2 Corinthians



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The Sufficiency of God's Grace – the Capstone of the Epistle

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute


Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul has been dealing with what was for him the final challenge of his epistle to the Corinthians.  Time had come in lieu of his approaching third visit to Corinth to deal strongly with those "super-apostles" who were discrediting his message and calling with false accusations.  They were openly seducing his beloved converts whom he had "betrothed as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2). To show his genuine love for them he launches his attack. He does it, however, reluctantly but boldly.

Paul introduces his spiritual warfare in the "meekness and gentleness" of Christ but firmly aware that the "weapons of his warfare are not carnal but mighty to God" (10:4). Paul meets fire with fire, using their tactics of boasting as super-apostles who were, in fact, demeaning his person and message. Paul exposes the reality of their being indeed: "false prophets, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ . . . for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light" (11:13,14).

He establishes the ground rules for his defense: "What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting" (v.17) He follows with the long record of his service, perils, sufferings, his "care for all the churches" all of which overshadowed completely their shallow self-serving claims (vv.22-33).

To his genuine selfless service he adds the abundance of visions and revelations. Again he adds it as proof of his supernatural calling, necessary to be mentioned, but it would not be profitable because it flies in the face of his humility. So the tone of his boasting changes abruptly to a most indirect reference to a "man in Christ" of whom he will speak. It is, however, crystal clear that he refers to himself, honored as he was as no other to be "raptured" up to the third heaven, to Paradise itself (12:1-4).

He has established clearly his legitimacy as an apostle, but he does a sudden about face in full keeping with his intimacy and union with the Crucified. "For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth, but I forbear, lest anyone should thing of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me" (v.6).

With this succinct statement Paul will, in great part, abandon for now his charge against his enemies and he will open to us his heart, to the inner sanctum of life in Christ.  He bids us join him in plumbing the depths of God's matchless grace. What follows is the capstone of the epistle and one of the most sacred expositions in the whole New Testament.

God's Inscrutable Ways Revealed to Paul in a Moment of Crisis     2 Corinthians 12: 7   

In the midst of Paul's reticence to speak of himself, he discerns the fundamental reason behind what follows, both to his amazement and ours.  His deep discernment reveals the perils that may come when God anoints and uses his own.  From the high point of God's blessing and revelation, it may be but a short step to secret pride. Hence his reluctance to take any credit for the bona fide revelations granted him.  

Allow me to give the extended paraphrase of H. C. G Moule who captures the fine nuances of the original Greek. Bishop Moule was appointed Norrisian Professor of Divinity at Cambridge in1899.[1] "And in regard of, by the vastness of the revelations,(therefore),to preclude my self-exaltation, there was given to me, as the allotment of my Lord, a splinter for to pierce the flesh, a tremendous infliction in my physical feelings; which, as to its incidence and management, was, like Job's awful malady, the action of a spirit of evil, (so I was made to know) and thus it may be called, Satan's angel, sent to buffet me, to belabour me with blows which seemed meant to crush my work and my energy, to preclude my self-exaltation.

"It was a terrific experience of humiliation, and a strain upon faith. Over this, about this, three times to my Lord did I appeal that he, this messenger of evil, might withdraw from me, and let me breathe and work again. And He has said to me, with an answer which stands good for me now as then (perf.), Sufficient for thee is my grace; for power such as thou needest in weakness gets completed. It is only under the discipline of self despair that thou wilt fully use me" (v. 7).

I would suggest a second reading of the paraphrase to sense the exact words and then the nuances of the words and sentences that a Greek scholar can give.  Of course a paraphrase is not in itself inspired insofar as the nuances may appear. But we have here one of the most important statements that opens to us an understanding of God's deepest dealings with Paul.

A Brief Analysis of Paul's Splinter

Theologian over the years have simply run the gamut in guessing: What was the messenger of Satan? It is of no profit to speculate.  But the "splinter" could be translated "stake" when leaves the impression of a tent well secured. It was "stake" in the flesh. Flesh could be the sinful nature or a mere reference to the body. Paul knew too well the Cross' answer to the carnal nature. Therefore a safer meaning would be his body as vehicle of ministry.

Also he asked the LORD three times. In God's response to Paul there is no reproof for the three fold request based on his best evaluation of the crisis. Evidently Paul in his experience felt he could ask three times with justified reason. Our LORD has asked three times in the Garden of Gethsemane in a conflict infinitely greater than Paul's without even wavering in his heart (Luke 22:39-46; Mark 14:32-42).  "In the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death and was heard because of His godly fear" (Hebrews 5:7).

The Subtle Danger of Pride in the Believer

God's deepest reason for Paul's dilemma was to preclude self-exaltation in Paul, a state unknown to Paul as God saw it. If anything stand out starkly in pride‘s first appearance, it was the dark  and diabolical nature of pride, first seen in Lucifer, the "anointed cherubim" who before the creation of the world was lifted up with pride to dethrone God himself  (cf. Isaiah 14:21-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19).

The serpent of the Garden of Eden seduced our first parents and every one since has been born in sin and has inherited pride as the root evil. Nothing less than a divine rebirth can cancel out the  inherited evil that rules supreme in the human heart.

It is simple to given an historical doctrinal statement with regard to pride. But it is another reality to recognize the subtlety of pride in my heart and yours. James traces the root of worldly wisdom from earthy, sensual, demonic (James 3:15) and follows it up with "God resists the proud, but give grace to the humble" (James 4.6).

God's Old Testament Message       A Self Righteous Job Oblivious to His Pride

God dedicates a whole book in the Old Testament to this sad reality. Paul gives us here the New Testament version.  The scene opens in heaven and God's asks Satan if he has considered Job.  Satan was given tacit permission to attack Job whom God describes as: "that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared go and shunned evil" (Job 1:1).

With God's sovereign protection given to Job, Satan was allowed to deliver seven sudden devastating blows.  Job is stripped of everything material; in a second assault God again sets the limits and Job loses his wife's love and his health.  But Job's remarkable faith triumphs. To his wife he asks the question: "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?"  In all this Job did no sin with his lips" (Job 2:10). From Chapter 3- 28 Job parleys his three friends erroneous arguments and maintains his self righteousness.

Fast forward to chapter 25 where Job commiserates and continues to defend his integrity. In Chapter 29 to 31 Job makes 195 references to himself: I, me, my, mine. He maintains his relatively blameless life masked behind the personal "I". He continues to defend himself before Elihu in the same fashion from chapter 32 to 37. Now Job has fully justified his brand of integrity.

God has been silently listening, awaiting his turn to devastate Job with 60 questions in chapter 38 and adds 20 more in chapters 40,41 questions that Job cannot begin to answer,  In chapter 40, Job's first feeble response to God is: "Behold I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth" (Job 40:4). 

But God is not finished; in the second round the knockout will come in chapters 40:6 to 41: 34.  How would you feel after taking an exam with 80 question and you could not even answer one! 

Finally God had Job where he wanted him. Job in total brokenness before Jehovah can only say: "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, and now my eyes sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:5, 6),  

Job had led an exemplary life according to all the outward signs of personal integrity; God himself witnessed to that. But God saw what Job did not see. He must now break him and deal with the inner self righteousness; God did it in love and mercy.

Once broken and silent, "God restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave to Job twice as much as he had before" (Job. 42:10). Satan only appears in the first two chapters but re appears no more in rest of the book. God alone does take charge because the believer does not deal with Satan, or a "messenger of Satan." Our holy God cannot tolerate the subtle sin of pride, the ultimate sin of self righteousness.

God Dealt Conclusively with Pride at the Cross

God could only deal morally with pride, the premier sin, by the death of his only begotten Son. That is a concept difficult to grasp. Not by a "fiat" nor by declaring amnesty can sin's legitimate power be cancelled. Isaiah states it precisely: "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; he has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand" (53:10). isseed, he sahllprolongHisdays, and thepelraure of the LORD shll propser inhishadn   

But in that vicarious death for sin, the believer died in his Federal Head, in his representative. As real as was Christ's death is my death in him; he broke once and for all the power of sin in its very essence. I return to my favorite verse that says it concisely: "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with (its power canceled, rendered null and void), that we should not serve sin" (Romans 6:6). Only when our walk of faith grasps this in a similar state of brokenness as seen in Paul's response, will we hear the liberating truth of "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."

Paul's Response and Release Twice Stated.

God has not given to Paul a reason for his intellect but rather a liberating word to his renewed will. God reserves to himself the right to deal with our pride as he sees it. He does it in love and on the basis of faith in our identification with him, our union with him in death to sin and resurrection life. Let it take a "stake" or a "splinter" he only asks for the dependency of faith, our recognized weakness. Then and only then, his grace flows in his power for his glory.

After hearing God final offer of grace Paul responds: "Therefore most gladly (or more sweetly, as per the paraphrase) I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest (as   the Shekinah glory) upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (12:9,10).

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;

He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.

To added affliction He addeth His mercy;

To multiplied trials, His multiplied grace.


His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,

His power has no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,

When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,

Our Father's full giving is only begun.

Annie Johnson Flint

Lillenas Publishing Company1941

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon E. Johnson

Gejohnson1928@gmail.com  correspondence   www.kneillfoster.com all studies in English and Spanish

[1] Handley C. G. Moule, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (London: Pickering & Inglis. Ltd) , 1962,  pp.115,116).