12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 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.
Pleasure in the bad stuff? Is Paul nuts?
You can now see why some feel Paul was talking about himself when referring to a man who had been taken to the third heaven. Whether it was him or he just got to hear about it, notice how he contrasts that privilege with the sufferings he has endured and continues to endure. Without telling us exactly what the issue was, Paul has some kind of infirmity which he had prayed to have relief from but God told him "My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness."
There are so many lessons to be learned from this that it's hard to know where to begin:
1. Faith in a miracle working God does not mean a life free from suffering. This is the same Paul who saw others healed by his shadow passing over them or touching his handkerchief yet his own infirmity remained.
2. Healings are not proof or even evidence that God is pleased with a person. He sees the end from the beginning. He only heals when it is for our eternal good.
3. Success is dangerous. It can cause us to look inward rather than upward. Self-reliance can lead to self-exaltation which will lead to our ruination. Self-obsession and self-worship is what happened to Satan.
4. Boasting is a form of self-worship.
5. Suffering is never enjoyable yet we can and should have a positive view of it, not for the suffering itself but for what it is accomplishing. Suffering is a very tangible reminder that we are not in control, that we are not the answer to our troubles, that we are in fact quite helpless and dependent.
6. It is better to suffer and have a healthy view of ourselves, the world, and God, than to be 'well' and 'successful' and be self-obsessed.
7. His grace is sufficient. Are you ready for this? The deepest meaning in this passage is the reality that it is His grace and not our wellness that qualifies us for the third heaven. Boasting puts the focus on us. Bad religion does as well. It isn't our behaviour, our perfection, our good deeds, our great sacrifices, or any other thing we have done or have not done. It is His grace. Better to be a sinner and know it and lean heavily into His grace than develop the delusion that we have somehow arrived at a place where we are worthy by merit.
Jesus alone. God never wanted Paul to be destroyed by his own successes so he gave him a thorn to maintain his humility. His grace. Paul begins every letter with "Grace to you..." Grace full and free. Jesus only. So incredibly simple. Flies in the face of everything we are taught but so simple.