Let My People Think

removing_thorn

(continued from part 1)

Paul says that he will gladly boast in his infirmities, as a counter-argument of boasting in his strength. Here, the word “infirmities” has nothing to do with sickness, since sickness is not even discussed anywhere in the passage, and doesn’t even fit with the context of what was being said. The Greek word for weakness is “astheneia”, which literally means “lack of strength”. Paul is pointing to his lack of strength in the natural that would be adequate for dealing with this issue at hand, which is a series of satan-originated violent acts against him. Religious people followed him from city to city, stirred up crowds against Paul, which ended in brutality and violence toward Paul, including being stoned (in a non-narcotic way).

in v. 8 he asked God “that it might depart from” him. Notice how he didn’t ask God to remove it from him – he asked God that IT might depart. The phrasing of the request tells us that Paul knew full well that God isn’t the source of the issue, otherwise he would ask God to remove it from him – and he didn’t (even though it’s commonly taught that Paul did just that, which runs contrary to the text).

In. v. 9, God answered Paul’s request, and told him the way to handle it. You see, if something you do invariably invokes a reaction in people that surround you, you can stop doing the thing that you do to break the cause-and-effect chain, or you can learn to handle it properly. If you start making good money, and your neighbors get envious, you can stop making money and quiet down your neighbors that way, or you can learn to correctly handle the criticism and not let it impact you. Using this imperfect analogy, God prompted him toward the 2nd way.

In v.9, giving the solution to Paul’s request, it says that God’s grace was sufficient for Paul – meaning that the supply (grace) was sufficient to meet the demand (Paul’s specific need). That means that God-side was never an issue there, the ball was completely in Paul’s court, and God reminds him that what’s on God-side is sufficient to meet any challenge on Paul’s side.

Some people interpret this the complete opposite way from what the passage says: God’s grace is insufficient for Paul to eliminate issue (some even go as far as to say that God said “no”). Of course, the passage says no such thing.

So, what was the solution for Paul? Start using God’s what God has freely provided. What was keeping him from doing so? Relying on his own strength. Paul was a very strong, focused, and motivated person, a self-described “Pharisee of Pharisees”, and it took a challenge that he just couldn’t overcome to start relying on God instead of himself.

He used God’s supply in a variety of ways:

  • Temporarily disabled a sorcerer that kept a proconsul of Cyprus from receiving the truth from Paul in Acts 13 (now, that’s a cool trick to learn!)
  • Recovered from stoning (which was usually done by crushing a person’s head and ribcage with boulders, and finishing him off with smaller stones) and teaching and even traveling the next day, and kept an incredibly busy schedule after that.
  • Removed the spirit of divination from a girl that kept following them and interrupting them with her utterances in Acts 16

Clearly, none of the above things are humanly possible, even for the strongest and most ambitious person. Not in their own strength. And the key to Paul’s learning to operate in God’s ability was his realization that the best he could do really amounted to nothing, and that for task of the magnitude that God entrusted him with his own ability was very inadequate, and that only God’s divine ability (i.e., grace) working through Paul was sufficient for the challenge.

(View part 1)

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