ENDURE | Courage in Weakness PART XIX | Enduring Weakness | 2 Corinthians 12:1-19

June 6, 2021 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: ENDURE: Courage in Weakness | 2 Corinthians

Topic: New Testament Passage: 2 Corinthians 12:1–19

Christopher Rich – June 6, 2021

ENDURE | Courage in Weakness 

PART XVII| Enduring Weakness | 2 Corinthians 12:1-19


Introduction |What are you impressed with?  

Good Morning! Welcome to Mercy Fellowship where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we are continuing our series ENDURE: Courage in Weakness

If you’re going to follow someone, or if you’re going to learn from someone, what type of person do you want them to be? If you get a personal trainer, you want them to be jacked right. If you have a spiritually leader you want them to be enlightened, a business coach who is a failure isn’t who we want to sign up for. This assumes we have curiosity at all. Sometimes we think we have all the answers on our own. We are too easily impressed, because we can be impressed with ourselves. This is not a path that will lead to glory or contentment. As this series draws to a close this is the penultimate sermon/text which is the key to the entire rest of the book and how we endure. Central to this letter is the paradox of how we see and relate to our own insufficiency. Paul, writing to this church has just spent the end of chapter 11 talking about all his credentials for ministry. Yes, he’s educated, a citizen, with the right lineage, right training, but what really qualifies him for leadership and why he says they should engage with his understanding of the Gospel is his suffering. He leads with his failures and frustrations as marks of faithfulness. And just so we don’t mistake his faithfulness for pride in his ability to endure, Paul talks about being lowered in a basket fleeing from Damascus as he’s pursued by an vicious enemy. That doesn’t look like victory, that doesn’t look like taking ground, that looks like defeat and retreat. So how do we grow from that? Enduring is our path to ultimate victory. To understand how we endure the Christians life we need to experience strength through weakness. 


PART I | Enduring the Thorn | 2 Cor 12:1-7

2 Cor 12:1-7 |I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 


Carried to Glory – So right AFTER he talks about being vulnerable and lowered in humility just to survive, he talks about how he was carried up to glory and given this vision of paradise. You all want to follow guys with grandiose visions and experiences, fine I’ll pull out my ace and let ya’ll know about what I’ve seen and experienced not because I think it’s even the most important part of my ministry or qualification but because of you being led astray by those who claim their own vision. He says, “I know a guy… and that guy is me.”

Charismatic Paul- We love the doctrines of grace and understanding of theology and the gospel we get from Paul’s letters. They’re rich with truth and gospel implications but we easily forget Paul’s life and ministry was absolutely marked by and a times directly led by visions and revelations from Jesus. He was met on the way to Damascus by Jesus, humbled, transformed and commissioned for mission. He was later led by a vision to go Macedonia. While planting the church in Corinth and feeling alone and isolated he had a vision where Jesus told him to keep preaching and know there will be fruitfulness. He also references revelation received about the Gospel in Galatians and now we’re hearing about begin caught up to the “third heaven” with an experience of Paradise so great and grand it includes things he can even speak about. Paul’s a charismatic!  Part of His authority and endurance is in part due His deep communion with and reliance on the Lord. But look at how and when these visions happen, it isn’t when Paul is doing well, it’s when he is in greatest need. 


Third Heaven – This might make us think there are strata of heavens. There are extra biblical references to “seventh heaven” (and a WB show in the 90’s) but the concept was the highest point of God’s glory. For them there was 3 “heavens” life around us, life above us in space/sky, and finally the realm where God dwells explicitly. So this as a familiar euphemism for the church to say. “I’ve seen and experienced ultimate Paradise with God.” While living in the temporary and transient I have seen the eternal and permanent. Why hasn’t he mentioned this before? Why didn’t he lead with this! BTW I’ve seen heaven I know what eternity will be like! This would be a great way to start and grow the church and establish himself as the preeminent prophet. But he doesn’t even go into detail in fact he says he doesn’t even talk about this often because he doesn’t want it to be a distraction from his primary mission/message about faith in Jesus and how we live in response. He doesn’t start his letters with “Paul, visitor to Heaven and visionary of eternity” but rather, “Paul, slave to Christ”. 


Enduring the Thorn – Given a glimpse of inexplicable glory or experiencing something truly unique is a gift to be cherished. Our weakness is in turning blessings into pride and conceit. How hard must it have been to have seen and experienced what Paul did and then come “back down to earth” so to speak. Everything and everyone else would have seemed so insignificant, small, and completely unsatisfying. You would always be looking down in disgust, and/or be constantly talking and sharing about how great it was. We can have experiences and glimpses of glory, victories, and good days, but if we think that is all life is like then we’ll will be insufferable to those around us who haven’t seen a victory or good day for a while. Paul quickly pivots, he could go on about Paradise but instead tells them about his profound suffering and the purpose. 

To keep from being conceited (says it twice), he was given (like a gift) a thorn in the flesh to harass him. 

No one likes thorns – “Harass” is a continual low grade level of suck to have to endure, it can also mean to torment. You don’t rest and enjoy a thorn in you, in-fact you wince with every step. What’s Paul’s thorn? It is in the flesh so likely physical in nature, but he also describes it a messenger of Satan (likely an email) so it could be a spiritual component, it could be circumstances or the condition of the Corinthian church. Again, Paul doesn’t emphasize what we would like to hear about but what we need to know. Tell us about the thorn! Tell us about Satan’s messenger! No, this is not as important as the purpose. Paul sees it as a gift because it keeps him humble and from exalting himself. While not desired, sometimes suffering can be a gift from God we endure for the sake of greater humility. Why do I say a gift from God if Paul says a messenger from Satan? Because of the purpose. Satan doesn’t want us humbled but humiliated, he’s more than ok with our conceit if it can lead to our condemnation. At face value what the torn was to Paul was an attack or affliction from the enemy but he was able to see beyond it to how God was using it for Paul’s ultimate good. By not being specific about thorn give us an opportunity to ask ourselves, what is our thorn and how do we react?


PART II |Enduring Contentment | 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

2 Cor 12:8-10 | Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

How do we respond in suffering and discomfort? In discomfort or discouragement, we find ourselves wrestling with God contending for relief. Why God? Yes, satan and evil are active work in the world causing pain and suffering God is ultimately in authority and active over all things. If it evil is truly at work around you, if the enemy who wants to destroy life and flourishing and who doesn’t want you to experience joy is active, you don’t go to the enemy for relief. The is no appeasing, accommodating, or appealing to evil. It must be overcome and defeated. There is not a time in the Bible where the enemy has more power than God or is able to do anything which God has not allowed. Paul goes where the power is! He says “three times I pleaded/begged/implored” with the Lord. Like Jesus in the garden the night before the crucifixion, “Lord if it be your will, let this cup of suffering pass from me. But not my will but yours be done.” When we are in suffering and pain we can and should be drawn to prayer to the one who ultimately able to do far more than we can even conceive of. Not all suffering is the result of our sin. There is a difference between sin, which we repent of, and suffering which we endure while appealing to God for relief. We can be expectant of God intervention and we can be humble in how He chooses to respond, knowing sometimes God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves. God can and does change circumstances, and He changes hearts.


Sufficient Grace- What did Paul receive? Another “word from the Lord”. Red letter words from Jesus answering Paul’s issues and all of our conditions. There are times, God responds to our appeal to gently and firmly remind us, all we need is His grace. Grace is unearned favor. Where sin has separated us from God, God’s grace to us in Jesus is sufficient to reconcile our relationship and move us to restoration. Not ‘get by grace” but ‘sustaining and full grace’. When we think sufficient, we think adequate, like just good enough. But when are at talking about God’s grace to us we are talking about a grace that brings us from death to life. Grace that bridges the gap between a perfect just God and rebellious sinners like us. He is saying to Paul and to us regardless of your suffering and circumstances it doesn’t mean you are outside of God’s love and favor.  


Perfected Power- Jesus took on weakness to deliver perfect power. Jesus came in the weakest form imaginable as a baby. Jesus had all the human frailties we do. He got tired, hungry, etc. (yet was without sin) and He eventually endured an entire crown of thorns while experiencing the weakest position of pain imaginable. Splayed out on a Roman cross. Nothing looks like weakness and defeat like naked and dying on a cross. He experienced the indignity, the isolation, and pain of the cross to pay for our sins as our substitute AND as a pathway to power. Death to life. Resurrection conquering death and promising forever life. No Paul, the thorn will not be removed, but my presence and my power will be with you for you to be able to endure it. You are not alone, isolated you are weak, but I am strong and I will carry you through this to the final finish. You will have times you feel depleted and even defeated but don’t forget how the story ends, Jesus wins! 


Enduring Contentment - To endure is to remain or continue even in the midst of great difficulty to a greater destination. Endurance is usually a sign of significant strength. Yet paradoxically we find ourselves both weary and weak the longer we endure difficulty. We need to find both comfort in the present and courage to continue not despite our weakness, but in our weakness. Seeking strength, we look within ourselves for affirmation or beyond ourselves for inspiration when we have all we need in Christ. The result of sufficient Grace and Perfected Power are disciples who boast in their weakness and are Content in all circumstances. The world means (pleasure/delight/rejoice) in in weakness why? It doesn’t mean we have to like, or even desire it. In fact savior and enjoy when things are good or delightful. We can be content when humbly recognize we are weak we are weary, but our strength isn’t in ourselves but is In Christ. Calamities, critics adversity, and affliction can be a place of great reliance where we experience Christ’s power resting on us is sufficient for us to have enduring contentment, despite our weakness, in all circumstances. 

We can endure with courage in weakness only because of the Gospel where we are brought into family by the grace and mercy of God alone. The perfect enduring done has been by the work of Jesus Christ (God the Son) in our place; living the perfect life we have not, dying the death we all deserve for sin, and rising again so we can be alive now and forever with Him. We haven’t earned strength or overcome weakness on our own. Because of Jesus' effort for us, we’ve been adopted by a Father (God) who loves us. He picks us up, He carries us, He encourages us, and He empowers us (by the Holy Spirit) to walk in the ways and places He sees fit for us. We walk with the knowledge that He’s the one who brought us here for our growth, our good, and His glory. We are humble because we know how weak and dependent we are. We are joyful because we know how loved we are. We have courage because we know where our strength is found. We invite everyone and let them know life with God is not dependent on how they can endure but is reliant on a God who has big enough shoulders to carry all His people.


PART III | Enduring Emptiness | 2 Cor 11:12-15

2 Cor 12:11-19 | 11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. 13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong! 14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. 


Enduring Emptiness – Paul goes from theological clarity to being clear on the condition of the church and their relationship with him. There is much that still need to be repaired and reconciled on his next visit. But despite the disfunction he is still going invest and endure with them. Why? Because he/they are beloved by God and worthy of being built up. We are beloved by God. Filled with Christ, enriched by God, equipped by the Holy Spirit; we can be emptied, spent, and serve all for the building up of others who are also beloved. 


We are celebrating a year of Mercy Fellowship but more reflecting on a year of God’s mercy and grace to us! 

Wins- Relaunched with renewed vision, values, and identity embraced by insiders and inviting to outsiders. We’ve grown (90-130 Sunday/140-200) Relaunched Family Style no have Mercy Kids each week (birth-K) God has provided generously. Baptized 5 people, seen baby born. Engaged with the Pregnancy Resource Clinic. Seen more musicians lead. Helped area pastors with Be Well event, brought on Matt Nickel to Staff/Elder. 

Losses- It hasn’t been perfect, we’ve had 2 break in, relapses, miscarriages have been suffered, cancer diagnosis received, division and slander endured, we’ve said goodbyes to Idaho and Iraq and we’ll see more this year. 


We endure and risk transformation for the Gospel.. as we REMAIN Steadfast, REMAIN Equipped, REMAIN Joyful.

Our power to endure cannot come from our weakness or in earning great strength. Rather it can only come from the unearned grace of Jesus Christ whose power is made perfect in weakness. In Christ, we can have courage & comfort to endure knowing it is only when we are aware of our weakness that we are truly strong. Christ has given us good courage in our great weakness so we may endure to a glorious finish as we Trust Jesus!