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. 2 Corinthians 12:7
Paul pours out his life for Jesus. Paul suffers for Jesus. Paul counts his esteemed worldly knowledge as garbage. Paul is insecure. Paul is afraid. Paul loves so deeply. Paul is willing to look the fool to bring others to Jesus. He doesn’t care how he appears outside of the audience knowing Jesus sent him and believing the Gospel. Despite his intelligence and impeccable upbringing under the most respected teachers, he wants to be small so God can be even that much bigger. That’s who Paul is.
What does it take to get us there? What does it take for us to forgo all the worldly things we covet and build up and just be stripped down to Jesus in us? Certainly, Paul spent time with Jesus. He is so certain this is the prize; the life worth living for at all costs. He received unspeakable revelations. But for Paul, among other things, he tells us there was this “thorn in his flesh.” One he didn’t want. One he prayed to be taken away...three times.
Do you have a thorn? Have you been begging God to take it from you? Paul shares God’s response to his thorn, “But he [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I [Paul] will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Sometimes we just flat out need it. Sometimes we need hard things to steer us on our God-ordained paths; to keep us humble; to keep us desperate for Jesus. As counter-cultural as it is, our weakness and reliance on God is what makes us strong.
We all have thorns. Some are meant to be removed. Some not. But all are meant to be used by God. Healing may be part of the plan. But if God says, “nope...this one stays. I’m using it.” We say, “your will be done.” And then we watch God do His thing!
Questions: What “thorn” are you living with? Have you asked God to take it from you? What might its purpose be?
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 2 Corinthians 11:4
The devil has a way of shifting our eyes from our purpose, from the abundance all around us, from the beautiful things available to us and laser-focusing them on that one thing we don’t have. He has a way of shifting our perspective and even our worldview. And it affects our desires, what we think joy and contentment look like, what we seek, who we follow.
THIS. This Paul is reminding the Corinthians is how Satan works. Deception wrapped in half-truths and enticing lures. Planting doubt. Conjuring up ideas of missing out; of God keeping good things from us.
THIS. This Paul is telling them is what we are falling for when we lean into those “preaching another Jesus” (2 Cor 11:4). Preaching a little truth – or even a lot of truth – with destructive lies woven in. Lies that get us off track. Lies that ultimately turn our face from the Gospel and from God.
God inspired so many warnings to be preserved in His Word. The devil is good at what he does. He is crafty and experienced and ruthless. He knows it only takes a slight shift to get us eventually completely off track before we even know it. So. Many. Warnings. And here again from Paul, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Cor:13-15)
This is how the devil works. He doesn’t come in a black cape and evil mask. He comes disguised as an angel of light. He comes in a form appealing to the senses. He’s no rookie. Be aware and alert and always in prayer for discernment. There is but one Gospel. One Truth. One Lord. One God. One Savior. One Messiah. One Christ.
Questions: How might we be easily deceived by the devil’s lies and manipulation? What can we do to protect ourselves?
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Our mind is our greatest asset and it can also be our greatest downfall. There is a spiritual battle for our minds. An ongoing, intense war. And we need to be alert and take an offensive posture instead of sitting back and hoping for the best.
The landmines scattered about this brutal battle are the lies we believe to be truth. Worldviews that say there is no God, we aren’t accountable to anyone, everything is permitted, this life is all there is so live it up, new enlightenment is where it’s at, we should be able to do what we want when we want with whomever we want. Or attitudes that entangle us like worry, approval-seeking, fear, shame, bitterness, insecurity. These strongholds are born and grow in our mind and IT IS WAR! But WE CHOOSE what we think. We have divine power to DESTROY these strongholds.
Though we walk in the flesh we don’t have to fight these battles in our fleshly mess. Because flesh-waged war looks like manipulation, power grabs, deceit, backstabbing, cheating, gossip, abuse of power…to name a few.
In this mighty battle raging all around us and in us, we can wage war differently than the world. We can pick up weapons that are not of this world.
We can decide what goes into our minds. Because what we think matters. What we focus on matters. What we fill our minds with matters. It is critically important that we protect our minds…that we are selective and super picky about what we let in…what we read, watch, listen to. And that we focus our minds on things of God and His truth. Always. Consistently.
Questions: Are you aware and proactive about what fills your mind? What strongholds do you need God’s power to help you overcome?
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 2 Corinthians 9:6
Sowing and Reaping. Here in 2 Corinthians, Paul mentions it in the context of giving. In Galatians, he relates it to how we treat others. Jesus speaks of reaping & sowing with regard to hearing and believing the Word. It is a life principle built into creation.
We will reap what we sow. We can’t harvest what we don’t plant.
If we want to accomplish new things, we have to do the planting. If we want to get healthier, we have to do the planting. If we want to make life changes, we have to do the planting. If we want a deeper faith and spiritual life, we have to do the planting.
And it is HARD to do the planting. To bury that seed. To watch something seemingly die we are clinging to in that seed. To water and watch and wait. And wait. Because the harvest takes time. Planting ushers in seasons of sweat equity with very little to show for it on the surface.
God can take our obedient action, commitment, hard work, diligent waiting and make something beautiful out of it. The sweat equity has purpose. We are humbled, we become more committed, we are more grateful, we learn so much along the way, we are equipped to help others in their sowing seasons...we are more ready for the harvest.
We reap what we sow. We harvest only what we do the work to plant and care for. Let’s do this! Let’s sow bountifully!
Question: What one thing (or things) are you going to plant today? Things that not even a seedling of a harvest can be seen yet...running a marathon, starting a business, changing careers, saving up for that home, losing those extra pounds, founding a non-profit...
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. 2 Corinthians 6:14
A yoke is something put over two animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs. A vehicle to work side by side pulling the same plow to accomplish the same goal more effectively. But where goals, purpose, and objectives vary, things don’t go so well.
The concept of not being unequally yoked is often cited in the context of marriage, a place where being on the same page with common goals is certainly a contributor to success. But I think we can also look broader into other things that can become a part of us. Things that help us go in the right direction more successfully, or things that stall the process. The people we engage with, the things we do, see, read, watch, spend our time and money on…do they complement our Christian faith or pull it in an opposing direction? Are we a light of positive influence where we are and who we are with, or are we stepping into places, people’s lives, and situations we aren’t prepared to, and as a result allowing our light to fade into the darker worldly things?
How do we know when we are not simply in the world but also “of the world”? One question to ask is around influence. Who is the one being influenced and what is the influence? Jesus could often be seen with those of us steeped in sin. But Jesus was always the influencer with a God-glorifying influence. His presence poured out Godliness, rather than soaking in worldliness.
The gray areas will be different for each of us, based on our weaknesses and temptations. What one can easily walk into, another would become unequally yoked with the worldly things taking over. We can’t serve two masters and God alone is the Lord over our lives. If another causes a wedge of competition for our love, adoration, or submission we become unequally yoked. And Paul says, don’t go there.
Challenge: Pray about places in your life you may be unequally yoked to worldly things that may be pulling you away from your God-ordained calling.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-16
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed. We are jars of clay. Fragile, broken, dirty, cracked. But in this jar that on the outside appears utterly unworthy to hold anything of significant value – in us – is the surpassing power of God.
We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. What we proclaim is not ourselves or our finite understanding, but Jesus Christ as Lord. We have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We are persecuted, but not forsaken. He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us into the glorious presence of God.
We are struck down, but not destroyed. We do not lose heart. Though our outer self feels beaten down, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
Affliction is real and affliction is hard. But it brings with it preparation. And on the other side of it is an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
So, we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. The things that are beautiful and glorious and eternal. A new home awaits. A home lit by the glory of God. A feast and celebration like none other. No pain. No tears. No suffering. No sin. No death. Love abounds. Joy overflowing. Peace.
Future hope ignites present faithfulness. So though we endure hardship for a time, we are hopeful and steadfast, gripping to truth and God’s promises with every fiber in us.
Questions: In what ways are you feeling afflicted or struck down? How can you make Paul’s words your prayer and hope?
… so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 2 Corinthians 2:11
The devil loves nothing more than to see the church in turmoil. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he rebukes the church he planted for not only being flippant about blatant and unrepentant sin but also their posture of boasting in it; boasting in their self-assessed spiritual superiority and open-mindedness. One of the ways the devil attacks us is to keep us from addressing sin at all. He gives us many reasons to rationalize it…to each their own, I’m not my brother’s keeper, judge not, be more inclusive, avoid confrontation, avoid conflict and potential side-taking, don’t rock the boat, don’t risk rejection. But sin is never isolated to an individual. Its tentacles reach deep into the community, sometimes in obvious ways, but always in subtle ways as well. And the devil sits back satisfied as believers become numb to sin and spiritual maturity comes to a screeching halt, all while a broken and weary world smugly looks on.
In this case, however, the Corinthians took Paul’s advice. The specific scenario we aren’t told but we know that the church took disciplinary action. Unfortunately, the devil has a strategy for this scenario as well. His plan this time to breed hard hearts, unforgiveness, permanently air-tight locked doors…even as the individual grieves, repents, longs to be reunited.
Paul essentially says, “Enough is enough! He’s been punished enough. He’s repented and forgiveness is in order.” But it’s hard, right? We are full of feelings and emotions. We are hurt by the ramifications of the sin; hurt by the sting of shame, betrayal, and destruction it caused. We aren’t ready to let go. And our unwillingness to move from the confrontation to the restoration is rooted in our distorted view of the purpose of addressing sin. It isn’t to be our aim to judge or condemn…that rests solely in the hands of God. Our goal should always be restoration, also God’s wheelhouse. Love seeks repentance, renewal, and restoration…never condemnation and eternal banishment.
Questions: Do you find forgiveness hard, even when the other party has repented? What makes the goal of restoration so hard?
For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 2 Corinthians 1:20
God’s first promise is found in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin slithered its way into our new reality. At that moment God promised to send someone to save us from it. He promised that although sin and Satan would have a period of destruction, a time would come when Satan would be crushed; sin would be defeated and all would be made right and pure and perfect again. God’s last promise is in Revelation 22:20 – the second to last verse in the Bible – Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Tucked between these promises are thousands of additional promises from God to us. Promises of plans, protection, provision, peace, power, purpose, future perfection, and so much more. Our job? To believe in Him; in the One He sent in whom all the promises were made and fulfilled.
All of God’s promises from the first to the last are based upon and satisfied in Jesus. They all find their YES in Him. Our response is YES through Jesus back to God. Do we believe God? Do we believe all His promises? Are we living in all of the YESes of God’s promises? Do we say YES to all that God has said YES to? Anything less – any 'no', or 'maybe', or 'not yet' – is a no back to God's yes. It is simply unbelief in His promises.
Promises are a tough thing for us. We have been the recipient of many broken promises made to us. We have broken promises to others, and even more to ourselves. We begin to question the power of a promise.
But God is faithful and powerful; He is able to keep ALL of His promises. We can count on them. How differently would our lives look if we REALLY BELIEVED all of His promises? I think we wouldn’t be afraid to say YES & AMEN. We wouldn’t fear the unknown. We wouldn’t live for worldly things. We wouldn’t be satisfied with so many not knowing Him. We would do differently, buy differently, give differently, worship differently, speak differently, and spend our time differently.
Challenge: Journal some of God’s promises you are going to believe today.
And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:3
In the last devotional we saw a miraculous healing. Jesus was willing; the man was healed.
Fast forward to Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion. In agony, He prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
We all know how this story ends. Jesus dies a brutal death. God could have removed the cup. Jesus could have saved Himself. But Jesus was the one willing… willing to die for us on his own accord. It had a purpose. It was a bigger and better plan…the only one that could save us.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul recalls… “ 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.”
Three times Paul pleads for healing. But the suffering continues. It had a purpose. To keep Paul humble and to demonstrate God’s power.
It is tempting to look at the leper’s story in Matthew and declare, “Yes! The Lord is willing. We will ALWAYS be healed if we sincerely come to Him and ask.” The truth is, in this human, temporary realm on earth, we may not be. The Lord is able, but due to surpassing knowledge we can’t yet see, it doesn’t always happen. Not because He doesn’t love us – He loved His Son and He loved Paul – but because He sees a bigger plan.
God wants us to love Him and follow Him, not because we will always get what we want, but because He is worthy. Healing or not, God loves us and has good plans for us. He sees the bigger picture and it is so very good.
Questions: Can you trust God even when the healing doesn’t come? Do you still believe in His goodness and love for you and sovereignty?
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