Sexagesima – 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9

Click here for the reading: 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9.

Paul’s foolishness is holy wisdom. The wisdom the Corinthians admire is not wise in Christ, whose ways lead Paul into an upside-down life that turns the world upside down. The dizzying world of Paul’s service in Christ is not one for every sermon, but it may be fruitful for the preacher to tackle what happens when the word has its way in a man’s life – the life Paul describes in this pericope. Wisdom abounds in the midst of suffering.

Indeed the only way to the wisdom of Paul is through the suffering of Paul. Therefore he must boast of what he suffers. His resume in 11:22-28 is first of what is useless and then of his sufferings. What proved useless are the very things of which his opponents – likely the judaizers who plagued and perverted his gospel wherever he went – boast. Their ethnic boasts are nothing to him, who could likewise boast. Instead, his CV is suffering after suffering and every last bit of it in Christ’s way. When nothing more dramatic is happening, he suffers the anxiety of his care for the churches in Christ throughout the world. He is a man turned over to suffering so that the nations may be turned over to Christ.

In that way of suffering in Christ even the marvelous vision Paul was given of paradise is not ground for speaking, still less for boasting. What is greatest and most heavenly is occasion for silence. What is lowliest and saddest is the occasion for Paul’s boasting because in his suffering he finds God’s power made perfect. Heavenly visions do not sustain the weak man – the power of God perfected in his weakness sustains the man weak for Christ’s sake.

Strange to say, even that weakness has been a part of God’s delivery of Paul from service of sin to the service of Christ. The thorn in the flesh is at once “a messenger of Satan to harass” and divinely given to prevent Paul’s conceit – to keep his resume of suffering from becoming a resume in praise of Paul. If Paul’s labors are greater than all others, his thorn is so peculiarly his that it keeps him peculiarly humble for an apostle with so many grounds for boasting.

The thorn sent by Satan thus also works for the purposes of God. Truly, all things work together for good for them that love Him, that are called according to His purpose. If He purposed Paul’s salvation and Paul’s calling to service for Christ, then even Paul’s thorn will serve those holy purposes. If He purposed all Paul’s sufferings, then even Paul’s sufferings shall serve His gospel. All things shall serve Paul’s salvation and through him the salvation of the nations called by the gospel. So that Paul’s salvation and the salvation of the nations may not be of him who runneth nor of him who willeth but of God who showeth mercy. In our weakness, how great is His power to save!