18 June 2011

"I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong." (v. 2)


The final chapters of 2 Corinthians are very different from the first nine. So much so that many have thought that this was a separate letter which has been added to another. Here Paul's strongest feelings and his most personal stories are out on view.

In his argument with the church in Corinth Paul wanted to stand up for what he believed, against other teachers who have come with different values. These super-apostles were apparently strong and clever people, full of confidence in their own spirituality and wisdom. But Paul was so determined to persuade the Corinthians that he spills out some of his most personal experiences.

He writes first as though he his writing about someone else: "I know a person in Christ who … was caught up to the third heaven" (v. 2) but surely he means himself. This becomes clear as he goes on. Having written of these amazing spiritual experiences, he says he will not boast of these things. This makes no sense unless it was his own experience about which he writes.

Even "considering the exceptional character of the revelations" (v. 7) Paul was aware more than anything of his weakness. He believed that the experiences he had were so amazing that God felt he needed something to keep him from being proud, or "too elated". We do not know what the "thorn in the flesh" was (v. 7); people have speculated that it was epilepsy. However, its result is clear. Paul found spiritual strength in the belief that, even in his most painful experiences, God was with him. In fact, it was when he was weakest that he felt God's presence most strongly. Whatever it was he suffered, it made him helpless, and that formed his sense of dependence on God, and so made him stronger.

To Ponder

Should we feel dependent on God? And if we should, to what extent does being unwell or weak help us to feel that dependence?

Can you, or could you, be "content with weaknesses" (v. 10) caused by illness or old age?

Bible notes author: The Revd Andrew Lunn

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