Strength made perfect in weakness

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about an incredible vision he has had (although he talks in the third person, it is generally agreed that he is referring to himself), where he is caught up into heaven. However, alongside the vision he is given a crippling “thorn in his side.”  Just as people have speculated about what the vision was, so too they’ve speculated about the torn. The dominant view is that it was a health problem, maybe his failing eyesight. I’ve always been quite drawn to the idea that “thorn in the side” equates to “pain in the neck” and he is referring to some troublemakers, perhaps those who pursued him from city to city stirring up trouble, perhaps the Judaizers within the church, or those at Corinth who did Paul down and put so called super apostles on a pedestal.

Paul was desperate to be rid of this thorn and cried out to God about it. The Lord’s response was:

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’[1]

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been tempted along the way to see this in terms of Paul being able to serve God, despite his weakness. He wishes that God would take away the thorn but God gives him just enough grace to get through each day with it still there, Somehow in weakness he is able to continue using his gifts, however perfectly and God turns his weak efforts into something beautiful for his glory.  I still think there is something in that. However, I would like to push our thinking a bit further.

The effect of the thorn was to stop Paul from boasting about his own abilities instead, he boasts about his weaknesses. What is happening? The answer is that the grace received is exactly what Paul needs so that he can point to his weakness and through his weakness point to Christ. The sense is

“Yes I’m completely inadequate, completely weak, there is nothing I can do but look at God, look at Christ, look at his grace at work in me.”

That’s how Christ’s strength is made perfect in weakness. It is not that he helps me to hobble along and despite all my weakness and failings to do something good for him. Rather I am forced to recognise that I can in and of myself do nothing.  The perfected power is the power of the Gospel. My boasting is deflected away from me and onto Christ and his death and resurrection. 


[1] 2 Corinthians 12:9

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