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Weak Credentials (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) March 8, 2009

Posted by roberttalley in Religion, Second Corinthians, Sermons, Suffering.
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“WEAK CREDENTIALS (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

We should gladly prefer humiliation with God’s power to exalting experiences.

I. Because only God can evaluate our experiences (verses 1-7). The scientist cannot evaluate religious experiences. It is beyond his area of expertise. He may or may not believe in them but there is no way that they can be scientifically evaluated.

So we are on our own when evaluating religious experiences. One of the bestsellers on the Christian market for several years now has been Don Piper’s “Ninety Minutes in Heaven.” It is the story of a pastor who is pronounced dead at the scene after an automobile accident. He tells of what went on during a ninety minute time period before he was brought back to life through the power of prayer. For a while there was another book on the market, where a man claimed to have spent thirty something minutes in Hell. How do we evaluate these experiences. Paul would argue, only God knows. Paul’s believes that he himself was possibly taken to heaven for a short time but he says, I really do not know how to evaluate this experience. It was wonderful, it was amazing, I heard things that I cannot repeat. It is my own experience but I do not even know if it was a vision or if my body was taken up to heaven. I cannot tell if it was a mystical experience or a miraculous one. I just do not know.

That is a wise attitude to have when looking a religious experiences. Seeing is not believing. As important as miracles are as proof of the truth of Christ, miracles alone prove nothing. The Bible makes it clear that Satan can work miracles. The first miracle after creation may have been performed by Satan when he entered the serpent and made it talk.

For that reason, we should be cautious about exalting our experiences or exalting people because of their experiences. That was part of the problem that was being faced in Corinth, they were evaluating apostles by outward appearances which is why they put themselves in such danger of deception.

A. The natural mind cannot comprehend the supernatural (verses 1-4). One can tell that Paul hesitates to discuss his experience. He understands that in reality, talking about such experiences is not profitable yet he does it, likely because his enemies were performing or at least claiming to have performed miracles among them. In verse 11, Paul describes for us the types of apostolic works which he himself performed among the Corinthians. Such works were used to confirm the truth of God. We generally do not need such miracles now because we have the word of God which we are responsible to believe.

But Paul does not attempt to discredit their credentials of miracles but rather reminds the Corinthians that he also has such credentials but that revelations and miracles are impossible for our natural mind to evaluate. In Germany we had a good friend, not a believer, who claimed to have psychic healing powers. This person was not only convinced but could also give you examples of healings that they had performed. There is not argument against such a thing. Either you believed or you did not. Man cannot adequately evaluate supernatural or psychic experiences themselves. One can perhaps evaluate the honesty and veracity of the one performing or experiencing the miracles but the experience itself our natural mind cannot evaluate.

B. The natural mind tends to exalt the outwardly superior (verses 5-7a). It should not be disturbing that the natural mind cannot adequately evaluate supernatural experiences. What should be disturbing is the tendency of our natural mind to trust itself and exalt those who appear through such experiences to be superior to others.

Paul recognizes this in verse 5. He understands that there are certain aspects of his life that call attention to themselves. He knows that these are the things that attract the natural man and that would build him up. That is why in verse 6 he refrains from giving the details. There is great danger in being exalted by man. It serves in bringing neither the exalted nor the exalter closer to God. Paul had likely had this experience while he was in Tarsus, before he began his ministry in Antioch. Fourteen years he had preached Jesus but had neglected to preach his own experience, an experience that perhaps had exceeded every miracle that Paul had ever performed.

Paul perhaps recognizes that not just his hearers are susceptible to exalting the outwardly superior but that he himself is also might be in danger according to verse 7 of exalting himself beyond measure.

Whoever it is that might tend to exalt Paul, there is one who knows how to prevent that exaltation, the Lord Himself. We do not know much about this thorn in flesh, although the word infirmity used later on indicates that it was a physical ailment of some type. We do know that in Paul’s case, Satan himself had a hand in the suffering.

That does not mean that all suffering is from Satan. It does mean that God, just as He did in Eden allows Satan to work but that God’s purposes are accomplished through Satan’s work. Believer, I can no more tell you whether Satan has a hand in your suffering than I can tell you if your mystical or miraculous experience if from God. Such things only God knows. What I can tell you, however, is this, your suffering is not without purpose. God knows your suffering and he allows it because through it, you can, if you will, glorify Him.

II. Only the Lord can empower us through humiliation (verses 7-10). This is not the only purpose of suffering but this is what Paul focuses on in these verses. Paul goes to the Lord in prayer three times, each time asking for the pain to be taken away. The Lord’s answer is shocking! You have what you need. You have my grace. I am giving you what you need Paul. I am going to accomplish my power through your weakness. Paul, you do not need this experience. You simply need me to take care of you. I can accomplish everything through you that I need to in the midst of your pain and suffering.

A. The Lord gives humility and power through suffering (verses 7-9). Paul talks about this earlier in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. Paul tells us that this is part of God’s plan, that the abundance of the power of God to change lives is realized in us despite the weakness of our earthly bodies (verse 7) so that He is the one who is honored and glorified and not we ourselves. You see, it all comes down to this, people seeing Christ in us as we witness to them of His life-changing power. Jesus promised in Acts 1:8 that we have power through the Holy Spirit in us to witness of Him. That Holy Spirit power, however, becomes focused in our weakness. In humility that power is revealed in its fullness. You see, suffering is sometimes necessary so that God might show to others the power of Christ in our lives.

B. That is why we, like Paul, should prefer humility of suffering and the power that comes through it to the luxury of freedom from pain (verses 10). Paul did not want to hurt, yet he loved Christ and Christ’s people so much that he gladly preferred pain so that he might have the fullness of the power of God.

Now you may, like Paul, suffer an infirmity, that is, suffer physically. You are allowed to pray that God would take away the pain. There is nothing wrong with that. When you pray, though, pray that if he allows you to suffer that the power of God in your life would be revealed by that power. Too often we doubt God. When he does not take away the pain, we assume is does not answer prayer. Remember, it is in that very pain that he may reveal to those closest to us the very power of Christ that they need to see in their lives.

It is not just, though, in sickness. It may be a reproach, that is, a disaster of some type. The loss of a job, of a house, of a spouse. Your pain is not without purpose. God wants to show the power of Christ through your life.

Or perhaps you are in need. You do not have some necessity of life. Although most of us are obviously not in that category, some may be. Even when you do not have food on your table, adequate clothes on your back, or heat in your house, God’s grace is sufficient for even you. His strength is made perfect in your weakness.

Are you persecuted? Are you made fun of at work, at school, or even at home because of your faith in Christ? This promise of power in weakness is to you. Rather than feel sorry for yourself, turn to God for grace and humility in suffering and fullness of power to reveal Christ to your persecutors.

The last word in this list, distress, simply means extreme affliction. Maybe you are not physically sick or going through disaster or persecution or lack of the necessities of life. You see, what your particular trouble is does not matter. That is why we cannot compare our troubles to each other. There is no trouble too great for God not to bring out his fullness of power in you.

“Got any rivers you think are uncrossable. Got any mountains you cannot tunnel through. God specializes in things thought impossible and He can do what no other power can do.”

By Oscar C. Eliason

NEXT WEEK: AN EXAMINATION OF FITNESS FOR DUTY (2 Corinthians 12:11-13:10)

 

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