7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Why would Paul say that he would boast in his weaknesses, and that he would do so gladly? Boasting in weakness is antithetical to everything the world thinks. We don’t boast to our parents about our weaknesses. We don’t boast about our weaknesses in job interviews. In our conversations with our friends, we don’t say, “Hey! Turns out I’m really bad at [insert activity or action]. Isn’t it great?” But Paul sees his weaknesses as an opportunity to boast, because they demonstrate the “power of Christ” (v.9). Then we as Christians also ought to boast in our weaknesses, if in some way they highlight the power of Christ and bring glory to His name and abilities.
Paul had some affliction that humbled him. It was given to him to prevent him from “becoming conceited” (v.7). Paul, for all his abilities and mighty use by God, could not escape the fact that he was human, and thus inevitably susceptible to weakness. So God gave him a reminder that Paul was not God. He was not even close to God in ability or knowledge. Not omnipresent, not omnipotent, not omniscient. But it seems that Paul became weary of this thorn, for whatever reason. Perhaps it was physically painful, or perhaps it hindered his ministry. He prayed thrice that God would remove from him whatever disabled him.
We may not have the exact factor that hindered Paul, but we all have things that God uses to humble us. In each and every one of us, sin is something that God uses to humble us. If ever we should become “conceited” (v.7) in the way we think about ourselves, we should remember the multitude of sins that we have committed against God, and the sins that we will commit as long as we walk this earth. We should remember that the Son of God had to suffer the wrath of God as He hung on a cross because the forgiveness of our sins necessitated His execution. I call this “forced humility”: if we think rightly about who we are in comparison to a holy, sovereign God, it should leave us no choice but to humble ourselves before Him. Acknowledgement of our sin forces us to be humble, beacause we need His grace to justify us and to sanctify us.
So perhaps it is temptations or inclinations to sin that are the metaphorical thorns in our flesh. Maybe we are attracted to certain sins, or we are weak in showing grace and love to those around us. The things that humble us could also be non-sinful areas of weakness: maybe we find it difficult to open up to people, and it takes us a long time to find discipleship and accountability for that reason. For those in positions of leadership, there may be thoughts of anxiety and inadequacy at the thought of needing to guide and minister to people. If we think about it long enough, we are sure to find ways that we need the grace of God because we are weak.
God responds to Paul by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v.9). In areas of weakness, God promises to support us. He will provide the strength we need to fight sin. He will give us the wisdom to be godly leaders. He will provide the courage to share about our lives with brothers and sisters we trust. This is the most comforting answer that Paul could receive, because it was the assurance that despite the magnitude of his weakness, God’s grace would be greater. As Paul had been saved by grace, he would continue to rely on God’s grace to bolster him in his weakness. And the grace that God provides for us is none other than His own power that will overcome our weaknesses. His grace and power our endless, and God promises that He will use them on our behalf. Could there be a greater comfort to those who are weak?
This is why we boast in our weaknesses, then, because every weakness we have is an opportunity for God to manifest His grace and power! Every time we have succeeded, every time we have fought sin and won, every time we have been adequate for the task, is because God has enabled us to do so. We boast in our weaknesses because they highlight our shortcomings, and we overcome our shortcomings because the power of Christ rests on us. We boast in our weaknesses because they are opportunities for God to glorify Himself!
There is a sense, then, in which I am jealous of those who are weaker than I am. They will know the grace of God in more powerful ways than I ever could, because in their weakness they will need to rely on Him for strength. In doing so, they will see Him provide grace upon grace for them; they will see incredible victories against sin and inadequacies answered as He gives them strength. They will know the sweetness and blessed provision of God’s grace on this earth more than I could because of the weaknesses they have that I do not. This jealousy is not a sinful one, where I am discontent with the weaknesses that God has given me; it comes from a heart that desires to know, in tremendous ways, the grace and power of God. So I will not be content with my strengths, nor will I focus on them–I will find and boast all the more in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am weak, then God is glorified!