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2 Corinthians 12:5-10

 

I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say. To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (ESV)

 

God's Good Choices

Moses

4 September 2014

We should look upon our trials and weaknesses as causes for joy. Yes, the world thinks that such an attitude is perfectly mad. However, trials and weaknesses are what makes the divine grace so incomparably sweet to our taste. We are like the man castaway at sea who, after being rescued, is treated to well-chilled water to cool his parched throat. Such a person says that they have never drunk anything better tasting or more memorable. So it is that when we face suffering, then the Lord's grace becomes all the more sweet and more strongly planted in our hearts. I don't mean that all the weakness and hurts are taken away. No, we learn to connect them with Christ. We grow into putting them under the cross to adorn them with Christ's blood. Our thirst and sore throat only makes the comforting drafts of God's Word all the more pleasant to us.

 

I am shocked by how many clergy do not know this thirst for the gospel. Paul's doctrine of justification is incomprehensible to them. They can speak of "Christianity" only in the terms dictated by the culture. For example, they can only speak of good choices, "We can make good choices with Jesus." One of the problems here is that the doers of the action remain those who are being addressed. Jesus is merely a helper or an incidental add-on. You could substitute almost anything for Jesus in this statement, such as wisdom, good instruction, or parental involvement. This is not really the biblical gospel, but the world's order (as valid as it might be), with a little Jesus thrown in to sound religious. It is also a confusion of the two kingdoms. We would be better to speak to young people about their choices with the help of human wisdom, good instruction, or parental involvement. This is exactly where they need to get their ability to make "good choices."

 

When we become the doers of the action, we are using law talk, and not gospel and salvation talk. We are heaping the burdens of the law onto the backs of those who cannot bear them. Paul chided Peter for exactly this: "'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?' We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified" (Gal 2:14-16). The doer of the action must be Christ. Christ justifies, not us. Faith receives what Christ has done. Christ is not our partner but our rescuer. We do not collaborate with Him. He substitutes for us.

 

I sympathize with the preachers who are constantly retreating to the language of the world. Because we are in the world, it is hard to shake off its influences. Such a shaking off can only come through suffering and weakness. Only in that suffering and weakness will we give privilege of place to the speaking of God in Christ, to the gospel over the law. The preachers must continue to be schooled by the Holy Spirit through the divine writings, so that God's gospel would ever be the language used to present God's will to a world of overburdened sinners. Free them! Preach the gospel and they will be free indeed. The best choice of all is God's choice of us in Christ. God chooses us. Tell them that.

 

Martin Luther

 

"Now when knowledge, training, and the pure interpretation of the Word are not present among pastors and bishops, they cannot avoid being smug; for they are not being exercised in trials, the cross, and the persecutions that usually follow the pure preaching of the Word. Therefore it was impossible for Paul to be understood by them. By the grace of God, however, we have the pure teaching, which we also freely confess. Therefore we are compelled to bear bitterest hatred and persecution of the devil and the world. If we were not being disciplined by the power and the wiles of tyrants and heretics, as well as by terrors of heart and the flaming darts of Satan (Eph 6:16), Paul would be as obscure and unknown to us as he was to the whole world in past centuries and still is today to our opponents, the papists and the fanatics. Therefore it is the gift of prophecy and our own study, together with inward and outward trials, that opens to us the meaning of Paul and of all the Scriptures.

 

"By 'weakness of the flesh' Paul does not mean disease or sexual desire; he means the suffering or affliction that he bore in his body, as contrasted with strength or power. But lest we appear to be doing injury to these words, let us listen to Paul himself. He says: 'I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong' (2Co 12:9-10). And in chapter eleven he writes: 'With far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked, etc.' (2Co 11:23-25). These sufferings, which he sustained in his body, are what he calls 'weakness of the flesh,' not the poor health of his body. It is as though he were to say: 'When I preached the gospel among you, I was overwhelmed by various afflictions and troubles. From every side I was threatened by the plots and attacks of Jews, Gentiles, and false brethren, etc. I was troubled by hunger and by a lack of everything. I was the scum of the world and the refuse of all things' (1Co 4:13). He mentions this weakness of his frequently, as in 1 Corinthians 4; in 2 Corinthians 4, 6, 11, 12; and elsewhere."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.14
 
Prayer

Lord Christ, send us pastors who will tell us of your work for us. Keep them from being converted back to the world's thinking so that they become purveyors of the law to burden our hearts and minds. If they are, send Your Word and Spirit that they might be converted back to You. Give them the trials they need to see that Your strength is made perfect in weakness. Amen.

 

For Kim Cheng, who is recovering from surgery, that the Lord would grant her health and strength

 

For the family of Bud Obert, who will receive Christian funeral rites on Saturday, that they would confess the power of Christ to raise the dead

 

For Luke George, who is suffering from Leukemia, that the Lord would grant healing and also give strength to those who minister to his needs
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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