读经：诗106:40-48 林后12:1-10 赛27:1-28:29
His Grace is Enough for You
In 2011, Nick Vujicic came to speak at Focus, our church holiday. Nick is a remarkable man. I think that all of us who met him were inspired and challenged by his life.
Nick was born without arms or legs, yet he can write, ‘I am truly blessed. I am ridiculouslyhappy.’ Many times as a child he prayed for arms and legs. He would have settled for getting one arm or leg.
God did not answer his prayer in the way that he had hoped. Yet he writes, ‘God used me to reach people in countless schools, churches, prisons, orphanages, hospitals, stadiums and meeting halls. Even better, I’ve hugged thousands of people in face-to-face encounters that allow me to tell them how very precious they are… God took my unusual body and invested me with the ability to uplift hearts and encourage spirits.’
The people of God depend on the grace of God. Mother Teresa wrote, ‘I don’t think there is anyone who needs God’s help and grace as much as I do. Sometimes I feel so helpless and weak. I think that is why God uses me. Because I cannot depend on my own strength, I rely on Him twenty-four hours a day. If the day had even more hours, then I would need His help and grace during those as well.’
Paul expresses this dependence when he writes about the thorn in his flesh. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away. But God said to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). His grace is not only amazing, it is ‘sufficient’. It is enough.
This is one of my favourite verses in the entire Bible. It’s a verse I often quote to God and remind him of his promise that his power is made perfect in my weakness.
1. His grace comes from his great love
Psalm 106:40-48‘But’ is a key word in this passage.
The people were ‘bent on rebellion’ and ‘wasted away in their sin’ (v.43). ‘But,’ says the psalmist, ‘he took note of their distress when he heard their cry… out of his great love’ (vv.44–45).
The source of the sufficiency of God’s grace is ‘his great love’ (v.45). Because God loves his people so much, ‘many times he delivered them’ (v.43). He ‘heard their cry’ (v.44).
Some years ago, I wrote in the margin alongside this psalm summing up all the blessings the psalm speaks about: ‘While I disbelieve, grumble, disobey, worship the world’s idols, sin, do wrong, act wickedly – what does God do? He shows me favour, he comes to my aid, he gives me joy, he is kind, he saves me. He leads me, he redeems me, he answers my prayers, he delivers me, he notes my distress and hears my cry, he shows me his great love.’
No wonder the psalmist ends by saying, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord’ (v.48).
Lord, I praise and thank you for your great love for me. Thank you for delivering me over and over again. Thank you for hearing my cry. Thank you for the sufficiency of your grace.
2. His grace is what you need
2 Corinthians 12:1-10Most of us want other people to see our strength and are nervous about anyone discovering our weaknesses. We do not advertise our limitations. However, Paul was not afraid of being vulnerable about his frailties.
Paul had some amazing spiritual experiences. He had ‘visions and revelations from the Lord’ (v.1). He had been ‘caught up to the third heaven’ (v.2). He had ‘heard inexpressible things, things that human beings are not permitted to tell’ (v.4). He had ‘surpassingly great revelations’ (v.7).
Yet Paul did not boast about these things. The false teachers in Corinth boasted about their spiritual experiences, but Paul did not. He would not even say what they were. He did not go around speaking about his great spiritual triumphs. Rather, he told stories against himself. Heboasted about his weaknesses (vv.5,9).
He told the Corinthians how God gave him ‘a thorn in [his] flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment [him]’ (v.7b). He made this confession in very general terms. Dr Paula Gooder, who wrote her PhD thesis on these verses, says that there are at least thirty-six theories about what the thorn in Paul’s flesh could be. The fact that we do not know what it is enables us all to identify with Paul.
I remember our good friend, evangelist J. John, saying in a talk that he had not just one, but three thorns in the flesh! I do not think he told us what they all were but it was encouraging for the rest of us to know that, like all of us, he had his struggles.
Whatever Paul’s thorn was, three times Paul pleaded with the Lord to take it away. But God said to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (v.9). Were it not for the thorn in his flesh, Paul might have become conceited because of the ‘surpassingly great revelations’ (v.7).
As it was, Paul knew he was totally dependent on the Lord. When things go well, we are tempted to be proud and self-reliant. When we are struggling and know our weaknesses, we become utterly dependent on the Lord. Christ’s power rests on us (v.9). His power is made perfect in our weakness.
Paul has written something absolutely remarkable. He says, ‘It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size – abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become’ (vv.7–10, MSG).
Lord, thank you that your power is made perfect in weakness. Help me, like Paul, to delight in my weaknesses. Thank you that hardships, persecutions and difficulties are actually a source of strength because your power is made perfect in weakness. Thank you that your grace is sufficient.
3. His grace comes through Jesus
Isaiah 27:1-28:29God loves you. He speaks of his people being like a vine. God tends it, waters it, watches over it and cares for it (27:3–4, MSG).
God in his love, judges. He pulls out the thistles and thorn bushes and burns them up (v.4, MSG). There is much here about God’s judgment. Yet this is described as ‘his strange work’ (28:21). Martin Luther, the great reformer, made the point that while judgment is Christ’s ‘strange work’, salvation is his ‘proper work’.
Isaiah continues to announce judgment on those whose attitude is the very opposite of the apostle Paul. Paul had reason enough for his pride (his ‘surpassingly great revelations’, 2 Corinthians 12:7) but he was, in fact, humble. Ephraim was proud whereas it had no reason for pride.
Isaiah speaks of ‘the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards… the pride of those laid low by wine!’ (Isaiah 28:1). And ‘the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards, will be trampled underfoot’ (v.3). Although the Bible tells us that God gives wine to gladden our hearts (Psalm 104:15), this is one of the passages in the Bible that warn of the dangers of excess.
He describes ‘the pretentious drunks… shabby and washed out and seedy – tipsy, sloppy-fat, beer-bellied… besotted with wine and whiskey, can’t see straight, can’t talk sense. Every table is covered with vomit. They live in vomit’ (Isaiah 28:1,7–8, MSG). He also speaks against the ‘scoffers’ (v.14, MSG) – in other words the sceptics and cynics.
In the middle of these prophecies of judgment, Isaiah foresees the one who will be the cornerstone of grace: ‘Watch closely. I’m laying a foundation in Zion, a solid granite foundation, squared and true. And this is the meaning of the stone: A TRUSTING LIFE WON’T TOPPLE’ (v.16, MSG).
Jesus is the cornerstone. He is the ‘solid granite foundation’ (v.16, MSG). The apostles Paul (Romans 9:33) and Peter (1 Peter 2:4–6) see these verses as referring to Jesus. He is the one on whom the church of living stones is built. He is the one chosen by God but rejected by human beings. Whoever turns to Jesus will never be put to shame (1 Peter 2:4–6).
Jesus is the source of the grace we need in our weakness. In the same chapter, Peter explains how Jesus became the source of all grace: ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed’ (1 Peter 2:24).
Jesus is your sure foundation. The one who trusts in him will never be dismayed (Isaiah 28:16). He is the source of all grace – the one who died so that you can be forgiven and experience his great love, grace and power for you.
Lord, thank you that I am utterly dependent on you and that as I boast of my weaknesses, your power rests on me. Thank you that ‘a trusting life won’t topple’. Your grace is enough.
2 Corinthians 12:9
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
This is another of my favourite verses. It is one I have hung on to time and time again when I have not known quite how I was going to get through a situation. God has been gracious and helped me.