THE GIFT OF THE THORN

Corinthians – Belief and Behavior
 
I can tell you from experience that right now, Maundy Thursday before Easter, your pastor, worship leader and many volunteers are working furiously to make sure all is well for all who will come to all services during Holy Week but especially Resurrection Sunday, aka Easter Sunday. Many are praying.
 
Sermons and order of worship are being scrutinized so that understanding is clear for those coming. The behind the scenes details are gone over with a fine tooth comb to make sure every person and resource is in place. The singers and musicians are meticulously practicing so that worship is not hindered by mistakes and discords. Why? Those with pure hearts and a love for people are excited for the opportunity to tell the story of Jesus’ Resurrection in Word and songs of praise. They pray over the souls of those who will come for the first time or will be visiting just because it is a time to be with family.
 
Because we are human we get tired. Tiredness can bring out our weaknesses. We become more sensitive to what others say about us and to us. We feel underappreciated for the work God has given us to do. Joy can even dissipate and leave the building…the temple (our body for Christ) when this happens UNLESS we humbly cry out, “Jesus Christ, take over!”
 
Our weakness then becomes HIS strength in us. I am learning this from Paul as he writes to the Corinthians about what he has endured in his journey to work for Jesus who called him to love and tell The Story of reconciliation. Paul’s words in chapter 11 carried over into chapter 12 sound a bit whiny until we see ourselves in the words and know the feelings of being underappreciated and gossiped about from time to time while serving God with a desire to help others find and follow His Son, Jesus.
 
We ALL get tired but here is the difference in what makes us tired. Paul is tired IN the work but not tired OF the work. He’s not going to quit. Our behavior indicates what is in our hearts. If we are being and doing who we are and what we do for Jesus Christ, to please Him with what He has called us to do then we might get tired IN the work. If we love people like Jesus loves us it will ignite a fire in us to help them find and follow Jesus, too. We are driven to keep going. We might get tired IN the work.
 
But if we are tired OF the work we want payback from the people we serve. We seek self adulation and praise from those who benefit from the work we are doing (all by ourselves most of the time, too!). Our hearts are rooted in the “feel good” feeling that comes from seeking personal success and position, of doing for others because you feel you have already arrived and feel sorry for those who haven’t. This is not the example of the humility of Christ! (Phil 2) This motivation of heart and mind will soon fade and many will quit sooner than later. This is being tired OF the work.
 
I love Paul’s honesty in his testimony of feeling underappreciated, unloved by those he served without pay, and for the gossip and accusations he received. He reminds us that Christ also suffered the same and more. Read chapter 11 straight into chapter 12 and see how Paul “turns the page” from whining (although truthful) about his circumstance to realizing WHO and WHY he does what he does. He even calls himself foolish in relating all this but gains wisdom for us, too, as we read about his weakness…his handicap, given to him by God…as a “gift”…to keep him focused. Other translations use the phrase “thorn in the flesh” to figuratively describe this “gift”.
 
2 Corinthians 12 weak to strongLet’s pick it up at chapter 12…
 
2 Corinthians 12, The Message
 
Strength from Weakness
1-5 You’ve forced me to talk this way, and I do it against my better judgment. But now that we’re at it, I may as well bring up the matter of visions and revelations that God gave me. For instance, I know a man who, fourteen years ago, was seized by Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I really don’t know if this took place in the body or out of it; only God knows. I also know that this man was hijacked into paradise—again, whether in or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. There he heard the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard. This is the man I want to talk about. But about myself, I’m not saying another word apart from the humiliations.
 
6 If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I’d still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I’ll spare you. I don’t want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you’d encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk.
 
7-10 Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
 
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
 
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
 
11-13 Well, now I’ve done it! I’ve made a complete fool of myself by going on like this. But it’s not all my fault; you put me up to it. You should have been doing this for me, sticking up for me and commending me instead of making me do it for myself. You know from personal experience that even if I’m a nobody, a nothing, I wasn’t second-rate compared to those big-shot apostles you’re so taken with. All the signs that mark a true apostle were in evidence while I was with you through both good times and bad: signs of portent, signs of wonder, signs of power. Did you get less of me or of God than any of the other churches? The only thing you got less of was less responsibility for my upkeep. Well, I’m sorry. Forgive me for depriving you.
 
14-15 Everything is in readiness now for this, my third visit to you. But don’t worry about it; you won’t have to put yourselves out. I’ll be no more of a bother to you this time than on the other visits. I have no interest in what you have—only in you. Children shouldn’t have to look out for their parents; parents look out for the children. I’d be most happy to empty my pockets, even mortgage my life, for your good. So how does it happen that the more I love you, the less I’m loved?
 
16-18 And why is it that I keep coming across these whiffs of gossip about how my self-support was a front behind which I worked an elaborate scam? Where’s the evidence? Did I cheat or trick you through anyone I sent? I asked Titus to visit, and sent some brothers along. Did they swindle you out of anything? And haven’t we always been just as aboveboard, just as honest?
 
19 I hope you don’t think that all along we’ve been making our defense before you, the jury. You’re not the jury; God is the jury—God revealed in Christ—and we make our case before him. And we’ve gone to all the trouble of supporting ourselves so that we won’t be in the way or get in the way of your growing up.
 
20-21 I do admit that I have fears that when I come you’ll disappoint me and I’ll disappoint you, and in frustration with each other everything will fall to pieces—quarrels, jealousy, flaring tempers, taking sides, angry words, vicious rumors, swelled heads, and general bedlam. I don’t look forward to a second humiliation by God among you, compounded by hot tears over that crowd that keeps sinning over and over in the same old ways, who refuse to turn away from the pigsty of evil, sexual disorder, and indecency in which they wallow.
 
2 Corinthias 12 9Think about it…take all they time you need…I am.
 
–“I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.”
–Paul is tired IN the work but not OF the work.
–“Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”
–You can passionately (root word means to suffer) be and do all that Jesus asks and still be criticized, mocked and gossiped about. Satan uses these limited tools to bring us down. But we learn that bringing us down to our knees before our Savior is exactly where Jesus wants us to be so we will look up and focus purely on HIM! Then Jesus takes our hand and lifts us up to where HE, our Savior and Lord, resides AND abides with us!
 
Questions to ask ourselves…
–Am I tired IN the work or OF the work?
–Where is my heart? What does my behavior reveal about my heart?
–Have I been driven to my knees?
–Am I letting Christ take over?
–“And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become”…on my knees.
–Do I just need a nap? Seriously. Let go. Let Christ.
 
2 Corinthians 12 let God
Dear LORD, God of all who believe,
Transform me. Transform your church. Transform the world.
In Jesus Name, Amen

About randscallawayffm

Randy and Susan co founded Finding Focus Ministries in 2006. Their goal as former full time pastors, is to serve and provide spiritual encouragement and focus to those on the "front lines" of ministry. Extensive experience being on both sides of ministry, paid and volunteer, on the mission fields of other countries as well as the United States, helps them bring a different perspective to those who need it most. Need a lift? Call us 260 229 2276.
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