The Spirit Helps us in Our Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV

“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. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. 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.”

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Now, there are differences of opinion here as to what Paul’s weakness was, and so the Lord would have me today to look at what it is clearly not and then to suggest some possibilities of what it could be, at least in a general sense, and then to look at some other Scriptures speaking of weaknesses to see what they are referring to so that we can get an overall understanding of how God views our weaknesses and what he promises us regarding them.

Paul was being used of God mightily in the sharing of the gospel of Christ with people and to see many people come to faith in Jesus Christ and then to grow in their walks of faith. And God used him to help establish the New Testament church and to encourage the saints of God in their walks of faith, and to exhort them when they were not living as they ought, and sometimes to warn them, too, of the consequences of wandering from that faith.

Since they did not have the New Testament books as we now know them, but they were actually being written during the time of the early church, and most of them were penned by Paul, as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit, there was obviously a danger of Paul becoming conceited because of these great revelations. And so God permitted Satan to attack him in some way in his flesh to humble him and to make him totally dependent on God.

Now, some people have said that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was some addictive sin. But let’s examine that for a moment in context. Paul pleaded with the Lord three times that this thorn should leave him, but the Lord’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Now if we were to entertain the idea that this thorn was a sinful habit, then God would be refusing to remove that sin from him.

Now, if you are a student of the Scriptures you know this is absolutely contrary to what the Scriptures teach. Jesus died on that cross to free us from our addiction to sin so that we would now live in victory over sin and walk in holiness and righteousness in obedience to our Lord. And the Scriptures teach that if we do not forsake our sins, but if we continue in addictive sin that we will not inherit eternal life with God. So, God is not going to refuse to deliver us from sin, so Paul’s weakness was not sin.

Weakness is Without Strength

Now, if you look up the Greek word translated as “weakness” in Bible Hub, it is defined as “without strength,” and it “refers to an ailment that deprives someone of enjoying or accomplishing what they would like to do.” So the word “focuses on the handicaps that go with the weakness.” Like for right now my right knee and foot are weak and so I am having to use a walker to help me walk. And it does limit my mobility and the things that I can do.

And then we need to go back and look at the purpose of this thorn in the flesh. Yes, it was a messenger of Satan, but it was given to Paul to keep him from becoming conceited. Is Satan going to want us to not be conceited? No! Absolutely not! So God gave him this thorn, kind of like he allowed Satan to attack his servant Job who was a righteous man. And Job also learned humility through his trial, and God honored him at the end of it.

And what Paul learned through this was that God’s grace was sufficient, like I am learning, too, and that God could work in him and through him despite his handicap, and that God would get the glory for it. And that meant that Paul had no reason ever to be conceited because he knew he could only do what he did in the power of God and no other way. And so God got the glory and not Paul, which was the object. Now Paul’s thorn may have been his blindness, but we don’t know for sure. We just know it wasn’t sin.

Other Passages on Weakness

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

So, what’s the weakness here? It is the same Greek word with the same definition as before which fits here. The handicap in this case is not physical but mental, i.e. having to do with lack of knowledge in a particular area. I can definitely relate to that one. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought. You ever been there? I am sometimes. So the Spirit helps us and he intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

“For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4).

Again, it is the same Greek word with the same definition. This is speaking of Jesus Christ. He was arrested on false charges, given a mock trial, was falsely accused of things he did not do, was beaten beyond recognition (from my understanding), was mocked, spat upon, and had a crown of thorns placed on his head. And in his weakened condition he was forced to carry a heavy cross to the place where he would have nails pounded in his hands and feet and where he would be hung on that cross to die.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Again, same Greek word. Same definition. So what was his weakness? He lived in a physical human body and so he was subject to temptation to sin. Yet, he did not sin. So the weakness has to do with living in human bodies which are subject to temptation and which can get hurt and bruised and crippled, etc. So, he sympathizes with us in our human weakness in these bodies we live in because he was tempted as we are, but without sin.

“..quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:34).

This is taken from the “faith chapter” of the Bible which describes people of faith in Bible times. They did not do these powerful things in their own power and strength, but through faith in God and in his power. Now, all of these people named in this chapter did not live perfect lives, but by faith in God, God empowered them to do some mighty things. They were human beings who lived in human bodies, but out of their weakness (same Greek word as in all these other passages) God made them strong. In the power of God they were able to do things beyond their natural strength and abilities.

So, in conclusion, I see nowhere in any of these passages where they used this specific Greek word “astheneia,” which is translated into English as “weakness,” where the weakness referred to sin or to sinful addiction as some people have suggested. These are normal human weaknesses which we experience as earthlings who live in human bodies which are physical in nature or which have to do with our minds and lack of knowledge. And the point is that these do not have to limit what God can do in and through us.

But, even if the weakness is sin (not in Paul’s case, as explained), still God has power over sin and he can do in us and through us what not one of us can do in our own power and strength. For Jesus gave his life up for us on that cross to free us from our bondage to sin so that we can live for him and for his righteousness in God’s power and strength. What we can’t do in the flesh God can do in our lives if we will surrender our lives to him.

Give Me Jesus

Oh, What Gladness!
An Original Work / December 2, 2013

Give me Jesus. He’s my Savior.
I’ll walk with Him in His favor.
I’ll abide in His love always;
Follow His ways to the end.

Jesus is the Son of God.
He died upon a cruel cross.
He’s forgiven all my failures
By His mercy and His love.

Give me Jesus – His compassion,
And His mercy; loving kindness.
Let Him teach me how to love Him,
And to please Him. He’s my friend.

Jesus died for all our sin
So we could have eternal life.
He will free you from your bondage
If you trust Him with your life.

Give me Jesus. Let me trust Him.
May I listen to His teachings.
May I follow where He leads me
In His service. He’s my Lord.

Jesus Christ will come again
To take His bride to be with Him.
Oh, what gladness; free from sadness
When I meet Him in the air.

2 thoughts on “The Spirit Helps us in Our Weakness

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