Our study comes from 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Please read this passage.
How does Paul describe his trial (verse 7)?
The description of this thorn in the flesh leaves much to the imagination since Paul does not reveal more about it. But nonetheless, it’s still very real. The Apostle Paul recognized this as a spiritual attack brought on by the master of deception, Satan himself. We should never underestimate the enemy’s primary goal: to torment believers. If the devil can disable God’s chosen people, even if he does it one person at a time, he believes he can decimate God’s kingdom. We don’t know the depth of Paul’s despair, but it’s obvious this was a severe distraction—a distraction that made him feel unproductive in God’s work.
Three times the apostle asked God to take it from him. Imagine Paul lying prostrate on the ground, pounding his fists onto the concrete, and crying out to God. His groans may have been heard all the way out to the street. Perhaps Paul’s objections sounded like this: “I can’t go on, Lord. This is too much for me to bear. Please give me peace.” I have often wondered what was causing Paul such torment. Perhaps it was fear, lack of confidence, fatigue, some physical pain, or overwhelming guilt from his past. Of course we can only speculate, but what we do know is that we have encountered an agitated apostle. Can you picture Satan standing in the corner laughing hysterically every time Paul’s fists hit the floor? He thought he had won. He was quite certain that one of God’s greatest servants would fall in defeat and give up his mission of preaching the Gospel.
Do you feel attacked right now? What is the cause of your suffering? What are your thoughts regarding this attack? Write out your answers to these questions.
Read 2 Corinthians 12:9 carefully. What was Jesus’ response to Paul?
Ponder these words. What do you believe God is saying to Paul?
Several years ago, I was in a similar place as Paul. I found myself tormented during a busy season of ministry. Hence, I became fearful. Eventually, the fear developed into panic attacks. I never knew when they would strike. For those who have been wracked by panic disorder, you can imagine how difficult it was to speak in public. In spite of daily panic attacks, though, my calendar was full of speaking engagements. In addition to speaking at women’s conferences, I was also teaching a weekly Bible study.
As I look back, I recognize this as a spiritual attack. I picture Satan whispering lies in my ear. This great deceiver led me to believe that panic would take over while I was speaking. I began to doubt the call on my life. Negative thoughts plagued my mind—thoughts of quitting ministry. I cried out to God.
Some days, He led me to this passage in 2 Corinthians. I heard God say the same words to me as He spoke to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” These powerful words offered me great comfort during a weak time. I recited them often. This simple phrase became my hope and refuge. As my wilderness experience intensified, God poured out His grace upon me. That’s all I had, but it was sufficient!
Some pieces of God’s divine work remain a mystery. I think God’s grace is one of those mysterious works we won’t fully understand until all things are made clear in heaven. Today, however, we will try to uncover important truths about this New Testament word.
Look up 2 Corinthians 9:8. How is grace described in this verse?
The word for grace in this verse comes from the Greek word “charis.” In secular Greek, charis was a word for joy and was something which brought pleasure to others.⁴ Zondervan’s Bible Dictionary defines charis this way: “the state of kindness and favor toward someone, often with a focus on a benefit given to the object; by extension.”⁵ In other words, grace is a gift.
According to John 1:14, 17, where did grace originate?
Grace is a New Testament word. It came into our world with Jesus. John says that Jesus came from the Father “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
With this in mind, we need to look to the One who brought grace in order to understand it more.
I once heard a cute story regarding the word grace. A pastor told his congregation that they needed to ask Jesus into their hearts in order to receive eternal life. After the service, a confused little boy approached the pastor. He asked him how this could be done since he was just a little boy. In his mind, he couldn’t understand the spiritual aspect to salvation and more importantly, he couldn’t comprehend how Jesus (who was much bigger) could come and live inside of him (who was much smaller). The pastor tried to explain. After several more minutes, the boy still did not understand. He finally threw up his hands in despair and asked, “But won’t Jesus stick out all over?” This simple question conveys a much bigger picture. If Jesus embodies grace, then the grace that lives in all of us will show on the outside.
The Apostle Paul was fascinated with grace. He spoke of it more than any other New Testament writer and he often opened and closed his letters with this word. Something tells me that Paul was never quite the same after that encounter in the jail cell—the encounter that brought him face-to-face with grace. The moment he first understood grace!
What important truth does Paul teach us about grace based on 1 Corinthians 15:9-10?
Paul turned from persecutor of the church to missionary and evangelist. A heart that was once soured by legalism and self-righteousness, converted into a heart overflowing with abundant love. At one time, Paul was driven by his own pride, but eventually urged on by God’s purpose and a humble heart. No doubt Paul was struck hard with the truth about God’s grace. Only by the grace of God was he able to teach, train and equip thousands of believers in their faith. Only by the grace of God was Paul allowed access into the inner chambers of God’s throne—the place where he received wisdom to do God’s work and strength to keep going on despite intense persecution.
We might ask, “How did he keep going on?” How did he continue to encourage and exhort other believers when he was unjustly punished and horribly persecuted?” How was he able to move forward without the guilt of his past hindering his work? The answer rests with this word grace. Only through God’s grace could Paul continue on in ministry. Remember God’s words to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” You see, human weakness provides the ideal opportunity for the display of divine power.
You and I are no different than Paul. We, too, are not deserving of His grace. We are flawed human beings. Perhaps the best thing is for us to daily prostrate ourselves on the ground and ask God to “Search me…and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
We might not understand His grace and we may not be deserving of it, but the truth remains: God has poured out His grace upon us. It is only by His grace we can use our spiritual gifts for the building up of the body of Christ. It is only by the grace of God we can keep going on despite obstacles and trials. It is only by the grace of God we can walk in communion with Him each day. It is only by the grace of God we can proclaim the Gospel. And it is only by His grace we can walk down to the battle field and look our enemy square in the eye. Beloved, we have nothing to gripe about, but everything to be thankful for.
Look up the following passages and record your findings on the word grace.
2 Thessalonians 2:16:
Read Hebrews 4:16. What does this verse offer to you, especially in the midst of your difficulties?
Do you need a dose of grace right now? Tell God of your struggle. Ask Him for His abounding grace to help you. Write out your prayer.
Precious one, God desires nothing more than to pour out His abundant grace upon us. It’s in our weakness when His grace carries us through. In 1779, John Newton perfectly called his hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Just sit back and allow God to supply you with His grace so amazing. I’m confident it will be sufficient. It will be enough! I would like you to focus the rest of this week on His undeserving grace that has been lavishly poured out on you. I am.