Charles Spurgeon tells of his experiencing the power of 2 Corinthians 12:9:
‘…a few evenings ago, … this text came home to me with such sacred power as literally to cause me to laugh. I had been looking it through, looking at its original meaning, and trying to fathom it, till at last I got hold of it this way: “My grace,” says Jesus, “is sufficient for thee” and it looked almost as if it were meant to ridicule my unbelief: for surely the grace of such a one as my Lord Jesus is indeed sufficient for so insignificant a being as I am. … Does it not make unbelief seem altogether ridiculous, so that you laugh it out of the house, and say, “Never come this way any more, for with a mediatorial fulness to go to, with such a Redeemer to rest in, how dare I for a moment think that my wants cannot be supplied.” (1)
A great deal of ink has been spilled in attempts to identify the exact nature of Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’. (2) The text states that it was a messenger of Satan. Whether that took the form of a person who was opposed to Paul, or a physical infirmity, does not really matter. Clearly it was no light thing. Painful and potentially debilitating, it deeply affected Paul.
It appears to have been purposefully allowed by the Lord to keep Paul humble. His experiences (3) might have led to pride, which would have threatened his service far more than the messenger of Satan. So the exalted privilege was accompanied by unavoidable pain. He had known extraordinary and inexplicable things, heard unspeakable words; now he must walk in lowly and difficult paths as he brought the gospel of the glory of God to those in darkness. He must be enabled to practise that which he preached to the Galatians, not I, but Christ. (4)
Aside from troubles in Corinth, Paul suffered in many ways. Shipwrecked, stoned, beaten with rods and incarcerated, the grace supplied by the Lord Jesus was sufficient for every trial.
There is something very touching in the way the truth was given to Paul. The answer to his repeated plea was so personal: “My grace …” (5) He was not only directed to the truth that grace is sufficient, but it was delivered personally. Paul’s saviour, and ours, knows what it is to make three pleas wrenched from the depths of suffering, longing for deliverance. There is something very lovely about the one who prayed in Gethsemane later speaking to His servant so personally. He had suffered not a messenger of Satan, but the Devil himself. (6) There is none more able to succour. (7)
The sufficiency of grace was such that Paul’s thorn did not need to be removed. Moreover, it was beneficial that it remained. Deliverance does not always mean that trouble is removed. It may be answered as it was here, in strength given to bear the trial. The tense of the promise made clear that this supply of grace was not an occasional bit of help now and then, but that it was constant; an inexhaustible and constant supply. Our demands can never outpace the supply.
What is this ‘grace that is so sufficient’? Paul describes it to the Galatians: God, who has set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I may preach Him among the Gentiles. (8) The Lord’s choosing of him in the beginning; Paul’s conversion and commission were marks of divine grace. So it is with us also. It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (9) and of His fullness we have all received. (10)
How does the old apostle sum it all up? Not with stoicism or resignation. Rather it was a wholesale giving of himself in further service. Faced with the denial of his request and provision of the Lord’s love for him, he exclaims, Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (11) Sufficient grace was overflowing through the suffering servant.
References: (1) CH Spurgeon April 2, 1876, 2 Corinthians 12:9 From: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Volume 22 (2) 2 Cor. 12:7 (3) 2 Cor. 12:1-6 (4) cf. Gal. 2:20 KJV (5) 2 Cor. 12:9 (6) Luke 4:13 (7) Heb. 2:18 (8) Gal. 1:15-16 (9) Col. 1:19 (10) John 1:16 (11) 2 Cor. 12:9
Phil Brennan, Buxton, England
Bible quotations from NASB95 unless stated otherwise