2 Corinthians 12 7 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
A lesson by Mike Fabarez gave me a different way to look at this passage. On the surface it seems simple enough- God allows weakness that we should rely on Him. So what is that grace sufficient for? Not getting rid of the problem, obviously, because Paul never seems to have gotten rid of it. But is that even the point- that if we rely on Grace, we'll be rid of that which troubles us? That which makes us sin? Let's look at another passage:
Romans 7 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Does this sound like a man who's had his thorn removed? The lesson I listened to made me look at this concept in light of another verse:
1 Corinthians 10 13 No temptation[a] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Okay, so now it sounds like we are working at cross-purposes. If God is going to give us a way out, why didn't he give Paul one? And why are we still "wretched men"? Here's where the lesson hit home to me.
Pastor Fabarez was teaching from Romans 1 and other passages (notably Psalms 81) speaking about how God gave sinful man over to his own dark side, if that's what man wanted to choose. God, he explained, gives us a long leash in deciding whether to obey or not- free will means God is not going to ride in and save the day, not in the way we think or would like. If you want to beat that sin, pluck that thorn, you can pray all you want for God to save you from that sin, but...
A blonde prayed one night, "Lord, let me win the lottery. I'm nearly broke and I might lose my home if I don't win." She didn't win that drawing; so she prayed again before the next, saying, "God you can do anything; let me win the lottery. I'm about to lose my home and my car. Please help me." Again the drawing came and went without a win. The night of the next drawing, she prayed one more time. "Lord, you have to let me win! I lost my home, I lost my car, I NEED money! Please let me win!!!"
Just then, a Voice from heaven said, "Help Me out. Buy a ticket!"
God wants us to help out. Paul went to God three times expecting a miracle cure, and walked away disappointed. Not because God wasn't willing, or that His Grace was not sufficient. But He required OBEDIENCE from Paul in the matter. He required Paul to fight the battle every day- a truth Paul eventually figured out:
1 Corinthians 9 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul learned that HE himself had to fight the fight of obedience- and thus fighting, THEN God gave a way out. Still, he was that "wretched man"; every day he fought the fight, training himself as an athlete would to win the battle. But he also realized his efforts would not bring victory. Hence we go back to the conclusion of the "wretched man" passage:
Romans 8 8 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
The victory isn't in beating the thorn; the victory is already there, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If we want to beat the thorn, though, first step isn't praying for the miracle cure; first step is standing up to the sin, and in that standing up drawing on God's grace. God never promises us a miracle cure- every day, every moment is another round in the battle. Sufficient unto the day is its own problems, Jesus told us; and that trouble is going to be waiting for us each morning. Nice thing is, we don't have to "stay undefeated" to win the day; we have the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion, Jesus Christ, in our corner.