2 Corinthians 12:10 “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Expectation can differ greatly from reality.
How I perceive myself can differ greatly from how God perceives me.
The goal of a man or woman of God must be to see themselves in light of God’s perception. We might think more highly of ourselves than we ought, thereby placing ourselves in an exalted position that we have not acquired. We can think something is worthless and find out later it has great value, just like we can think of ourselves as failures because of our weaknesses and forget we are judged by a different standard.
Psalm 38:3-4 “There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.”
A couple years ago a man purchased a seemingly nondescript drawing from a yard sale for $30 and later found out it was worth about $10 million dollars. What the man thought of as a nice piece of art turned out to be a drawing from Albrecht Dürer, a widely renowned German artist who lived during the country’s Renaissance period. It wasn’t until the man had the drawing appraised by an expert did he discover the value of his fortunate find.
Perception can differ from reality based off the one doing the appraisal.
When we examine our lives we often attribute our value to our priorities. For example, some people believe being the best dad requires a certain expectation of my performance as a dad, if I feel like I’m letting my kids down then my perceived value goes down regarding myself. My value system is based off what I believe is important and if being the best dad is important to me, then the way my kids respond means everything to my self image.
The pain of sin leaves a person despondent over their failure. For the ones who understands that God is the one being offended by sin, the knowledge of their infraction bears the weight of guilt. For those who don’t have the knowledge of sin, they bear the weight of the consequences of sin without knowledge for which the pathway has led.
Iniquity vs. Infirmity
Without the knowledge of sin, people will often mistake infirmity as a consequence for sin. Infirmity is defined as physical or mental weakness. Paul describes his ailments with the hope that God would remove from him; weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and even calamities. Looking briefly back in time gives us clues as to what Paul was referring to when he mentions these “infirmities”.
Rather than looking at his physical weaknesses, Paul was describing how these infirmities that looked terrible from an external perspective actually led him to grow stronger in Christ.
Reproaches: To be above “reproach” is to be found blameless. Reproach is described as “shame or disgrace or that which brings rebuke or censure upon a person. Paul was often accused of defiling the Temple by bringing gentiles into it. He was also accused of forsaking Moses’ law in his teaching. What the jews of his day didn’t understand was how Jesus had fulfilled the law, how He made the Father accessible by providing a means of forgiveness for sin. Paul was bringing the good news of the gospel to a people who had previously been left out of the inner circle of communion with God.
Needs: Paul’s need for help came as a result of people abandoning him at times. Barnabas and Mark both left him when the journey became too much for these men to continue. Often left without decent shelter, lacking food and provisions, lacking money, and suffering from physical ailments continued to hound him. Paul’s determination to take the gospel to wherever the Spirit led gave him the courage and strength to continue.
Persecutions: The jews of many regions would often incite violence against Paul that would drive him out of the area. Left for dead after a severe stoning, the toll exacted was a heavy price to pay and yet Paul didn’t seem to grow fearful, we actually see the opposite in his prayer.
Distresses: Under constant threat of his life, Paul endured shipwrecks, poisonous snakes, beatings, imprisonments, and much loneliness. The sacrifices that are required for a man taking the gospel into regions that have never heard are numerous. It was out of Paul’s love for Christ and God’s love manifest through Him that pressed him on to completing the work set before him.
Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.“
Paul’s perspective was to look at his life from God’s perspective, disregarding his own difficulties in exchange for a future that would make it all worthwhile.
Romans 8:23-25 “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
We are all part of a fallen world, we are all subjected to the influences of fallen people, and we ourselves wrestle against the principalities and powers of this world. This world brings nothing but heartache and trouble, as people of God we must patiently wait for our redemption, one that will only come with the return of Christ as King.
Where people error is in attributing the infirmities of a sinful world that opposes Christ to our own failures as a fallen people.
Many people who claim to be ‘christians’ find themselves under God’s judgement for failing to live according to God’s Word. Words are cheap, and actions speak far louder than words.
The pattern of losing sight of what is true is not a new dilemma, Israel has had a long history of forsaking God and then enduring the consequences of rebellion and sin.
Hosea 10:12-13 “Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the LORD,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.
You have plowed iniquity;
you have reaped injustice;
you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your own way
and in the multitude of your warriors”
Israel often forsook God and started relying on it’s own strength. When people tell you how good of a person you are, they speak from an external perspective. You know your life, and yet God knows your heart, being honest with yourself and God is an important step in reconciliation and healing.
The consequences of iniquity or sin, are not the same as suffering through affliction for living out your faith before the world.
Romans 7:5 “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”
The path of sin leads to trouble and so when people have a false understanding of what it means to follow Christ, they question God when their life leads to trouble.
Knowing why trouble is coming is to have the knowledge of the Spirit that only God can provide. Wisdom and understanding are given by God to those who walk in obedience.
Conclusions of Life
Near the end of Paul’s life, after all the difficulty, with his eyes failing him and his body broken from years of persecution, do we see weakness or strength?
2 Timothy 4:6-8 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
We witness the strength of a man who hoped in the Lord. Sin is what brings weakness and trouble, faithfulness is where true strength lies. If when you reach the end of your life will your focus be backward on failures or forward toward the hope of eternity in Christ?
The Lord takes the weak and makes them strong. Remember where your strength comes from and you’ll never regret the path you’ve chosen.