Paul experienced God’s grace as few others have because he endured suffering as few others have. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the Lord gave him one of the most profound truths in all revelation: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” That wonderful promise extends to every believer, but its context is one of severe difficulties, distresses, persecutions, and human weaknesses (v. 10). In chapter 11 Paul chronicles many of the hardships and life-threatening situations he had endured. Included in his list are great physical trials—imprisonments, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, dangerous rivers, robbers, Jewish and Gentile persecutions, sleepless nights, inclement weather, and lack of food and drink (vv. 23–27). More painful than all that was the daily concern he had for all the churches (v. 28). God’s people and His church were Paul’s greatest passion (Colossians 1:28–29) and presented the highest potential for pain and disappointment.
The greatest pain he ever knew came from some of the people he loved the most—those to whom he had given his soul and his gospel, but who now had turned against him. Their rejection, betrayal, criticism, false accusations, and even hatred cut deep into his heart. In 2 Corinthians he wrote as a man who was unloved, unappreciated, distrusted, and deeply troubled in his soul.
Paul’s distressing circumstances put him in a position to learn some marvelous lessons about God’s grace, which he passes on to us in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.