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The previous post in this series may be found here

Strength in the Christian, and pointedly strength in contentment, proceeds by paradox. We are weak when it comes to contentment and we cannot force ourselves into a true godly contentment by any force of will. To be strong in contentment we “boast” in our weakness and be receptive to the strength of God which is super-abundant grace for contentment.

Paul learned this (remember that contentment is a skill which is learned) in weakness forced upon him by God.

A  Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

1   What has the unnamed man (Paul) received? vv. 1-2

2  Why do you suppose Paul refers to himself in third person?

3  Of what will Paul boast? v. 5 (see 2 Cor. 11:30-33).

4  What did God do with Paul? v. 7

The identity of the thorn has been the subject of a great many speculations. Paul does not say what it is. What we do know is that it was a matter of extraordinary pain and suffering for him.

We might miss this, because “thorn” sounds like something which would only scratch or annoy us. But,

The word translated “thorn” (skolops) occurs only here in the New Testament. It refers to something pointed such as a stake for impaling, a medical instrument, or a thorn. “Stake” would be a better translation, though “thorn” has dominated English renderings of the word. The metaphor carries “the notion of something sharp and painful which sticks deeply in the flesh and in the will of God defies extracting.

David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 519, fns. omitted.

5  Why does God do this?  v. 7

6  What does Paul do? v. 8

7  How does God answer Paul’s prayer? v. 9

8  What is the answer?  v. 9

9  Does God provide Paul help? In what way? v. 10

11  How does this teach Paul contentment?

Human beings are by nature deficient, dependent creatures. We were created dependent upon God for existence, strength, knowledge, holiness. We cannot cause ourselves to even exist. We need food and clothing. (1 Tim. 6:6-8). We need the help of others. We need counsel from God. The first temptation was temptation to be autonomous: it was the illusion that we could live independent of God. (Gen. 3:5). The result of that foolish act has been insanity. (Rom. 1:18-31). The idea that we could live independently of God has resulted in our discontentment. Therefore, we must be brought to see that we cannot live without Him: we must know how weak we are in fact, so that we will willingly receive the strength of God. 2 Cor. 1:8-9.

XXXVI. Prayer answered by Crosses

I ask’d the Lord, that I might grow

In faith, and love, and ev’ry grace,

Might more of his salvation know,

And seek more earnestly his face.

 

’Twas he who taught me thus to pray,

And he, I trust has answer’d pray’r;

But it has been in such a way,

As almost drove me to despair.

 

I hop’d that in some favour’d hour,

At once he’d answer my request:

And by his love’s constraining pow’r,

Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

 

Instead of this, he made me feel

The hidden evils of my heart;

And let the angry pow’rs of hell

Assault my soul in ev’ry part.

 

Yea more, with his own hand he seem’d

Intent to aggravate my woe;

Cross’d all the fair designs I schem’d,

Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

 

Lord, why is this, I trembling cry’d,

Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?

“’Tis in this way,” the Lord reply’d,

I answer pray’r for grace and faith.

 

These inward trials I employ,

From self and pride to set thee free;

And break thy schemes of earthly joy,

That thou mayst seek thy all in me.”

 

John Newton and Richard Cecil, The Works of John Newton, vol. 3 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 607–608.