|Folio from Papyrus 46, |
containing 2 Corinthians 11:33-12:9
Paul continued his "boasting" from chapter 11 by telling about his dreams and revelations. He thought it was not proper to boast, but he wanted to defend himself against the critics who questioned his apostleship. He told of his being "caught up to the third heaven, paradise" (Luke 23:43; Revelation 2:7) 14 years earlier which would have been about A.D. 42-44, before his missionary journeys. Paul could have exalted himself because of this great privilege, but God gave him a "thorn in the flesh" so that God's power would be manifested even in his weakness. This is what he really wanted to boast about! By the way, we have no idea what this weakness was, but most commentators believe that it was a physical affliction.
Paul continues this chapter by asserting his true apostleship again because of the signs (miracles with emphasis on their significance), wonders (unusual events that evoke awe), and miracles (works only explained by supernatural power) that were a regular part of his ministry. On top of all that, he took no money for his service proving he was not in the ministry for personal gain like many of the false teachers.
Paul concluded by exhorting them to clean up their acts of sin picked up from the culture around them before he arrived for his visit.
REFLECTION (written in 2010)
None of us like weaknesses, but I have found that I can boast in them! God's power is so manifest in those times of weakness because I am utterly dependent on Him for everything. Being that I am, by nature, a very self-sufficient person, that is a very good thing!
I have had back difficulties since junior high school in the early 1970s! My brother-in-law, the osteopath, says I have a very complicated back. It is a combination of my genetic abnormalities and three car accidents in my youth. I would classify this back difficulty as one of my "thorns in the flesh." I hate having to tell people "no" when they ask me to help them move or want me to take something off of their hands that they are carrying. It is so humbling because I do not want them to think that I do not want to serve them. To say, "I can't" is a hard thing for me to do!
Usually, I am able to prevent these back difficulties through strengthening and stretching exercises that I have done faithfully for many years, but sometimes I will do something, like lifting something too heavy or bending and twisting suddenly, that makes it go out. Over the past twenty years, it has hardly gone out (helps to have a strong husband and two "strapping" boys to do all my heavy lifting). If it has gone out, either George or my brother-in-law has been able to get it back in place.
But when I sliced the tendon in my big toe in November of 2009, and I had to stop exercising in order for it to heal and wear a boot that made me walk unevenly, I was reminded anew of this particular "thorn in the flesh." On December 18, 2009, while getting up from my bed to go to the bathroom, my kids heard me scream a blood curdling scream from the opposite side of the house and one floor below. I was immobilized for the next 12 hours without the ability to even get up to go to the bathroom. (Can you say bedpans?) Then I was in bed for the better part of a month with minor forays out to eat Christmas Eve and Day dinners, attend a few ministry meetings (if they were in my home), or teach my British Literature class. Posts for Bible Book Club were done while I lay flat with the computer up on my knees and in pain. I still was experiencing crippling back spasms into March. Even as I write this in mid-2010, I am still not 100% but am finding increased mobility as I slowly gain back strength that I had built up over years of staying in shape. I am grateful to be able to sit upright, take walks, do light weights, and modified crunches! Life's simple pleasures are the BEST!
In that midst of the most painful part of this "thorn in the flesh" journey, I could boast in my weakness. I could rejoice in the Lord! It was a wonderful time spiritually as I became utterly dependent on Him. My weakness magnified His strength in me. Other than a couple of time where I broke down (having to miss a wedding and the funeral of the father of a dear friend was hard), I was so "in the zone" in God's wonderful presence and power working through me. I did not like the physical pain, but I loved the palpable presence of God!
2015 update: Most of the time, I am pain free. This back issue revealed that the orthotics I had been wearing since college were doing more to hinder me than help. I have no lift in my shoe, my muscles have built around a straighter spine, and I go on a semi-regular basis to an osteopath to make sure my legs are even. Every once in a while I have a "wig out" but I am much better these days! I am also typing this standing up. It turns out that much of my work involved too much sitting that was not good for my back. Now, I spend the early morning happily using a stand-up desk. I eventually do sit down, but my back is settled into a good position by then, and I get up and walk frequently.
2016 update: I became a Certified Personal Trainer and Pilates Instructor in 2015. I learned some wonderful skills (Self-myofascial release [SMR], corrective stretching and strengthening to erase muscle imbalances in my body, MELT Method self-treatment techniques, proper posture, etc.) that have rendered me pain-free in every area of my body for the last eight months. My back stopped going out a long time ago, but I still had nagging aches and pains that are totally gone. It was so simple, and I wish that more care-givers understood how to help their patients be pain-free rather than dependent on their therapy!
What is your "thorn in the flesh"? Can you boast in your weakness and allow God's power to work through You? Dialogue with Him about that right now.
Lord, please perfect Your power in our weakness so that Your power can work in and through us to accomplish Your purposes for Your glory. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.