As I finished off arranging my notes for this second half of the study, I eventually found that these last 3 phrases that I planned to look at actually relate to 3 different points of view of the same subject. The subject is how God’s glory is displayed in our weakness, and the 3 angles that I found myself looking at it from are: from God’s point of view; from Paul’s point of view as the sufferer; and from other people’s point of view as they observe Paul going through suffering.
So firstly, we’re told God’s point of view in verse 9. God says:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”
We sometimes talk about going through times of testing as Christians. And that’s Biblical, but what do we mean by it? In this passage the point of the suffering that Paul went through was not for him to pass the test and show how strong he was that he could cope with it. He couldn’t. The point was that God’s grace was sufficient to carry him through it.
This reminded me of something I mentioned the first time I ever did a book review. That was almost exactly 2 years ago, and I haven’t read the book again since, but I’m thinking of John Piper’s chapter on prayer in his book Desiring God.
He refers to Psalm 50 verse 15, which says: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me,” and quotes Spurgeon’s explanation of this verse. Spurgeon says:
“God and the praying man take shares… first here is your share: “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” Secondly, here is God’s share: “I will deliver thee.” Again, you take a share – for you shall be delivered. And then again it is the Lord’s turn – “Thou shalt glorify me.” Here is… a covenant that God enters into with you who pray to him, and whom he helps. He says, “You shall have the deliverance, but I must have the glory…” Here is a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and all that God getteth is the glory which is due unto his name.”
God is not glorified by us showing how strong we are when we go through times of suffering, he’s glorified when we realise we’re weak and helpless and completely depend on him.
And of course, the ultimate proof of the lengths that God is willing to go to to deliver us is the cross. If we ever doubt that God’s grace is sufficient for us, we need to remind ourselves of Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Now for God to say “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you” doesn’t necessarily seem to match up with Paul’s experience with the thorn in his flesh, because we’d expect deliverance would’ve meant God removing the thorn, which he didn’t. So we need to be careful about assuming God’s definitions of “trouble” and “deliverance” are the same as ours, and I possibly could’ve found other texts that would’ve been more suitable to illustrate this, but hopefully you can see the point I’m getting at; from God’s point of view, when we suffer and call out to him, it gives him an opportunity to show aspects of his glory that we wouldn’t otherwise see.
So from God’s point of view, suffering is one of the ways he glorifies himself, by showing that his grace is sufficient for us as he delivers us when we call upon him. Next, we’ll look at things from Paul’s point of view as the one suffering. Paul learned to be glad to have his weakness exposed so that (at the end of verse 9…)
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