Today, a lesson on humility from the Apostle Paul. Insults don't depress me, hardships don't make me quit, persecutions don't turn me off, troubles don't overwhelm me. For when I am weak, God's strength works through me, and He does what I could never otherwise do. He speaks words I could never otherwise speak. When I am weak, God is strong. Do you ever look at a friend with a measure of jealousy, thinking to yourself, man, that guy has it made.
I want his life. Well, it's very likely your friend carries a heavy burden you can't see. Today, on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll reminds us that even the Apostle Paul, the spiritual giant of the first century, was inflicted with a thorn in the flesh. God used Paul's mysterious malady to forge humility in his life.
If you missed the previous program, we'll begin with a helpful review. Chuck titled his message, When Thorns Rip Our Pride. It's of great relief, our Father, to know that you have written our lives on the palms of your hands, our ways are continually before you. That includes not only our glad times, but our sad times, our occasions of great achievement in our times of dismal failures and disappointments.
And today, we who are a part of this worship have experienced both, and some are there right now. I pray especially for those going through such times, especially the difficult days, times of the revealing of weaknesses, times of pain, heartbreak, hardship, and perhaps even persecution and troubles that just seem never to go away. I pray for those in such occasions right now. We bring our gifts to you today, dear Father, with gratitude, and we do so knowing that the blessings are ours because of our giving by your grace. Thank you, Father, for clinging so tightly to us. Deliver us from the thought that we must cling tightly to you in order to know your salvation. The responsibility of that is yours, and you bear it sovereignly.
We can never lose your love. It is ours to claim and revel in. Because of this, your grace, your mercy, your provisions, we give our gifts gratefully and generously. In the name of Jesus, we pray and we give. Everyone said, Amen.
You're listening to Insight for Living. To study the Bible with Chuck Swindoll, be sure to download his Searching the Scriptures studies by going to Insight.org slash Hope. And now the message from Chuck titled, When Thorns Rip Our Pride. If there is anything God despises in the realm of sin in our lives, it is pride. In the list of things he hates in Proverbs chapter 6, the very first in the list is a proud heart.
It's God's preferred method, hard as it is to hear it, to cut us down to size, to knock us off our high horse. When he brings thorns to humble us, it often becomes an epical event nobody expected. Anyone who has made a study of Paul in the first century, living in the first century, has been impressed, of course. His resume is like none other. His accomplishments are peerless. It came to achievements and even the things he endured, no one was in his category, plenty of room for pride. He may be intelligent, he may be gifted, and he certainly was a spiritually minded man deep enough to write profound truths that to this day, centuries after the writing, still stump the deepest thinking theologians. Paul had much to learn about humility.
Paul despised the thought of being on a pedestal. Where people would look up to him to the point of worshipping him, falling before him. He was a mere man with his own problems, even though he had been to the third heaven and had that experience where he received revelation that couldn't really be put into words. You don't have a book about the revelations I received when I was in paradise with God. But you do read in chapter 12 what God used to keep him from strutting around like a local celebrity because he had had experience and experienced no one else had had. Verse 5 tells us something. That experience, he writes, is worth boasting about.
But I'm not going to go there. I will boast only about my weaknesses. What an interesting statement for a man to make who is highly intelligent, greatly gifted, deeply spiritual, saying, if I have anything to boast about, let me get vulnerable and tell you of my weaknesses. Where did he learn that? Where did he gain that insight? He's about to tell us. He says if I wanted to, I would not be a fool in doing so because I'd be telling the truth. But I won't do that because I don't want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message. How many people do you know are willing to say that?
Very, very few. How did Paul learn that? He certainly didn't learn it from the Greeks he studied. He certainly didn't learn it at the feet of the masters he studied under, learned from.
He didn't learn it from his peers. He learned it from the thorn, from the thorn. Look at how he writes about that in verse seven. Even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me, to buffet me.
And he adds again to keep me from becoming proud. Before speaking of the thorn, he says to keep me from being proud, and he tells of the thorn, to keep me from being proud. It's clear why the thorn was sent. Linsky, a reliable Lutheran theologian, suggests something sharp, something painful that came deep in the flesh, which is why it's called a thorn in the flesh. The verb translated buffet, or your Bible may read torment. The thorn came to torment me is a rare term, and it's the idea from the Greek of blows that are struck with a closed fist. It's derived from the word that means knuckles that make the blow sting and crush its victim. Linsky even suggests the thorn was given to fisticuff me. The idea is to beat me down, to beat me up. The thorn assaulted Paul like an implacable demon, repeatedly attacking the man.
Now why, why? Why would that be God's method, since it is an epical event no one would have expected? And least of all with Paul, why the thorn, why such a devastating, relentless pain? And before I go further answering that, will you remember every time you read Paul, he's writing in pain? Will you remember right up to the day of his death, he's operating his life in pain?
Would you please remember? Because it was never relieved. You who live in pain, you have a companion in Paul. He was never free of pain, and he states the reason to keep me from proudly exalting myself, to keep me from being conceited, strutting around like a celebrity among my contemporaries. The pride ripping role of thorn therapy, I think it still goes on. I read not here or anywhere else that the thorns are no longer used by God.
Whatever it is, and whatever they are, they always have the same effect. They humble us, they break us, they bend us. Especially if you are highly intelligent and greatly gifted and deeply, deeply spiritual, that thorn will keep you from ever accepting the applause of your adoring public. Because that thorn is there to remind you, you are to walk in humility, not in pride.
In fact, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. You will notice verse 9, verse 8 it is, three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. It's a very unusual expression, by the way. I didn't simply pray once, this is the Apostle Paul praying, he knew how to do that. He pled with the Lord, he begged the Lord, he asked the Lord again and again and yet again to take it away. I've learned the lesson, take it away, and we read each time the implied response is no, no, no. But Paul describes it in these words, each time he said, my grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.
We're now getting a glimpse of paradoxical power. You'll never read about it in Fortune magazine or People magazine or any magazine of today. You'll never read of it in the Wall Street Journal. You'll never read of it in whatever may be a local newspaper for you.
You'll never hear it on the evening news. You will rarely hear it from a testimony unless the person is born again and has gone through this. You will not hear it in high places, you definitely won't hear it there because you see this is politically incorrect. That's why it's correct teaching that you're hearing right now. It's rare. You weren't raised taught this unless you were raised in a very rare home by very rare parents. I rarely come across it among fellow ministers in my ranks, by my ranks, I mean the ranks of fellow ministers. And I deeply regret that.
Would that we model this better, but we don't. We often seem to be the slowest learners among the very things we preach, I say to our shame. If the apostle describes it here as the Lord's words, my grace, in fact they're in the red print, if you have a red letter Bible, notice this is red. So the Lord said to Paul, my grace is all you need. You don't need relief from the thorn. You'll stay in pain, but I will give you the grace to withstand and endure. You won't quit. You won't stop short. You won't give up. You won't give in. You won't wobble in your theology or in your walk of faith. My grace is sufficient. In fact, Paul, you need to know how my power works best, your weakness. And then Paul gets it. He says, so now, now that I've learned, God means it when he says no, no, and no.
Now I know it's not going to go away. So now I am glad to boast, talk about a strange statement. I will now boast about my weaknesses.
I will tell you of my struggles. And he does that in chapter 11. That's how he can be this vulnerable. He tells you that not so that you will applaud him, but that you will understand this is a broken man. This is a man who operated his life on his knees. This is a man who leaned hard on the living God because the pain reminded him, it's not about you, Paul, if there's ever a message this generation needs, it's that one. It's not about you. And it's a good time for me to insert your children need to hear this.
Your grandchildren need to hear this, and you and I need to model this. We need to quit the complaining about our pain. We need to stop all the short circuiting of what God's trying to teach us by camping on all the things we don't have and can't enjoy or are unable to find the strength to do, leave it, zip it, and find peace in weaknesses. And simply acknowledge, I am weak, I struggle, I'm a vulnerable person. And so the difference, look at the difference it made in the man's life. It's rather remarkable, verse 10.
That's why, so look at the summary. That's why, because I've learned that my weaknesses show the power of God. That's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, in fact, insults, don't depress me, hardships don't make me quit, persecutions don't turn me off, troubles don't overwhelm me. For when I am weak, God's strength works through me, and he does what I could never otherwise do. He speaks words I could never otherwise speak, and he uses my words in ways I could never make them useful on my own and in my own strength.
In other words, when I am weak, God is strong, and I finally learned that, says the apostle, and that's the part of this whole message that is so unexpected. What do you expect of those who are highly intelligent? Examples of great intelligence, and then they're telling you about it.
What they've invented, what they're able to do, problems they're able to solve, companies they're able to run, the numbers of people they're able to direct, decisions they're able to make, the highly intelligent are busy about impressing you with their intelligence. Paul doesn't do that. How about the greatly gifted, in whatever may be the realm of giftedness?
How often they're the ones who are looking for the adulation of the public, Paul never looked for that. He says, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. I think it's his way of saying, I can't change anybody. It's a great day, by the way, in my life and ministry when I realized I can't fix anybody. I can't change one of you.
I'm busy enough trying to deal with this bag of bones inside this suit of clothes, and I fail at that often. I can't throw a switch and bring change in you. That's why when people come up and thank me for something I've said or some things I've done and they're so grateful and they want to go on and on, I'll stop and say, wait, wait, let me make something clear. You know why you're different? Because you're teachable.
You're open. When the spirit of God chose to use the word of God in a unique way from of all places, these lips to connect with you and your spirit under God's working was humble enough to say, I need that. I'm going to change because of it because I'll tell you many people hear it. They don't change. I mean, are you that much different than you were 10 years ago?
Don't answer out loud. Are you that much different than you were five years ago? Are you a better husband? Are you a better wife? Are you a better daughter and son? Are you more thoughtful, less selfish?
Probably not. Usually we don't change easily because we're proud of ourselves. We like the way we are.
By that, I mean, we really like it. We prefer ourselves. That's why we expect instant service at the restaurant. That's why we want our seat in church member.
That's why we like our car in line first for the car wash. That's why we like courtesy from others. We like giving it. We like receiving it. It's all about us until we learn the therapy of the foreign and then we no longer expect it. Sometimes God uses our suffering to bring humility into our lives, just as He did for the apostle Paul.
Chuck Swindoll called it the therapy of the thorn. To learn more about today's topic when thorns rip our pride from 2 Corinthians 12, visit us online at insideworld.org. Here at Inside for Living, we make it our mission to provide resources designed to help you take your next steps with God. And today we're featuring the brand new book that Chuck wrote that complements this teaching series.
It too is called Clinging to Hope. The subtitle will give you a good idea of what this book is about, what scripture says about weathering times of trouble, chaos, and calamity. To purchase a copy right now, go to inside.org slash hope or call us.
If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888. When you also include a donation to support the Ministry of Inside for Living, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're helping people around the world as well. I saw this note from the Philippines that said, Dear Pastor Chuck, during my darkest moments, my mom's death, my divorce, and my dad's death, your sermons have been a great encouragement to me. I am forever grateful to the Lord for you.
And another listener said, Inside for Living, through the power of the Holy Spirit, caused me to pull over on the freeway and give my life to the Lord. Thank you for your faithfulness. I am forever grateful. You know, it's your partnership that empowers us to reach men and women here in North America and around the globe. Thank you so much for giving generously toward the ambitious goal of reaching all 195 countries of the world, a mission we're calling Vision 195. To give a contribution today, call us.
If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888. Or of course, you can give online at insight.org slash donate. In March 2023, Inside for Living Ministries is hosting an unforgettable journey to Israel. Carefully plan to deepen your understanding of the Bible and draw you closer to God.
Here's Chuck Swindoll. For thousands of years, no place has been more meaningful to God's children than the land of Israel. The rugged landscape reminds us to find refuge in God alone. The fertile valleys invite us to follow our shepherd. Jerusalem's position at the very center of the world announces the good news of Christ to every nation. And now you can see Israel with Chuck Swindoll and Inside for Living Ministries, March 5th through the 16th, 2023. Every time I visited the Holy Land, I've returned home with a refreshed heart for God and a renewed vision for the world.
Really, I mean it every time. And so I want you to have the same life-changing experience. To learn more, go to insight.org slash events or call this number 1-888-447-0444. Inside for Living Ministries Tour to Israel is paid for and made possible by only those who choose to attend. I'm Bill Meyer, inviting you to join us again when Chuck Swindoll continues his message about Paul's thorn in the flesh.
That's Tuesday on Insight for Living. The preceding message, When Thorns Rip Our Pride, was copyrighted in 2019 and 2022. And the sound recording was copyrighted in 2022 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved worldwide. Duplication of copyrighted material for commercial use is strictly prohibited.
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