2 Corinthians 12:8-9
For this thing I sought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.…
1. Paul, when buffeted by the messenger of Satan, addressed his prayer to Christ, which is a proof of our Lord's divinity; and Christ was a fit object for such a prayer, because He has endured the like temptation, and knows how to succour them that are tempted. Moreover, He has come to earth to destroy the works of the devil, and it was by His name that devils were expelled after He had risen.
2. This prayer was not only addressed to, but was like the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane. I see the Lord Jesus reflected in Paul, and hear the threetimes repeated prayer, mark the cup standing unremoved, and see the strength imparted in the midst of weakness.
3. Our text fell from the lips of Christ Himself, and when Jesus speaks a special charm surrounds each syllable.
4. The exact sense of the Greek it is not easy to translate. The apostle does not merely tell us that his Lord said these words to him fourteen years ago. Their echoes were still sounding through his soul. "He has been saying to me, 'My strength is sufficient for thee.'" The words, not merely for the time reconciled him to his particular trouble, but cheered him for all the rest of his life. In the next we notice —
I. GRACE ALL-SUFFICIENT.
1. Taking the word grace to mean favour, the passage runs — Do not ask to be rid of your trouble, My favour is enough for thee; or, as Hodge reads it, "My love." If thou hast little else that thou desirest, yet surely this is enough.
2. Throw the stress on the first word, "My," i.e., Jesus. Therefore it is mediatorial grace, the grace given to Christ as the covenant Head of His people. It is the head speaking to the member, and declaring that its grace is enough for the whole body. "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell," and of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
3. Put the stress in the centre. "Is sufficient."(1) It is now sufficient. It is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future, but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith.
(2) This sufficiency is declared without any limiting words, and therefore Christ's grace is sufficient to uphold, strengthen, comfort thee, sufficient to make thy trouble useful to thee, to enable thee to triumph over it, to bring thee out of ten thousand like it, and to bring thee home to heaven. Whatever would be good for thee, Christ's grace is sufficient to bestow; whatever would harm thee, His grace is sufficient to avert; whatever thou desirest, His grace is sufficient to give thee if it be good for thee; whatever thou wouldst avoid, His grace can shield thee from it if so His wisdom shall dictate.
4. Lay the emphasis upon the first and the last words: "My... thee." Surely the grace of such a one as my Lord Jesus is sufficient for so insignificant a being as I am. Put one mouse down in all the granaries of Egypt when they were fullest after seven years of plenty, and imagine that one mouse complaining that it might die of famine. Imagine a man standing on a mountain, and saying, "I breathe so many cubic feet of air in a year; I am afraid that I shall ultimately inhale all the oxygen which surrounds the globe." Does it not make unbelief ridiculous?
II. STRENGTH PERFECTED. Remember that it was so with Christ. He was strong as to His Deity; but His strength as Mediator was made perfect through suffering. His strength to save His people would never have been perfected if He had not taken upon Himself the weakness of human nature. This is the strength which is made perfect in weakness.
1. The power of Jesus can only be perfectly revealed in His people by keeping them, and sustaining them when they are in trouble. Who knows the perfection of the strength of God till he sees how God can make poor puny creatures strong? When you see a man of God brought into poverty, and yet never repining; when you hear his character assailed by slander, and yet he stands unmoved like a rock — then the strength of God is made perfect in the midst of weakness. It was when tiny creatures made Pharaoh tremble that his magicians said, "This is the finger of God."
2. God's strength is made perfect to the saint's own apprehension when he is weak. If you have prospered in business, and enjoyed good health all your lives, you do not know much about the strength of God. You may have read about it in books; you may have seen it in others; but a grain of experience is worth a pound of observation, and you can only get knowledge of the power of God by an experimental acquaintance with your own weakness, and you will not be likely to get that except as you are led along the thorny way which most of God's saints have to travel. Great tribulation brings out the great strength of God.
3. The term "made perfect" also means achieves its purpose. God has not done for us what He means to do except we have felt our own strengthlessness. The strength of God is never perfected till our weakness is perfected. When our weakness is thoroughly felt, then the strength of God has done its work in us.
4. The strength of God is most perfected or most glorified by its using our strengthlessness. Imagine that Christianity had been forced upon men with the stern arguments which Mahomet placed in the hands of his first disciples, the glory would have redounded to human courage and not to the love of God. But when we know that twelve humble fishermen overthrew colossal systems of error and set up the Cross of Christ in their place, we adoringly exclaim, "This is the finger of God." And so when the Lord took a consecrated cobbler and sent him to Hindostan, whatever work was done by William Carey was evidently seen to be of the Lord.
5. All history shows that the great strength of God has always been displayed and perpetuated in human weakness. What made Christ so strong? Was it not that He condescended to be so weak? And how did He win His victory? By His patience, by His suffering. How has the Church ever been strong? What has brought forth the strength of God so that it has been undeniably manifest, and consequently operative upon mankind? Has it been the strength of the Church? No, but its weakness, for when men have seen believers suffer and die, it is then that they have beheld the strength of God in His people. The weakness of the martyr as he suffered revealed the strength of God in him, which held him fast to his principles while he was gradually consumed by the cruel flames. Quentin Matsys had to make a well-cover in iron one morning. His fellow-workmen were jealous, and therefore they took from him the proper tools, and yet with his hammer he produced a matchless work of art. So the Lord with instruments which lend Him no aid, but rather hinder Him, doeth greater works of grace to His own glory and honour.
III. POWER INDWELLING. The word "dwell" means to tabernacle. "Just as the Shekinah light dwelt in the tent in the wilderness, so I glory to be a poor frail tent, that the Shekinah of Jesus may dwell in my soul."
1. Paul puts the power of Christ in opposition to his own, because if he is not weak, then he has strength of his own; if then what he does is done by his own strength, there is no room for Christ's; but if his own power be gone there is space for the power of Christ.
2. But what is the power of Christ?
(1) The power of grace.
(2) Christly power: the kind of power which is conspicuous in the life of Jesus. The power of Alexander was a power to command men, and inspire them with courage for great enterprises. The power of Demosthenes was the power of eloquence, the power to stir the patriotic Greeks. Love and patience were Christ's power, and even now these subdue the hearts of men, and make Jesus the sufferer to be Jesus the King.
(3) It was a part of the "all power "which our Lord declared was given unto Him in heaven and in earth; "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations." Paul desired to have that power tabernacling in himself, for he knew that if he had to "go and teach all nations" he would have to suffer in so doing, and so he takes the suffering cheerfully, that he might have the power.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.