Home Articles & Books Andy's Index

Andy Bustanoby
(C) 2007

                          Called To Weakness
                        (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

One of the biggest obstacles we face in living for Christ and serving
Him is our conceit.  I spoke of this in my last message where Paul told
us to view our spiritual gift with humility, not conceit.
In 2 Corinthians 12 he addresses the issue of conceit again.

Those of us with a Type-A Personality often have the greatest problem
with conceit.  The Type-A Personality is what psychologists call a
Competitive-Exploitive Personality.  The only difference between
competitive and exploitive is that competitive is a balanced personality
and exploitive is not.

The Competitive Personality has the following characteristics:  can be
independent, self-respecting, self-reliant and assertive, business-like,
and likes to compete.  However, the Exploitive Personality has the
following extreme characteristics:  proud and self-satisfied, thinks
only of himself, shrewd and calculating, somewhat snobbish, egotistical
and conceited, selfish, cold and unfeeling and boastful.  Even though
Paul talks in 2 Corinthians 12 about being boastful, it is not that of
the Exploitive Personality.  Paul is boastful of God who makes him
strong when he is weak.

The Apostle Paul is, aside from Job, the finest example of someone in
the Bible who recognizes a problem with his personality and deals with
it.  While Paul makes several references to his weaknesses in his
epistles, I now focus on 2 Corinthians 12 as the central passage on the

It's important that we understand the context of this passage.  In 2
Corinthians 12:1-6, Paul speaks of an "out-of-body experience." It is
the kind of thing that is reported by people in popular magazines, often
occuring when they are under anesthesia in surgery.  They feel that they
are floating above their own body observing the surgery.

Paul probably had this experience on his missionary journey with
Barnabas in Asia Minor where he was stoned and left for dead.  He tells
how he was caught up to the third heaven, God's abode, where he saw
marvelous things.  Eventually, Paul came back to consciousness and
continued his journey.

In the text we're considering, we find Paul called by God to weakness.
As with the other messages in this series, "Why Christians Hurt," Paul
speaks in terms of a call from God.  And, again, we have a three-fold
outline:  Paul's Call To Weakness, Paul's Attitude Toward His Weakness
and Paul's Benefit From His Weakness.  Remember the letters CAB--call,
attitude, benefit.

                         Paul's Call To Weakness

Let's look first at the call to weakness.  After speaking of his
out-of-the-body experience, he says:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great
revelations [his out-of-the-body experience], there was given me a thorn
in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me (2 Cor. 12:7 NIV).

It's interesting how he treats this out-of-body experience.  He speaks
in the third person about "a man" who had this experience, but it's
obvious that it is Paul himself.  It's also interesting that he not only
saw but he heard incredible things when he was in God's abode, the third

Just as God permitted Satan to bodily attack Job to teach him a
spiritual lesson, He does the same with Paul.  The lesson Job learned
was not to ask God, What do you think you're doing?  The clay doesn't
say to the Potter, Why have you made me this way?  Paul had a wonderful
out-of-the-body experience.  But there was danger of his becoming
conceited over it.  So God permitted Satan to give him a "thorn in the

What is this "thorn in the flesh."?  Paul says:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he
said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made
perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:8-9a) NIV).

The word "weakness" is the the Greek word _asthenia.  It is used
twenty-four times in the New Testament, sixteen times translated
"infirmity."  The other eight times it is translated, "weakness,
sickness" or "disease."  Of course the "thorn in the flesh" was not
literal, but it was an unrelenting misery.

It is often speculated by Bible commentaries that this was eye-disease
and partial blindness.  This is likely, given the references we have
from Galatians, and Acts, and the fact that this is a common problem in
the Middle East, even today.  It has been called "Egyptian Opthalmia."

At the time of writing his letter to the Galatians, Paul was probably
fifty to fifty-five years old.  He speaks of his former journey to
Galatia where he had to stop because of his infirmity or weakness.  He
speaks of this in Galatians 4 where he says that they were so kind to
him that they would have torn out their eyes and given them to him.  And
now with the writing of his letter to the Galatians he alludes to the
eye problems again in Galatians 6 where he says, "See what large letters
I use as I write to you with my own hand."

When he wrote to the Romans about the same time, he used an amanuensis,
a secretary named Tertius, to write down his letter.

Acts 23 tells us that about five or ten years later, when he was
arrested in Jerusalem and stood before the Sanhedrin, he did not
recognize the High Priest Ananis who spoke to him.  I take it from this
that his eye-sight was failing even further.

This disease has been described as Purulent Conjunctivitis, highly
infectious, and carried by flies.  They infest the dried secretions of
the eyes.  The lids and cornea are usually damaged and produce an
unsightly condition called "tender eyes."  The appearance of the eyes
may also be part of the criticism of his physical appearance in 2
Corinthians 10 where the word _asthenia is used again.

God answered Paul's prayers, but it was not what he expected:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness
(2 Cor. 12:9a NIV).

                 Paul's Attitude Toward His Weakness

This brings me to my second point--Paul's attitude toward his weakness.
When Paul prayed for deliverance, he says that he "pleaded" with the
Lord.  Look at Paul's change of attitude toward his weakness:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that
Christ's power may rest on me (2 Cor. 12:9b NIV).

The NIV leaves out a word of the Greek text.  The Greek says, "Therefore,
rather ...."  Now you may say, What's the big deal about "rather?"

The big deal is that Paul prayed three times for the thorn to be taken
away.  The "rather" points back to this fact.  Rather than pray any
more, he accepts God's solution--weakness.

When we pray for something, we may want to remember this.  Does God have
a different solution?

The prophet Isaiah beautifully illustrates this.  He is told by God,
Comfort, ye; comfort ye my people.  And in chapter 40 he comforts God's
people with the promise of supernatural strength:

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak; even
youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those
who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings
like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be
faint (Is. 40:29-31 NIV).

The King James Version says, "They that wait on the Lord will renew
their strength."  This is a better translation.  The Hebrew word for
"wait" is _quavah.  It means to wait with a thrilling expectation.

Do you remember when you were a little child waiting for Christmas?  You
were waiting with a great expectation for a marvelous gift.  Have we gotten
too old and jaded that we no longer know how to hope with thrilling
expectations?  Paul is saying, Rather than pray for my strength to be
restored, I will rather wait with a thrilling expectation--not my 
strength but God's supernatural strength.

Now look at this change of attitude.  He says, "I will boast" in this.
God has told him, No, I'm not going to answer your prayer.  I have a
different solution.  Paul says, Praise God!  I will boast in Him for a
wonderful solution--weakness.

As I pointed out before, the leaders in the Corinthian church were
boasting about their self-sufficiency and great leadership.  Paul says,
I will boast too.  But not in my self-sufficiency but in my weakness
that I might experience supernatural strength--the power of Jesus Christ.

Remember, Paul's faith and hope have to do with his position in Christ
where he has all the riches of divine grace.  This includes supernatural

Note also that in addition to boasting he says that he will "boast all
the more gladly."  The word used in the Greek text is not just "gladly."
It is the superlative of gladly translated, "all the more gladly"--as
gladly as you can get!

I need to say one more thing about attitude.  Even though faith is not
always a feeling, our attitude can influence our feelings about what God
is doing in our lives.

Do you have a bad attitude about God's dealing with your physical
problems?  Then watch out.  It will affect your feelings.  You may not
be praying for what God wants.  You cannot boast in your weakness, and
you will not say, "I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness."

You may say, All right, Andy.  Enough of your reproach.  Not only do I
not handle my weakness very well, I don't handle reproach any better.

Well, let me caution you, Paul isn't done with us.  He says:

That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in
hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties (2 Cor. 12:10a NIV).

Again, note the attitude--I delight in all this trouble.  This means
literally, "to think well of these things."  Again, it doesn't feel good
to hurt.  But is our attitude right?  Can we say, God knows what He's
doing?  Can the clay stop saying to the Potter, Why have you made me
this way?

Note all the misery Paul speaks of:  weaknesses, insults, hardships,
persecutions, difficulties.  And note, they are all plural.

I've already described weaknesses.  The next word, "insults," we have
transliterated into English.  The Greek word is _hubris.  Do you know
what hubris is?  It means, "extremely arrogant."  This is an insult from
someone who sneers at you and says, You are a nothing.  When are you
going to put yourself together and become a wonderful person like me?

You see, it's more than an insult.  It's an insult from the arrogant
people who were leading the church at Corinth, people who thought they
were hot stuff.

The next word is "hardships."  This refers to any distress, trial or
affliction.  Hardship, whether in body or soul, can bring strength if
we will let it.

Remember my illustration of weight lifting?  Enduring weight builds
muscle.  Enduring hardship builds character and faith.

The next word is "persecutions."  Paul tells us about this in 2
Corinthians 11.  He suffered more persecution than any other apostle.
He says that he was "in prison more frequently, flogged more severely,
exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews
forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was
stoned" (2 Cor. 11:23c-25).

When he said that he received forty lashes minus one, we need to
understand a particular Jewish violation of their own law.  The law said
that only forty lashes could be administered as punishment.  So what the
Jews did was stop at thirty-nine lashes, and then start over again.  It
is possible that Paul was lashed one-hundred seventeen times!  If not
that, he was lashed on three different occasions, thirty-nine times,
contrary to Jewish law.

Mind you, he says he delights in this kind of trouble.  It gives God all
the more opportunity to show His power.

The last word is difficulties.  It actually means "cramped" or "crowded."
In our idiom today we would say, Boxed in on every side with no way out."

When I thought of this, I wondered if there is a lid on this box that I
was in.  And you know what?  I looked up and there was no lid.  I saw
the heavenlies where I have a standing in grace in Christ.  And you know
what?  He gave me the supernatural strength to climb out of the box.

                    Paul's Benefit From His Weakness

And now my third point.  What was Paul's benefit from his weakness?  The
very last sentence of the text tells us:

For when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor. 12:10b NIV).

The word "strong" is the Greek word _dunamai.  Does that sound like an
English word?  How about "dynamite."  It sounds paradoxical, but I can
say, When I am weak, I am dynamite.  I am dynamite because it is no
longer I but Christ in me.

This is why I spoke before of there being no lid on the box you're in.
Look up.  By the power of Christ you will climb out of that box.

Now what have I said here?  Remember these three things:  We are called
to weakness; we have an attitude of boasting gladly in our weakness,
boasting in God who does in us what we can't do; the benefit is that
when we are weak, then the power of Christ is strong.

We can't be strong in Christ until we accept our weakness.  When we can
do that, then we will understand our call to weakness.

                                * * *

Click here to email andy Return to Top