Jenny Salt, Plenary Session Five

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Jenny Salt

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Direction: Having a “feeling” that we should go left when the GPS unit says go right. We feel like we know which way to go, but we so easily lose our bearings.

From where do we get our bearings for life? If we gain them from the world, we will be against the bearings of the Gospel.

2 Corinthians has a lot to say about boasting. The world says, “Boast in yourself, tell the world the good stuff about yourself.”

But the Gospel says, “Do the opposite.”

How does the Gospel lens shape our boasting?

The big picture of 2 Corinthians:

A painful, loving book. Paul loved these people and longed for them to be mature and to be strong in the Lord. But their relationship was not without its problems. The emotional intensity is not without its problems. Paul is having to defend himself to these people he loves.

These people are losing their confidence in Paul and seem to also be losing their confidence in the Gospel.

There are men coming in behind Paul, bringing letters of endorsement and much boasting, highlighting their superiority and heritage. They are “impressing” the people of Corinth by attacking and undermining Paul. And to dismiss Paul was to dismiss his message, because the Corinthian believers were looking at only the exterior. Paul had become an embarrassment to the Corinthians.

Paul is combatting the worldly way of thinking about leadership.

Boasting in the Gospel: 

  1. Gospel stops us from boasting about things that make us look great (vv. 1-6). 
    1. The Corinthians were impressed by the boasting of the “Super Apostles,” so Paul boasts, but he boasts in the Gospel.
    2. “Go on boasting…” What has he boasted about previously? 2 Corinthians 11:30-33. Paul’s escape from Damascus. Why include it here? Is it escape? Espionage? High adventure? No, Paul was lowered over a wall in hiding in a garbage basket. Paul refers to a time of great humiliation. This situation could have been seen as pathetic cowardice.
    3. “A man in Christ…” Paul is speaking of himself in the third person. Talking of an experience given him by God, but creates difference between the person and the experience. We do this with experiences we are not proud of. Paul is distancing himself from a situation that was wonderful and amazing and would have made him look great to the Corinthians. Paul had these visions to encourage him to in very difficult circumstances, like the things about which he does boast, like floggings and arrests and imprisonments.
    4. We want people to think more of us than is warranted. We play down our weaknesses and lift up our strengths as though they are the norm. We use our blessings from the Lord to impress others to make us look good.
    5. Boasting like this is the way the world works, not the Gospel.
    6. Whitefield: he prayed that the Lord would protect him from the fiery furnace of popularity.
    7. God will not allow Himself to be talked about if he is spoken about in a way that brings glory to ourselves.
  2. Gospel causes us to boast in our weaknesses (vv. 7-10). 
    1. Paul is “lowered” in a basket.
    2. Paul is “lifted up” to the third heaven.
    3. Paul is “lowered” with a thorn.

A roller coaster… But great blessings can be turned into opportunities of great personal glory and (divine passive) God gave him a thorn to prevent this blessing from becoming a curse.

How can this thorn come from God and be a messenger of Satan?

    1. God is Sovereign.
    2. Things in this life are painful and we can see no good in them. They will not be a part of the consummated kingdom, but they are a part of this life now. And Satan loves to see God’s people suffer.
    3. We cannot trivialize Paul’s thorn. We don’t know what it was, but we do know that it was painful, that it wasn’t good. But it kept Paul from being puffed up by his experiences with the Lord.
    4. Paul looked for relief, but God gave grace. The thorn didn’t pin him to the ground, preventing him from serving. It kept him close to the Lord who promised sufficient grace.
    5. In the midst of the suffering that comes, there is sufficient grace, continual grace. The more we recognize our own weakness, the more we see the strength of God’s grace.
    6. Paul is no masochist. He’s looking at life through the Gospel. Seeing our best in Christ when we look at our worst.
    7. There is a consistent witness of power made perfect in weakness.
      1. Example: John Bunyan. “Were it lawful, I would pray for greater trouble for greater comfort’s sake.”

I want to rely on myself. But when I am aware of my weakness, which is actually living in reality, the truth of God’s grace hits home. 

The Lord is not limited by what we bring to the table in our service to Him. In reality, we bring nothing. He brings everything and gives us opportunity to use them. “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”

Our God wants us to serve Him and live for Him, where He has us now, to bring Him glory.

Our God had a paradoxical life: Crucified in weakness but raised in strength.

“I’ve learned to kiss the wave that pushes me against the rock of ages.” Spurgeon