Thought for the Week - 16th JulyLloyd Hopkin
If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth.
But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit
beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message,
even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God.
So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh,
a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses,
and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
You have made me act like a fool. You ought to be writing commendations for me,
for I am not at all inferior to these “super apostles,” even though I am nothing at all.
When I was with you, I certainly gave you proof that I am an apostle.
For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you.
Over the last few weeks at church, we’ve had a lot of teaching about the end times, both in sermons and bible studies. We read in the Bible that the signs include a great falling away. The broad and narrow paths that Jesus talks about will become more starker and more obvious. The choice we have is between two freedoms. The freedom the world offers tells us we are free when we do what we like, without consequences. But this freedom turns into chains very quickly. We can be free to sin but very soon we find we can’t escape the sin, its consequences or the guilt. It is no freedom at all. The freedom Jesus offers is very different. While it means we obey God’s will instead of our own, it opens up real freedom as we are freed from our sin and from the defects in our own personality as He changes us, but even more than that, we are freed to be the man or woman we’re meant to be, free to worship Christ and love Him and His people. This is God’s preparation for us for the days ahead and for heaven.
In the verses above, Paul talks about how Christ did the work of freeing him from his own personality. Many of us in church have been at a church camp last week and this was the scripture and theme for one of the sermons. We read that God give Paul a “thorn in his flesh” to deal with his pride. We don’t know what it was, it might have been a circumstance he had to bear or part of his personality but it tormented him, painfully keeping at him. A thorn speaks to us of Christ’s crucifixion, but while Paul only had one tormenting thorn, Christ had a crownful. These thorns crucify our own flesh, but they also give us something in common with Christ, as we share in His suffering, bringing us closer in communion with Him.
But as hard as this is, we read Christ says: “My grace is enough”. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Samuel Rutherford said that we need the winter to rot our pride: we see and confess our many and deep weaknesses and begin to learn to rely on God more and more. That is why Paul said when he was weak, he was strong. He had come to the end of himself, he saw that there was no good in him and he was a wretched man in a body of death. He stopped relying on himself, saying “not I but Christ”. Does that mean we do what we like? No. We fight the wrong in our personality like we fight our sin. But we realise we cannot change it one jot and rely on Christ to change us.
And so we come to Gethsemane. Christ was alone, sweating drops of blood, praying “not my will but Thine”, but He went through it for us. Surely, the love of that Christ, who saved us from our sin, will also save us from our own inner weaknesses. Do you believe God will change you? That might mean it gets very dark, and we must cling on as Jacob clung on to God crying “I will not let you go until you bless me”, or like Reepicheep, we get in our coracle and travel East, and if that fails, we swim, and if our arms and legs fail, then we are prepared to sink, with our noses pointing towards Aslan’s country. But, “standing in the shadows”, we will find our Jesus, “He’s the one who cares and understands”.