- The Explore the Bible lesson for May 27 focuses on 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10; 13:2-8.
“Being strong” or “being weak” tends to be an either/or scenario. You may be strong enough to lift a suitcase, but you may be too weak to carry it for a half-mile trek through the airport. Consider this: Is it possible to be both strong and weak?
The Apostle Paul said he would “boast of the things that show (his) weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). By proving he was weak, he would point to God’s strength that had brought him thus far. He was not saying he only experienced weakness. Rather, through his weakness, he experienced God’s strength.
Ask members of your Bible study group to discuss a time when they felt weak and how God showed his strength to them. For us to believe in this paradox of a both/and approach to strength and weakness, it helps to have some real stories we can believe.
Paul’s Weakness (2 Cor. 12:7b-10)
No one is completely sure what the “thorn in the flesh” specifically was for Paul. Even though we may all come up with great ideas, the point of this passage is not to discover or unearth what it was, but to understand how it kept his pride in check.
A thorn can be a hurtful nuisance. When it sticks in the skin, it is painful and difficult to remove, and it constantly nags the person with discomfort. Perhaps this is to remind us how weak we are. A little thorn can cause us greater problems than an earth-shattering plague. Why would God use something so little to be such a big problem?
Paul brings this up to explain why he boasts in being weak. God’s ever-sufficient grace was deemed enough by God, and Paul proves to his audience it has been enough. Ask your group: How does boasting about being weak point others to God? It is simple: God can use your life and voice to draw others to his strength.
Christ’s Strength (2 Cor. 13:2-4)
If you scan the verses between 12:10 and 13:1, you see the continued concern of the apostle for the believers at Corinth. He desperately wanted them to experience personal weakness intersecting with God’s strength. As readers today, we desperately need to experience this also, while removing personal pride.
Ask your group: How is Paul comparing himself to Jesus Christ? Much of this letter has been a defense of Paul’s apostleship, emphasizing he is proving himself for their own sake, as well as his own (Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, 245). In this case, Paul shows his closeness to Christ to prove his similar love for their congregation.
Notice the same weak and strong paradox at work in these verses. Paul and Jesus both were visible examples, but it seems Corinth will be reprimanded for thinking of themselves as stronger than they were. What do you make of Paul’s warning along with Paul and Jesus’s example?
Our Choice (2 Cor. 13:5-8)
Two words come up in the NIV translation that can make us shudder—examine and test. Be encouraged that Paul is not calling for an exam for salvation, nor is he hoping that they fail. Rather, he calls them to self-examine as he has been self-examining himself to be sure he is aligning with true faith.
Self-examination is a significant discipline that calls us to look inward and see if we are being faithful. When is the last time you critically self-examined your walk with God? How did you handle the results? Did you prove true faith? If not, did you change?
For us to know God’s strength, we have to learn to appreciate how our weakness points us to God. Because this is true, Paul says, “We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8). So, we have the choice: Will we live this out, or not? Will we prove that faith is alive in us, or not?
This points us back to the psalmist’s words: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Are you ready to pray this way?
Please allow me a personal word. This week’s text spoke to me about how I pray each day. Convicted that I only tend to thank God for each joy I experience, I have begun equally thanking God for the challenges I endure each day. For each good thing that I give thanks to God, I also thank him for a challenge. This has changed my view and reminded me how God’s strength is at work in my weakness.
Consider these lyrics of gratitude: “Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the Holy One. Give thanks because he’s given Jesus Christ, his Son. And now let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’ Let the poor say, ‘I am rich because of what the Lord has done for us’” (Don Moen).
As we close this study in Corinthians, perhaps we could each form a daily discipline that will help us learn from the struggling relationship between Paul and the Corinthian congregation. This is not to say we are better than they, but to say we will learn from our brothers’ and sisters’ mistakes, as well as from their long-suffering relationship with the apostle.
Heath A. Kirkwood is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Lorena.