The Apostle Paul, firm in faith, with enduring character, and bold in tenacity against his many obstacles. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, he reveals what many of them are. Time in jail, countless beatings, and many brushes with death, which became the wrecked rubble of his past. The list goes on, for he endured being pelted with stones, shipwrecked, and adrift on the sea. Such are the list of some of his difficulties.
In contrast, life for us is easy and comfortable, leaving many of us soft. A hardship for some of us may be getting up and coming to church or having someone belittle our faith. Does this explain our spotty church attendance?
For Paul, life is Christ, and dying becomes gain (Philippians 1:21). To him, everything becomes of little worth when compared to the infinite value of knowing his Redeemer. So, Paul chooses to accept the loss of everything else, considering them as trash, if all the better to gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Though a renown Apostle and Christian, Paul does not glory in himself. With humility his trademark, he responds like breathing. “Don’t praise me because of me, but only because I bring Christ to you.” The forerunner of the Savior, John the Baptizer, declares this reality well, “[Jesus] must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30).
The kingdom of God isn’t a matter of boasting about yourself. For we endure crosses, which suck the wind out of our bragging. Every Christian bears some burden or another. Often, they blister us and cause us to cry out. Still, our Savior comes, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Not left unsaid, Jesus also reveals the other side of the cross. “Place my yoke on your shoulders, and learn from me. For I am humble, gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).
Well, what yoke or burden is this? Sometimes, life crushes you! What makes the burden easier is not the lighter load you carry. No, what makes the experience lighter to bear is God’s grace, the forgiveness of sins. For He tells us, “My grace is enough for you.”
Yes, the Apostle understands human nature, for we often like to crow about ourselves. So, he responds, “I must boast. Though little benefit this boasting may do, I will talk about visions and revelations from the Lord. Let me tell you, someone in Christ, 14 years ago, went up to the third heaven. This man went up to paradise, and he is not far away from me, for his ears delighted from inexpressible words, which someone here cannot speak.”
Now, Paul is referring to himself but doesn’t say so because he’s not showing off. How so? Didn’t our Lord give him an incomplete experience of eternity’s blessings? Yes, and Paul also mentions a thorn in his flesh to keep him “from exalting himself.”
In the first century, several texts floated around among the Jews, claiming visions of going to heaven. A seven-level heaven dominated these writings, which described the third level as “Paradise.” One text, in a trance by the beauty, gushed about this third heavenly tier, resplendent with fragrant, flowering trees.
Among the trees grew one beyond beauty with a delicate but bracing bouquet. Can this be the Tree of Life, first in the Garden of Eden? The Apostle John later marveled at this Tree during his God-given revelation. Perhaps, but we can’t say for sure.
The third heaven Paul mentions is not to brag but to delight in his weakness. “Up to” is how he describes his journey, meaning “only” or “as far as” heaven’s third level—of seven! Remember, he is speaking to those who flaunted their visions of eternity.
Now, Paul is an Apostle—they aren’t. Still, God only chooses to bring him to the third heaven. So, if others did experience higher levels, so what? To show off in such matters misses the point. The point is Jesus, not you. The point is Jesus, not what you do or bring to the table. The point is Jesus for you, not you for yourself.
So Paul goes on, “I will not boast about myself, except in my weaknesses.” Does someone brag about being scourged, shipwrecked, hungry, or cold? To keep him from becoming arrogant, because of His experience of Paradise, God gave him a thorn. Placed into his body, the pointed barb became Satan’s messenger, tormenting Paul and keeping him from exalting himself.
Here’s what we don’t enjoy—God allowing Satan to distress us because of our arrogance, to pop our self-inflating pride. “Pride precedes destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall,” Scripture teaches (Proverbs 16:18). In the aftermath of such a tumble, we learn, once more, how we sin when we puff ourselves up with pride instead of humbling ourselves under the Almighty’s hand.
A thorn? Yes, likely bad vision. To the Galatians, the Apostle’s letter ends like this, “Note what huge letters I am using, writing to you with my hand” (Galatians 6:11). So, someone else transcribed the earlier part of the letter. Why such oversized writing? Poor eyesight? Now, if so, we understand why Paul used so many scribes.
About this thorn, Paul prayed three times, but God chose to let the wounding spike remain. In his prayer life, we discover the balance between praying and suffering. For relief, he pleaded three times. Why only three? After crying out to the One who answers prayer, pouring out his all, he accepts and allows God’s verdict to stand.
So, call out to the Father with the yearnings of your heart, but don’t choose to pitch your tent in such a place. In everything, we want God to work His will in our lives. For He holds eternity in His hands—you don’t.
What if the answer is “No” when you pray? Even so, you receive this mighty comfort—the all-knowing One understands what is gnawing inside you and will bring you through in His way and time. By faith, you realize He will work His will for you, which is eternal life, flowing from His mercy and grace. “All will work together for the benefit of those who love God: those whom He calls according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
With an open heart, the Father smiles on you, “My grace is enough for you.” Here’s Luther’s translation: “Be content with my grace.” For if God’s grace fills and satisfies you, you will come through the other side. For He shines His favor on you by forgiving your sins and cleansing your conscience. So, you need not fear, not when cancer comes, or some other fearsome disease strikes you down.
The forgiveness of sins is what matters most. So, if the weakness of your fallen flesh steals your health, vigor, or life, the Lord is still with you. Your suffering is not a sign of God turning against you, but an invitation to fly to Him and rest in His mercy.
The greatest blessing for sinners like us is God’s undeserved kindness descending on us. Does He punish you for being a sinner? No, because Jesus received your punishment for you. The gift of faith reveals you will not perish but receive everlasting life. “My grace is enough for you.”
“My strength is made perfect in weakness.” To be made perfect is to become complete and reach the goal. What matters is God’s power, not yours. Try to boss God around, and you find yourself obstructing His work in your life.
Only when weak, when you stop trying to be God, does His will become yours, and His strength comes through. In His compassion, His sin-slaying strength becomes yours. How? In the Gospel, in Christ, in the forgiveness of sins, in the Means of Grace.
How did Christ complete His victory for you over sin, death, hell, and the devil? Not by force or by His authoritative personality. No, by His death, where He hid His glory inside His anguish. In His weakness, on the wood of death, our Savior’s strength became perfect, complete, achieving His purpose—your salvation.
So also with how He delivers His cross-won salvation. Behind what appears ordinary and meager, He provides salvation to us through the proclaimed Word, baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.
Oh, we want to bask in the glory, but Jesus chooses to give us His greatness by becoming vulnerable. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Such a struggle for us to wrap our heads around this backward reality, but the Scriptures are clear—God’s power, glory, and completion came through Christ on the cross. Through His complete and total death, He became helpless, abandoned, and alone to save us.
“My power is made perfect in weakness,” which is why we can “rejoice in our sufferings,” as St. Paul wrote (Romans 5:3). The tree of death gives us permission to endure pain. Without the cross, the finality of pain and death being the final chapter of our lives would terrify us into eternity.
With the cross of Christ, everything changes. For our Lord now becomes our companion in our suffering. The death and resurrection of Jesus are not so much an escape from sorrow, but permission to go through pain to enter eternal life.
So, when weak, beaten down, ashamed and afraid, vulnerable, hurt, or dying, your Lord’s all-potent power achieves His purpose. The Gospel, His grace, and His blood are His power, which cleanses you from all sin, opening the gates of Paradise. So, do not let the taunts of Satan torment you. Trust in God—He will deliver You. Amen.