Strength in Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:8-9
For this thing I sought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.…

This page in the autobiography of the apostle shows us that he, too, belonged to the great army of martyrs. The original word seems to mean, not a tiny bit of thorn, but one of those hideous stakes on which the cruel punishment of impalement used to be inflicted. Note —


1. Paul's petitions are the echo of Gethsemane; but He that prayed in Gethsemane was He to whom Paul addressed his prayer.

2. Notice how this thought of prayer helps to lead us deep into its most blessed characteristics. It is only the telling Christ what is in our hearts. If we realised this — questions as to what it was permissible or not to pray for would be irrelevant. If anything is big enough to interest me it is not too small to be spoken about to Him. If I am to talk to Christ about everything that concerns me, am I to keep my thumb upon that great department and be silent about it? That is why our prayers are often so unreal. Our hearts are full of some small matter of daily interest, and when we kneel down not a word about it comes to our lips. Can that be right? The difference between the different objects of prayer is to be found in remembering that there are two sets of things to be prayed about, and over one set must ever be written, "If it be Thy will," and over the other it need not be written. We know about the latter that "if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us." But about the former we can only say, "Not my will, but Thine be done." With that deep in our hearts, let us take everything into His presence, thorns and stakes, pin-pricks and wounds out of which the life-blood is ebbing, and be sure that we take none of them in vain.


1. The answer is, in form and in substance, a gentle refusal of the form of the petition, but it is more than a granting of its essence. There are two ways of lightening a burden, one is diminishing, its weight, the other is increasing the strength of the shoulder that bears it. And the latter is God's way of dealing with us.

2. The answer is no communication of anything fresh, but it is the opening of the man's eyes to see that already he has all that he needs. "My grace" (which thou hast now) "is sufficient for thee." If troubled Christian men would learn and use what they have they would less often beseech Him with vain petitions to take away their blessings which are the thorns in the flesh.

3. How modestly the Master speaks about what He gives! "Sufficient"? Yes; but the overplus is "exceeding abundant." "Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient that every one may take a little," says Sense. Omnipotence says, "Bring the few small loaves and fishes unto Me"; and Faith dispensed them amongst the crowd; and Experience "gathered up of the fragments that remained" more than there had been when the multiplication began. So the grace utilised increases; the gift grows as it is employed. "Unto him that hath shall be given."

4. The other part of this great answer unveiled the purpose of the sorrow, even as the former part had disclosed the strength to bear it. "My strength is made perfect" — that is, of course, "perfect in its manifestation or operations, for it is perfect in itself already" — "in weakness." God works with broken reeds. If a man conceits himself to be an iron pillar, God can do nothing with or by him. His strength loves to work in weakness, only the weakness must be conscious, and the conscious weakness must have passed into conscious dependence. There, then, you get the law for the Church and individual lives. Strength that conceits itself to be such is weakness; weakness that knows itself to be such is strength. So when we know ourselves weak, we have taken the first step to strength; just as, when we know ourselves sinners, we have taken the first step to righteousness. All our hollownesses are met with His fulness that fits into them.

III. THE CALM, FINAL ACQUIESCENCE IN THE LOVING NECESSITY OF CONTINUED SORROW. "Most gladly, therefore," etc. (ver. 9). The will is entirely harmonised with Christ's. He is more than submissive, he gladly glories in his infirmity in order that the power of Christ may "spread a tabernacle over" him. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted," said the old prophet. Paul sounds a higher note. Far better is it that the sting of our sorrow should be taken away, by our having learned what it is for, and having bowed to it, than that it should be taken away by the external removal which we sometimes long for. And if we would only interpret events in the spirit of this great text, we should less frequently wonder and weep over the so-called insoluble mysteries of the sorrows of ourselves or of other men. They are all intended to make it more easy for us to realise our utter hanging upon Him, and so to open our hearts to receive more fully the quickening influences of His all-sufficing grace. Here, then, is a lesson for those who have to carry some cross, knowing they must carry it throughout life. It will be wreathed with flowers if you accept it.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

WEB: Concerning this thing, I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me.

On the Nature and Efficacy of Divine Grace
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