Let us start by describing the man by the name of Paul who is writing to the church in Corinth. His old name was Saul. He was a Hebrew, Israelite, the offspring of Abraham and a servant of Christ. He was imprisoned many times and received countless beatings. Five times he received from the Jews forty lashes, less one; three times he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned; and three times he was shipwrecked. He was a Pharisee, a leader as well as a very learned man of his day. He was a persecutor of Christians before he met with God on the Road to Damascus to kill believers.
When Saul became Paul, he had the same passion to work for Jesus as he had to persecute those who believed in Jesus. This meant that he faced many obstacles, for now the hunter had become the hunted.
Paul was a self-sufficient person and wished not to bother anybody when it came to his aspect of doing ministry. He worked to provide for his daily needs. So, when Paul writes about having a thorn in the flesh, it has to be something that was hindering him physically from doing what he was meant to do. Some have suggested that the thorn Paul was talking about was malaria, epilepsy, severe headaches, or a disease of the eye (Galatians 4:12-16). Others have suggested that it could have been spiritual temptations, opposition and persecution, sexual temptation or his physical appearance.
Whatever it was we can conclude that Paul was dealing with physical illness and that he prayed for healing three times to God and each time God’s answer was the same. “My grace is sufficient.” Paul had prayed for people to get healed and they were healed but in this setting his illness seemed to be part of his life and he had to figure out how to live with it. At times it was a tremendous bother to him in trying to do his work that he was called to do. But he never gave up. He knew how true his writing to the Roman church was when he wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or sword? As is written, ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39 RSV)
We can learn from Paul’s experience how sufficient grace helps us in our every day life:
1. His grace is sufficient: In Physical Weariness: This is a true challenge to us all. It becomes a spiritual issue when we allow our physical weariness to stop us from enjoying the fellowship that God has given us. People start giving excuses why they can’t do certain things. Paul invites us to also remember that through God’s grace we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”(Philippians 4:13). William Barclay, in his New Daily Devotion Study Bible, Letters to the Corinthians, says this about John Wesley: “He preached 42,000 sermons, averaged 4,500 a year (on horseback), rode 60-70 miles a day, preached three sermons on average every day. At 83 years old he wrote, “I am a wonder to myself, I am never tired, either with preaching, writing or travelling.” To me this was the work of all sufficient grace, lived by John Wesley in his day. When we embrace sufficient grace as a place, we draw our strength in our everyday life and we will stop giving ourselves excuses as to why we can’t do certain things for God because of physical weariness and we will trust that he is able to help us once we submit ourselves to his will.
2. His grace is sufficient: For Physical Pain: This was an issue that Paul was dealing with. In this life we cannot totally avoid physical pain. This could be caused by many things. It could be a kind of illness that leaves us with a lot of pain most of the time or something that we are born with. When going through these kinds of pain we need to invite God to enable us to keep functioning each day with the understanding that his love stays with us, even at times of pain. Times like these, we are called as believers in his sustaining grace. We need to support and stand with those going through this kind of pain and not abandon them. That’s why visits are part of what forms the family of God. When we are weak (physical or spiritual) we allow God to fill us with his power. We rely on God for our effectiveness rather than our own energy, effort or talent. Our weakness helps us develop our Christian character. It deepens our worship. For in admitting our own weakness, we affirm God’s strength in all we do. Sometimes when we are strong in abilities and resources we are tempted to do God’s work in our own because we think we can and this can lead us to pride.
3. His grace is sufficient: For Opposition: As we face any kind of opposition in our faith walk, we need to remember three guiding rules that help us keep going. One, we have to pray. Prayer is one big weapon that we have when going against any kind of opposition. Our prayer is the sword of the battle that helps to dismantle all the forces that come against us. People miss this first step since they want to act quickly. It is like trying to assemble something without reading the instructions first, thinking you know it all and wanting to be don quickly just to get to the end and realize you messed up. Two, we have to believe. We have to believe that the one we are praying to is able to answer our prayers and even do more than we have asked. Three, we have to trust. This means that once we have done our part, we let God do his part in his own time. Paul had to be reminded after praying three times for God to remove his “thorn” that it was only God’s grace that he needed that would help him cope. If we are faced with slander at any point in our life we learn to turn to Jesus for he is able. We represent the one and living God. God gives us strength to bear whatever challenge we face. God does not hide us from issues but rather when issues come, he gives us strength to conquer them, for we are more than conquerors, the Word of God reminds us.