Everybody has troubles. No one wants the troubles he or she has. When it comes to troubles, we have two basic preferences. First preference: we don't want any. We want a daily life that is literally free from trouble of any kind. We spend lots of energy and effort trying to discover a trouble free daily existence.

Second preference: if we must have troubles of some kind, we want to swap the troubles we have for someone else's troubles. We want the troubles of our choice instead of the troubles of necessity. No one likes the troubles that he or she has. And, we all know many people who have troubles that we do not want. But, we know some people who have the kind of troubles we would trade our troubles for their troubles.

Think a moment about the first preference: a daily life that is genuinely trouble free. Spiritually, that would be one of the worst things that could happen to any Christian. It certainly would be one of the most dangerous things that could happen to a Christian. Why? When we have no troubles, we do not feel a need for God. We become self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-confident. We don't feel like we need saving, so we don't feel a need for our Savior.

Consider the second preference: having troubles of choice instead of having troubles of necessity. If you could pick your troubles, what troubles would you choose? In spite of appearances, there are no easy troubles. Some troubles have many more external consequences than others, but every trouble does basically the same thing to our minds and hearts. Troubles are not called troubles because they are insignificant or pleasurable. If we were allowed to choose troubles, we would choose a different set every six months. Six months is about as long as it would take for us to be thoroughly distressed with the troubles we had.

  1. In the world of in-depth Bible study and Christian theology, it is not unusual for people to put Paul on a pedestal.
    1. Many things impress Christians about Paul.
      1. The dramatic redirection of his life at his conversion is impressive.
        1. He went from a violent, obsessive man to a helpful, committed man.
        2. He went from total confidence in his own knowledge to total confidence in Jesus Christ.
        3. He went from a man dedicated to destroying people to a man dedicated to saving people.
        4. That is impressive.
      2. His encounters with the resurrected Jesus are impressive.
        1. His conversion encounter on the Damascus road is impressive (Acts 9).
        2. The fact that everything he knew about the gospel was directly communicated to him by Jesus is impressive--he had no human teachers! (Galatians 1:11,12).
        3. The fact that Jesus spoke directly to him on a number of occasions is impressive (i.e. Acts 18:9,10).
      3. His education and knowledge are impressive.
        1. He is the most educated Christian that we are acquainted with in the first century.
        2. He is the best educated writer in the New Testament.
        3. Of the twenty-seven New Testament writings, thirteen actually bear his name as the author.
      4. His spiritual gifts and experiences are impressive--no first century Christian had more of either.
      5. The hardships that he endured because of his faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ are impressive (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
    2. Because of these impressive things about Paul's life, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 declares a powerful lesson.
      Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me--to keep me from exalting myself. Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for (my) power is perfected in weakness." Therefore I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
      1. Paul had some incredible spiritual experiences.
      2. Among those experiences, was this one: he actually visited the realm that God lives in.
        1. While there, he heard things that he was not permitted to share with people on earth.
        2. Can you think of any spiritual experience that would equal that?
        3. How much difference would it make in your faith and your life to have actually visited the realm called heaven?
      3. That experience would provide the building blocks for arrogance, self-confidence, and self-importance.
        1. "Yes, God thought so much of me that he let me visit heaven."
        2. "I would tell you what I heard while I was there, but God won't let me."
        3. "Can you believe that God thought enough of me to let me do that?"
        4. "Guess I must be pretty important to God."
        5. "You do know that He has given me a special work to do on earth--no one else can do what I am to do."
      4. Listen to what Paul said:
        1. "Because I had this incredible experience, there was a real danger that I might exalt myself--I might decide that I was beyond Satan's reach."
        2. "So Satan placed a thorn in my physical life--Satan did it, not God."
        3. "Satan did it to distress me--to prove that I was not beyond his reach."
        4. "It worked--I hurt, my effectiveness suffered, and I knew Satan could still afflict my life."
        5. "So I begged Jesus three times to pull the thorn out."
        6. "And this is what Jesus told me: 'The thorn makes you depend on me, not yourself.'"
          1. "My grace is more than enough to cover your weakness."
          2. "Actually, my power in you reaches its fullness in your human weakness."
      5. Paul learned something (after he visited God's realm! after he had his revelations from Jesus!): he learned Christ does his most powerful work in us through our weakness because weakness makes us depend on God instead of ourselves.
      6. Paul did not ask again for the weakness to be removed.
        1. He found joy in his weakness.
        2. He gladly accepted the reality of being weak.
        3. Now he understood: it is our weakness that allows Christ to use a greater measure of his power in our lives.

  2. "A thorn in the physical body doesn't sound like much trouble--I would never call my trouble a mere thorn in my body; it is much more like a knife in my heart."
    1. May I make a couple of observations about Paul?
      1. This is the man who was publicly whipped too many times to remember; who was thrown into jail many times; who was stoned once; who was shipwrecked three times; who knew hunger, thirsty, cold, and extreme weariness; and who experienced about every form of danger you can name (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
      2. I doubt that you and I would consider what Satan did to Paul a mere thorn.
    2. How long has it been since you had a thorn you could not remove from the "holding, grasping" side of one of your fingers?
      1. Remember how red and infected it got?
      2. Remember how it hurt when you touched anything?
      3. Remember how badly you wanted to get it out?
      4. It was not a mere "small inconvenience!"

The lesson is powerful and much needed. When we seek to be godly and serve in godly ways, troubles play an important role in our lives. Troubles led us to greater dependence on God. Greater dependence on God results in Christ becoming more powerful in us.

The greater your spiritual experiences, the more important it is that you experience troubles.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 10 August 1997

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell