to boast in your weakness). If you begin to boast in your own power, you will eventually become egotistical and think yourself to be self-sufficient (‘exalt yourself’ as Paul puts it).
This is an important reminder, especially as one grows and matures in the faith. It is all too easy to begin to think more highly of yourself as you learn more about Christ and the Scriptures. So, Christians must not only learn to boast in their weakness, they must learn to continue to boast in their weakness.
(2) Contentment in weakness
The second point of application comes in 2 Corinthians 12:10 – “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Not only are we to boast in our weaknesses. We are also to find contentment in our weaknesses. In order to find contentment in weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties, it is necessary to understand two things: God’s grace is sufficient and weakness is where Christ’s power takes up residence.
Think about how contrary and other-worldly this way of thinking is. If we are weak, insulted, in distress, or persecuted for Christ’s sake, our natural inclination is to become strong or to flee. But Paul explains that if we truly understood that God’s grace is sufficient and that His power dwells in our weakness, then we ought to find contentment there.
Paul’s conclusion is: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Notice the continuing nature of this principle. He doesn’t say, “When I’m weak, God gives me strength and then I boast in that strength because I am no longer weak. Now I’m a strong person.” It’s as if he is saying, “Look, here’s the principle: I’m weak. I’m always weak, and I will always boast in my weakness. Because when I’m weak, at that time – in the moment of my weakness – that’s when I am strong – because Christ’s power is tabernacling on me.”
Here is the mindset of the theologian of the cross. Let Him who boasts, boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31). And, let Him who boasts in the Lord also learn to boast and find contentment in his own weakness so that the power of Christ might dwell in him (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch