Saturday, January 14, 2017, 6:30 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Oh, To Be Like Thee.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 2 Corinthians 12 (Select vv. NASB).
A Thorn in the Flesh (vv. 7-10)
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
When God gifts us in ministry, he may also afflict us in some way in order to keep us humble, and also that we might learn to rely on him and not on ourselves. This affliction, i.e. this “thorn in the flesh” may come in many different forms. No one is certain what exactly was Paul’s “thorn,” although many will speculate. Clearly it was given him by God, for it was for the purpose to keep him humble. Satan does not want us to be humble, but to be proud. Satan does not want us to trust in God but in ourselves. So, this is one of those instances where Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. For example, God may use other people in our lives to keep us humble and seeking his face, or he may use our circumstances or a physical ailment or whatever he chooses to humble us and to mold us into his likeness. The Bible calls this pruning, in order that we might be more fruitful (Jn. 15).
So, when God brings (causes) or permits difficulties in our lives, and we pray for relief, sometimes he may give us the same response as he gave Paul, and that is that his grace is sufficient for us, in order that Christ’s power might be perfected in our weaknesses (not in our sins). And, this is for the purpose that Christ’s power might dwell in us and be evident in our lives instead of us operating in our own flesh and willpower. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Co. 4:11). Our flesh must daily be put at the cross of Christ in order that his life might shine through us. So, instead of fighting against what God is doing in our lives, because we hate pain and suffering, we need to yield to the Lord, and submit to the cross.
I Gladly Spend (vv. 14-18)
Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit. Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those whom I have sent to you, have I? I urged Titus to go, and I sent the brother with him. Titus did not take any advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps?
When God calls us to ministry it must be self-sacrificial. We must not seek our own glory, but the good of others. It will mean giving of our time and our talents, gifts, energies, heart, emotion, and reputations, etc. in order to follow our Lord in obedience, and for the benefit of those to whom we minister his love and grace. And, in return, we may get our hearts stomped on, i.e. we may be falsely accused, despised, hated, rejected, abandoned, gossiped about, slandered, mocked and otherwise treated unfairly, unjustly and unkindly. And, yet, if we love God and we love others as we love ourselves, we will willingly suffer in order that others might come to faith in Jesus Christ, in order that they might grow to maturity in Christ, that they might be comforted and encouraged in their walks of faith, and so that they will not be led astray to false gods or to false gospels. In other words, ministry is not to be about us, but about loving God and loving others.
For Your Upbuilding (vv. 19-21)
All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved. For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.
Certainly there are those who call themselves ministers of the gospel who are in it for themselves, either to gain financially, or for power and prestige, or to build for themselves earthly kingdoms, or in order to build up their own reputations and fame. As well, they may be in the ministry as false apostles, masquerading themselves as servants of righteousness, in order to deceive the masses with false gospels for the purpose of leading people astray from their pure devotion to Jesus Christ. These are Satan’s workers of iniquity to serve his purposes, because he doesn’t want anyone to follow Christ, but he wants people to follow him, instead. And, so he disguises himself as an angel of light in order to deceive many. And, many are deceived, indeed.
Yet, as true servants of the Lord, who follow him in obedience, and who love our fellow humans, we do ministry out of love for God and for the benefit of others. We expend ourselves in many different ways so that our brothers and sisters in Christ might be strengthened in their faith, that their faith in God may increase, and that they be encouraged and be filled with hope.
As ministers of Christ, we, as well, feel what God feels. We are filled with his passion and concern over those who are being led back into sin or over those who are being led astray, and so we caution them and warn them, and we urge them to be faithful to their Lord and to walk in obedience to Christ. And, it isn’t because we feel superior or that we are just being negative that we do what we do, either. Those who would fill your minds only with happy-happy feel-good messages do not love you, but they love only themselves, and they want you to like them, rather than caring about you and your soul and your spiritual walks. But, God’s grace does not ignore sin. His grace, which brings salvation, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for Christ’s return. Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
Oh, to Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer
Thomas O. Chisholm / W. J. Kirkpatrick
Oh, to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
Oh, to be like Thee! full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wandering sinner to find.
O to be like Thee! lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer others to save.
O to be like Thee! while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love;
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.
Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.