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What does 2 Corinthians 12:9 mean?

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What does 2 Corinthians 12:9 mean?
Posted on May 26, 2020  - By Rufus Simon Varghese

What does God mean when He says His grace is sufficient for us in our weakness? 

This question is a reference to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 — and it’s a verse that often gets pulled out of context. So, let’s take a closer look.

Consider the context

In the previous chapter, we see Paul demonstrating his credibility as an apostle as well as the lack of credibility of false teachers who were attacking his apostolic ministry. He mentions his physical presence with the Corinthians as being weak and also refers to his lack of oratory skills in 2 Corinthians 10:10 (although he wasn’t unskilled in knowledge). 

His bodily weakness is attributed to the innumerable occurences of physical, mental and emotional persecution endured at the hands of fellow countrymen, Gentiles, robbers etc. Also, his daily concern and his anxiety for all the churches has made him physically weak (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). 

With all of these weaknesses coming to him as part of working for God and His kingdom (Acts 9:15-16), Paul chooses to boast and speak at length about these same weaknesses (11:30, 12:1) in the background of a vision and revelation that he had from the Lord 14 years prior to the writing of 2 Corinthians (probably in AD 41; the events recorded in 2 Corinthians 11:30-33 date somewhere around that time). 

Back then, Paul was in the early stages of his Christian life and ministry, where he didn’t have the persecution that he now recounts. He heard things that could not be told or uttered. God chose Paul to be the medium through whom believers would receive the majority of the New Testament revelation. With such a privilege that God gave in the form of the greatness of the revelation, God also gave a thorn in the flesh — a messenger from Satan to harass Paul. 

Back then, Paul was in the early stages of his Christian life and ministry, where he didn’t have the persecution that he now recounts

I believe this ‘thorn in the flesh’ is a reference to all of the physical, mental and emotional persecutions recorded in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. God had previously told Ananias too, in Acts 9:15-16, about how He would show Paul how much the apostle would suffer for Christ (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Understanding the thorn

Given this context, we see Paul making the following conclusions:

  1. He admits that the ‘thorn in the flesh’ is primarily a work of Satan aimed at the destruction of what God has called Paul to be. All of these persecutions were aimed at harassing and destroying Paul and his ministry.
  2. This weakness is not a moral weakness on Paul’s part.
  3. Paul recognises that God allowed this specific weakness to keep him from being conceited on account of the great revelations he’d received. He sees that God wanted to protect him from being proud.
  4. Paul asks three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed. This shows the pain that he goes through during all of his persecutions. Just like any of us who minister to God in varying capacities, he too sought an escape from all the persecutions which he once administered during his pre-conversion days.

‘Perfected through affliction’

In answer to the petition that he put three times before God, we see God’s reply:

  1. God doesn’t mention anything about removing the thorn in Paul’s flesh. And He doesn’t intend to.
  2. God tells him that His grace will be an ever-present reality in his life. He didn’t enter this relationship with God on his righteousness. He did so on the basis of the grace that God showed him. That grace will sustain him in the midst of all that he will face.
  3. When Paul is at his weakest because of the persecution, God’s power is made perfect in him through his affliction. It is not in the multitude of his revelations to Paul, but in the presence of the thorn in the flesh that the power of Christ will rest upon him.

Paul recognises that God allowed this specific weakness to keep him from being conceited on account of the great revelations he’d received

Take comfort

All of the weaknesses that happen in our life because of our walk with God, and the resulting persecution that comes as part of this calling, are brought in by Satan to hinder God’s work. As believers, we can take comfort in three facts:

  1. That God allowed all of these weaknesses
  2. That He allowed it for our greater good, namely, our conformity to Christ
  3. That He will not let us be destroyed or crumble under the adverse actions of Satan. God will enable us to see it through, as He gives us His divine strength and insight to see what He has done to us in allowing these adverse situations. Paul saw the objective of the thorn in the flesh (see 2 Corinthians 12:7, where he mentions it twice).

The result of God’s grace being sufficient for our weakness is that he brings a different perspective to our weaknesses and helps us see them in a different light. Instead of praying to remove it (which is ultimately His choice), we depend on God to take us unscathed in our faith through these weaknesses.

Rufus Simon Varghese

About Rufus Simon Varghese

Born and raised in Dubai, UAE, Rufus completed his Masters in Theology at Asian Christian Academy in Hosur, India. He has since been involved in personal outreach ministries and teaching youngsters Scripture. Currently based in Ernakulam, India, he is teaching at a Bible school as well as ministering to the Hindi-speaking immigrant working population in Kerala.



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