Kyle Shreve- Missionary to Peru

3 lessons from Paul’s hardships in 2 Corinthians.
January 16, 2015, 8:24 am
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My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

When we read this verse, we probably jump to “thorn in the flesh.” And that’s fine, and correct, because in the proceeding verses, that is what Paul mentions. Sound understanding of the scripture.

But if you read trough the book of 2 Corinthians, you’ll find that Paul has a few more problems in his life than just a thorn in the flesh. And that’s not to downplay the thorn, because it was obviously a big deal. If it was a bother to Paul, we can be sure it was more than just a stubbed toe or runny nose.

As I read through this book in my devotions today, I noticed that Paul almost has a pattern of mentioning something(s) that is (are) going wrong, then following up with some truth that conquers or supersedes his plight. Consider what he says in the following verses:

1:8-9  For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves

2:12-13 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, 13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother:

4:8-10 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,

6:4-5 in much patience, in afflictions, in mnecessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, oin labours, in watchings, in fastings;

7:5  For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.

8:2  How that in a great trial of affliction (speaking of the corinthians)

11”23-28 in labours more abundant, uin stripes above measure, vin prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, lin hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.

11:32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: 33 And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.

And I’m sure I could find more things that are going wrong, or are difficulties in Paul’s life if I read through the book a few more times. But here’s the crazy part about it all: all of these things are mentioned before the thorn in the flesh.

Again, the thorn in the flesh is the immediate context of 2 Cor 12:9, but consider that God’s grace is sufficient for all the other problems mentioned here, and that His strength is made perfect in all the weakness mentioned here.

The thorn in the flesh isn’t the only means of grace of overcoming trials and hardships in this book. There are several other verses that are given which can serve as comfort, encouragement and motivation in difficult times. Another recurring theme in this book is Paul’s defense of his character and actions. Which should teach us that, no matter how hard life gets, we should never use that as a reason to act out of character, or have ungodly actions. Consider the following verses:

2 Cor 2:14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ

2 Cor 2:15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ,

 2 Cor 2:17 For we are not as many, which lcorrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

2 Cor 4:1-2 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

2 Cor 4:17 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory

2 Cor 7:2 we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.

2 Cor 8:5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord (talking about the Corinthians)

2 Cor 9:12-15 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. 13 But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. 14 For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ: 15 Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men’s labours;

2 Cor 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

So, before we get to his grace being sufficient, we have a whole book full of Paul (and the Corinthians) overcoming hardships while maintaining their character and proper actions.

So what can we learn from this? I think a few lessons, at least.

1-We will all have hard times and struggles in our lives.

Paul, a man who wrote the Bible, had lots and lots of problems in this book. I often feel like problems mean that I’m a loser and very weak. The big shot pastors and preachers seem to have no problems, and everything is just so rosy for them. But here’s a dinky little missionary, and my last 8 meetings in a row just cancelled, and my car needs a lot of repairs, and support isn’t coming as fast as I want, and on and on and on.

But the truth is, the way I feel at times, and I’m sure you do too, is probably close to the way Paul often felt. So, when you have problems and feel like your life is about over, relax. Problems aren’t necessarily indicative of you being a loser or doing something wrong (though they can often be!). You’re in good company when you have hardships.

2-Problems are never an excuse to not live up to who we are in Christ.

Paul takes several verses in this book to  defend his character and actions, and to point out that he is a man who is upstanding in both areas. I know that it can be tempting to cut corners, so to speak, when life seems to be getting you down. It can seem like a reasonable thought to sacrifice our giving when money is tight, or to have an ungodly attitude towards someone who treated us wrongly. But Paul, in spite of the hardships he had, seemed to keep living up to his christian character.

In fact, the very fact that he was trusted to be a minister of the Lord and God’s ministry seemed to be a motivating factor for Paul to even have more upstanding character in  4:1-2 and live up to the new creation he is in Christ (5:17)

3- God’s grace is sufficient for whatever you are facing in your life.

Hannah and I are missionaries, and I am sure that we will come to some very hard times in our future ministries. But, to be quite honest, you don’t have to be a missionary to come to those incredibly difficult situations in life. All Christians have them. Some look different than others, and I sincerely doubt many of us could compete with Paul in the hardships we face.

And maybe we think God’s grace is only enough for thorns in the flesh, but really big problems would be on another plane. But when you look at all the things that Paul went through (and that’s only in one book. Other parts of the Bible mention other problems he  encountered) for him to say that  God’s grace is sufficient for all his problems is a very big statement. I can’t think of too many areas he didn’t have problems with, just looking at this book alone. Health, ministry problems, attacks on character, physical punishment, hunger and thirst, uncertainty for the future, financial issues and I’m sure there is more to be found with further study.

The point is that, no matter what problem or hardship is in your life, God’s grace is enough to get you through it. (in a way consistent with who we are in Christ.)

So, in conclusion, remember that when you do have problems and hardships in life (and you will) that God’s grace in more than enough to help you through it without compromise to your Christian character and actions.

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