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Sermon Series

 

May 22, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Ephesians [NLTse]

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for Him, as I should.

Sermon – “Armed, Armored, and Ready To Go!”

Do you believe in demons? (The Bible also calls them “unclean spirits” and “evil spirits” and “evil rulers” and “powers of the air” and “principalities” and “authorities of the unseen world” and “mighty powers in this dark world” and “other gods” and “the glorious ones”…) The Bible talks quite a lot about demons.

The Bible tells us that demons were originally angels – heavenly messengers – created in the beginning by Almighty God. But, the Bible tells us that, a number of those angels – maybe even a third of them – rebelled against the Lord to follow the great archangel, Lucifer, instead. Lucifer and his angels were defeated, and they were cast out of Heaven to the Earth. Lucifer then came to be called “the devil” and “Satan”, and his rebel-angels came to be called “demons” and the other names (and more) that I’ve mentioned.

Through the ages demons have remained the enemies of God and, because God loves human beings, demons also hate us, humans, and are committed to keeping us from knowing the Lord and drawing near to Him through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and are committed to trapping us in as much pain and suffering as possible.

Ephesians was a letter written to new Christians living in the city of Ephesus. Like the rest of the first century world, and like much of our world today, Ephesus was filled with people who were uncertain about their future and who were fearful that their fate was in the hands of invisible powers over which they had no control.

At the time of Paul’s writing, Ephesus was the most important and populated city in the entire Roman Empire, second only to Rome itself. The city controlled important land and sea trade routes, and was both the economic and religious center of the province of Asia. (The western part of what is now the nation of “Turkey”.) Ephesus was the home of the Artemis-ion – the temple of the goddess Artemis, worshiped as “the Queen of Heaven”. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis reflected the honor with which the goddess was held. And so, Ephesus was also the destination of tens of thousands of religious pilgrims who flocked to the city each year to worship “the Queen of Heaven” and seek her aid.

What all this means for us this morning is that the Bible says that this so-called “goddess” Artemis, whom so many journeyed from across the Roman Empire and beyond to worship and seek favor from, was in reality a demon! (Just as the Bible says that every so-called “god” that took worship away from God our Father back then and that takes worship away from God our Father today is in reality a demon.) And, so, Ephesus was more than just a center of pagan religion, it was a center of demonic activity. And historical records and the Bible itself show Ephesus to have been a place where magic and sorcery were widely practiced – by the intellectual and the ignorant alike – in their efforts to control these spirits that interfered with their livelihoods and governed their destinies.

The gospel-writer, Luke, records the apostle Paul’s two-year ministry in Ephesus in Chapter 19 of the book of Acts. We read of the Lord using Paul to heal people and cast demons out of them to such an extent that many Ephesians who practiced magic and the occult put their trust in Jesus and were baptized, even destroying their spell and magic books, worth millions of dollars! No one in Ephesus had ever seen a person dominate demons as Paul did, and as Paul promised them that, by the Holy Spirit through Christ, they could too!

What does this all have to do with us?

Well, it brings me back to my original question: Do you believe in demons? Clearly the Bible does, but do you?

The Bible gives us a picture of invisible creatures who are working to ruin our relationships by tempting us to become jealous (when jealousy wouldn’t have come to our minds without them) or by enticing us to take offense at what the other person has said or done (when we wouldn’t have taken offense otherwise), or by encouraging us to not forgive but to hold on to our grudge or our anger (when forgiving the other would ordinarily have been so easy in that moment). The Bible describes demons as spirit-beings who seek to persuade us towards worry, fear, and anxiety that is far beyond what our circumstances call for; who seek to distract us from the comfort and protection the Lord would offer us: That He has for us in His Truth, in the righteousness that is ours in Christ, in the peace with Him that Jesus’ sacrifice has achieved, and that He has for us in our great salvation!

The Bible tells us that demons are crafty, clever liars and deceivers and tellers of half-truths, who prey upon our weaknesses, and seek to twist the good things our Father has given us in Creation and in His Word. Demons strive to keep us thinking we’re not good enough for God to love us, or that we’re not loved and not loveable, when the Bible tells us that God has loved us and has adopted us to be His Own in Christ! Demons do their best to keep us focused on world-events instead of on the cross; to keep us focused on all that might happen in the future instead of on what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do right now; to keep us focused on what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch to be true rather than on what He’s told us and promised us and committed to us to be true in His Word.

It goes on and on!

What makes the work of demons so diabolical is that we don’t often recognize that it is happening! A thought comes into our heads and we don’t stop and hold it up to the light of Christ. No. We too often receive it uncritically and act upon it! We think it’s our own thought and don’t realize it’s the tempting work of a demon. And before we know it, we’ve given into the temptation, we’re sinning and in a mess, and we’re wondering how everything went so wrong so fast!

(Notice we’re not talking about demon possession here. The Bible doesn’t talk about demon possession, either. The Bible uses the term demonized: It presents us with people who are under different levels of a demon’s, or several demons’, influence: Believing a lie here; giving into a temptation there, overcoming an enticement here! Christians can be influenced by demons when we act upon a demon’s distractions or temptations. And being influenced by a demon is very different from being possessed by one.

(Demon possession is an extreme situation where a person acts on everything the demon (or demons) say. And the Bible gives only one example of such an extreme condition: The man who had a legion of demons influencing him. And in that situation the Lord Jesus cast that whole army of demons out of the man with just a command. And so can we.)

You see, the apostle Paul wrote the letter To the Ephesians the way he did and raised the issues and the topics he did because of the center for demonic activity that Ephesus was in the First Century, because not all cities or towns or boroughs are the same when it comes to demonic activity and oppression, and what the Christians were facing in Ephesus was different than what those were facing who lived in Rome or Corinth or Philippi or Thessalonica.

That being said, casting out demons does not depend on special gifting or even special holiness. Any Christian living in fellowship with Jesus Christ can command demons in Jesus’ name, and they will obey him or her, no matter how young, no matter how old.

I say this with such confidence because the Bible pictures the resurrected Jesus seated at the Father’s right hand “far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else – not only in this world but also in the world to come”. (Ephesians 1:21) Compared to Jesus, demons are weak and pitiful creatures, doomed for eternity and left with nothing but to scramble around like rats in garbage seeking to do whatever harm they can.

The key to getting rid of demons is not to focus on the demons. The key is to get rid of the garbage in our lives that demons feed on. When the pain and suffering they feed upon is forgiven through the confession of sin and the cross of Christ, when it is replaced by the truth of God’s Word, and it is restored and healed by the resulting work of the Holy Spirit, demons have nothing to hold on to and we can cast them out with a prayer. Like this one.

Would you join me in praying it?

In the name of Jesus Christ, God the Son, my Savior, and with the authority He has given me as a child of God, I command any demons present to leave, now. You are to report to Jesus Christ, Who will do with you whatever He chooses, and you are never to return or to trouble me or any loved one of mine again. Amen!



May 15, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Ephesians 1:3-14 [NLTse]

3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into His Own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

9 God has now revealed to us His mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill His Own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in Heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for He chose us in advance, and He makes everything work out according to His plan.

12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, He identified you as His Own by giving you the Holy Spirit, Whom He promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His Own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify Him.

Sermon – “Every Spiritual Blessing”

A lady in our church, several years ago, was a teacher at a local community college. She often taught in the areas of business and writing. But this semester the school’s Statistics teacher quit suddenly and the administration was in a jam. They told this woman she would need to teach the Statistics class for that semester until they could hire someone else, and they gave her the teaching materials and set her to go. But the woman was terrified.

Math had never made sense to her. She could balance her checkbook, and those kinds of necessary math skills, but she had never done well when it came to using formulas and figuring out what to do when asked questions like, a duck lays three eggs a week for five weeks, but a lizard comes and steals every fourth egg that’s laid. So how many eggs are left? It drove her nuts! And her assignment terrified her. She was afraid for looking like a fool. She was afraid for not being able to teach the students well. And she was afraid she might lose her job when her bosses found out about it all.

She prayed. We all prayed. (We were in Bible Study together.) And as she began preparing for her first class, the gibberish of the material strangely started making sense to her. She understood the concepts. She got what formulas worked where. She said it was like suddenly becoming fluent in a language she’d never read, written, or spoken before.

It was a thrilling semester for her and for all of us in the Bible Study with her, as she would give us weekly updates. I will never forget her telling us, the week after final exams and after grades were in, how she’d been looking at her notes as she’d been putting them away, and her shock to realize she didn’t understand them anymore. It had become a mass of numbers and symbols to her again! The Holy Spirit had given her the grace she and her students needed. And then it was gone…

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Today we remember and celebrate the Holy Spirit being poured out on the Church of Jesus Christ, for we are not only a forgiven people (brought into fellowship and communion with Almighty God through the cross and sacrifice of Jesus Christ), we are also an empowered people (that fellowship and communion making us the dwelling places of the Almighty’s very Own nature, the power of God working in and through Christians in the world.)

There is so much misunderstanding about the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life: In your life; in my life… Some Christians believe that Jesus was altogether different from us. Even though the New Testament goes out of its way to make sure we understand that Jesus was like us in every way, except that He never sinned, many Christians believe that Jesus was altogether different. That He was God-in-a-bod, and that that’s how the power of the Almighty was at work in Him.

Many Christians believe that the apostles and early disciples were altogether different from us. Even though the New Testament makes very clear that each and every one was like us in having good things about them and bad things about them, in having personal strengths and personality flaws, in experiencing heartache and having hang-ups, and the like, many Christians believe that those apostles and first disciples were somehow different, and that’s how the power of Almighty God was at work in them.

But none of that’s true.

Philippians 2:6-8 makes clear that God the Son took off His divinity when He was born. Jesus of Nazareth was not God-in-a-bod. He was just a baby boy, and then a kid, and then a teen, and a young man, Who was then killed for the sins of the world.

And the apostles and early disciples were people who had disputes and fears and who made mistakes and gave into temptation and could be jealous of each other, and the like…

The Lord Jesus did the works of Almighty God because He was baptized by the Holy Spirit and because He believed that the Father had filled Him with Himself. He expected to be used, and He believed He could be used. And so God used Him.

And the apostles and those early disciples did the works of Almighty God because they wanted to be useful to God, and because they made themselves available to be useful to Him. They were forgiven, because they had trusted in Jesus’ sacrifice to cleanse them from sin and bring them into fellowship and communion with the Father, and they were empowered for ministry, because they had asked and waited for the Holy Spirit’s baptism, and then trusted that God had, indeed, filled them with Himself. They expected to be used, and they believed that they could be used. And so God used them!

The same is true for us. We have been forgiven if we have trusted in Jesus’ sacrifice to cleanse us from our sins. And we have been empowered for ministry if we have asked and waited for the Holy Spirit’s baptism, and then trusted that God has, indeed, filled us with Himself. The question is: Do we expect to be used by God? And do we believe that we could be used by God, if He chose to use us?

You see, the Church of Jesus Christ is like the Lord’s toolbox. Each of us is needed to get His job done. (And His job is bringing everything and everyone in Heaven and on earth together under the authority and lordship of Jesus.) Each of us has a role to play in that work. Maybe one of us is a screwdriver and another one of us is a wrench. Perhaps one of us is a level and another of us is a catspaw. (You use this to pull tough-to-get nails out.) But we’re all needed because bringing everything and everyone in Heaven and on earth together under the authority and lordship of Jesus is a big job!

Of course, the wrench can do some of the work a screwdriver can do, and a level might be able to get a nail or two out, like a catspaw. But that’s not what those tools were made for, and that’s why every tool is needed, just like every Christian is needed. We’re not interchangeable.

Even so, it’s not us doing the work. A screwdriver, no matter how well-crafted is useless on its own. But when you put it in the hands of someone who knows how to use it you can hang cabinets in your kitchen and bathroom, you can put door knobs on your doors, you can take apart your washing machine and put it back together. A level is good for hanging pictures, for making sure that windows and doors will be able to open and close, for keeping water from pooling on your front walk… But only if it’s in the hands of someone who knows how to use it!

At the very beginning of our reading today, the apostle Paul praises the Lord for “blessing us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” (V. 3) You and I have been granted every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ! There is nothing I cannot do that God wants me to do. There is nothing you cannot do that God wants you to do. He’s given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ!

Some of the spiritual blessings that the Bible talks about are wisdom, healing, speaking in languages we’ve never learned, knowing things there’s no way we could know, trusting God for the impossible, speaking on God’s behalf, and others… We can say “yes” to God whenever He calls and in every circumstance because He has miraculous abilities to share with us so that we can accomplish whatever He’s set us to.

These spiritual blessings aren’t powers that we get to control and manipulate and utilize for our own purposes and to make ourselves look good. (Though they can be abused). No. But when we want to be useful to the Lord, and when we make ourselves available to Him, His Holy Spirit at work in us empowers us to be able to know and do or speak whatever is necessary to accomplish all that He has set us to.

If the thought comes into your head to pray for a co-worker’s health, or for your friend to be delivered out of bad relationship or situation, or for their spouse or parents or children to come to Christ, or… whatever the thought might be, you don’t have to listen to the voice that might say, “I can’t pray for them for that, because I can’t heal anyone or deliver anyone or make anyone come to Christ or… whatever.” No, you can reach out your hands and pray in faith because you know that it’s not you doing these great works, it is God the Holy Spirit wanting to do these great works through you!

When you feel called to tackle a situation, but you don’t know what to do or where to begin, you don’t have listen to the voice in your head that might say, “It’s too much for you. Leave it for someone else!” No. You can step into the situation trusting that the Father wants you to, knowing that He’ll give you wisdom if you need it; He’ll give you knowledge if you need it; He’ll give you the words to say, if words need to be said; every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms will be available to you so that you can do what is impossible for you to do, so that God will get peoples’ attention through you.

We’re not the ones doing the work. God is doing the work through us. Our part is to want to be useful. Our part is to make ourselves available to Him.

This week, when you arrive at school or work or the store or at your friend’s house, ask the Lord to use you. Trust that He can use you. Expect Him to use you. And ask the Lord to use you. Then follow the promptings that come, trusting they have come from His Spirit into your mind. Act upon the promptings knowing that you are just the tool, chosen by the Lord at that moment to accomplish His wonders and advance His Kingdom in the world and in someone’s life.

Trust that He can use you. Expect Him to use you. Live united with Jesus Christ. Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms is ours because we are united with Jesus Christ.



May 1, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

2 Corinthians 12:1-10 [NLTse]
This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. 3 Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know 4 that I was caught up to Paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.
5 That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. 6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, 7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Sermon
Jim Croce was a ballad singer and songwriter who died recently. He was always singing stories about his girl falling for another guy or about other guys around his neighborhood who were tougher than him. One of his songs had this for a refrain:
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger. And you don’t mess around with Jim. But by the end of the song someone tougher and meaner than Jim had come around, and now you didn’t mess around with Slim…

Weakness doesn’t sell in our culture. It doesn’t sell in any culture. It never has. Everybody wants to be strong. We sing songs about it. (Many of them love songs, that we could get the girl or get the guy if we were only “stronger”: More beautiful; more witty; a better dancer… We write movies about it, that everyone would look to us as a hero if we were only “stronger”: More powerful; able to out-think the bad guy; able to overcome our fears…

Since the very beginning human beings have been rebelling against our weakness. But the Lord God made us to be weak. We were to be His lords and ladies upon the earth. In our weakness His power would be able to be known and exercised all over the world! But we wanted to be “strong”.

Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the beginning because God had made them dependent upon Him. They – and all of us human beings – were to be weak vessels through which God’s wisdom, strength, miraculous powers, and knowledge of good and evil could freely flow through. But they wanted to be strong, independent! And that’s what the devil promised them. And that’s what they got!

We’re kind of like Betta fish in that way. Does anybody know what a Betta fish is? Here’s a picture of one. Betta fish males are beautiful, majestic-looking creatures. But they must keep isolated from other males or they will fight each other for dominance to the death! And since the beginning us human beings have not only been fighting against one another for dominance – like Jim and Slim –we’ve been consistently fighting against God. (Of course, human beings fighting God is like a Betta fish fighting a blue whale… But we never seem to learn.)

And we’ve brought about all-manner of troubles and pain upon ourselves in our rebellion against our weakness. In our striving to be “strong” we’ve developed eating disorders and insecurity complex’s and people have become bullies and warlords and tyrants and have sold their souls and sold themselves! But the truth is that there is always a Slim waiting to come along. Some Snow White is always going to grow up and become fairer than you. Another all-star is always going to rise up to replace your records on the board. There will always be someone more handsome, wealthier, more likeable, who gets more attention, who sees what you couldn’t see, who gets done what you could only muddle through…

We human beings were made weak and made to be weak. We desperately need to be content with that! We need to be able to live at peace with our weakness!

2 Corinthians 12 shows us that Paul was no different: Our Father gave Paul extraordinary visions and revelations, and such special blessings tempted Paul to pride; tempted him to say, “Look at me! Look what God’s done in my life! Aren’t I the best apostle! Aren’t I the greatest!” And Paul writes, “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.” (V. 7)

Many across the years have wondered about this “thorn” Paul was given. And I have my own ideas, but I’m not going to share them here because I think we need to talk about this whole category of “thorns” and “weaknesses” Paul is writing about. He says that he has come to boast about this “thorn” and these weaknesses. He says that he has come to take pleasure in them! So, what are they?

We don’t have to go far. At the end of v. 10 Paul lists them: He says, “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” So, let’s look at these “insults”, “hardships”, “persecutions”, and “troubles”.
“Insults” speaks of those times when people think of clever ways of making our faith or our lifestyle or our words look stupid or weird or inconsistent. “Hardships” describe circumstances forced upon us, when things start going against us no matter how hard we try. “Hardships” can refer to any situation where we feel trapped, where we didn’t plan for what has happened, but here we are, and it’s hard… “Persecutions”, of course, are abuses or painful circumstances or acts of prejudice from people simply because of our Christian faith or our Christian morals and commitments. It’s when we are hurt or not treated fairly simply because of Christ. And this word for “troubles” carries the idea of pressures, when we’re feeling the weight of the world; circumstances that tend to overcome us with stress and tension…

(Notice that Paul’s not talking about sin here. These “weaknesses” are not a kind of behavior—like we might say ‘he has a weakness for lust’; or ‘she has a weakness for overeating’. Paul is not talking about the bad choices we can make. He is not saying, “The power of Christ is perfected in my bad choices.” He’s not saying, “I will all the more gladly boast of my bad choices.” Weaknesses here are circumstances and situations and experiences and wounds that make us look weak; things we would get rid of if we had the human strength.

Because, if we were “strong,” we would return the insult with such an effective put down that our opponent would wither and everyone would admire our wit and cleverness. If we were “strong,” we would take charge of these hardships and turn everything around so that it was all going our way again, the way we want it to. If we were “strong,” we would stand up to and face down the persecution so quickly and so decisively that no one would ever mess with us again! If we were “strong,” we would use our resources to get out from under all the stress, we would master the situation and get back on top of it all!
But we don’t tend to have this kind of human strength. And even when we do, Christ shows us not to use our strength the way the world does. Jesus tells us not to return evil for evil. Paul said back in 1 Corinthians 4:12–13, “We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us.” And then he added, “Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment.” Because this kind of response to abuse looks weak! [At least it looks that way to those who thrive on pride and who strive after strength.])
Paul calls his “thorn” a “messenger of Satan” (v. 7) given to harass him. So, clearly, some “thorns” and weaknesses come from the devil. Satan afflicts the children of God through his demons and evil crew. His aim is to destroy us and kill us and to make us miserable.

But it is not that simple. The devil is not the only one at work here. God is at work, too. These “thorns” and weaknesses are not just the work of Satan to destroy. They are the work of God to save.

We know this because Paul describes the purpose for the “thorn” being to keep him from pride. Paul’s revelations in Paradise made him vulnerable to pride and a sense of superiority. So God uses the hostile intentions of Satan for Paul’s holiness. Satan wanted to make Paul miserable and turn him away from the faith and the ministry and the value of the visions he had seen. But God wanted to make Paul humble and turn him away from thinking himself so great. So God appointed the “thorn” of Satan to the work of Paul’s salvation.
Another reason we know the “thorn” is God’s work and not just Satan’s is that when Paul prays in verse 8 that God would take the thorn away, the Lord says, “No, because My power is made perfect in this weakness.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “I have a purpose in what is happening to you, Paul. This is not ultimately Satan’s destroying work. It is ultimately My saving and sanctifying work.”

For Paul and for us, the source of our weaknesses may sometimes be Satan and his destructive designs for us; but always our weaknesses are designed by God for our good. This is why the truth of God’s sovereign grace is so precious in the midst of hardship and troubles: Because God is in control of Satan. Satan does nothing to God’s children that God does not design with infinite skill and love for our good!

But what is the purpose of such weaknesses? Is there a goal or an aim for why the weaknesses come? Why insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities, and troubles? Why can’t I find a job? Why am I trapped in this awful marriage? Why does my dad have cancer? Why can’t I have children? Why do I have no friends? Why is nothing working in my life?

First, know that Satan wants to beat you up and harass you. So know that it is okay to pray for relief. That’s what Paul did until he got word from the Lord. Pain is not a good thing in itself. God does not delight in our suffering. But Satan does, so he must be resisted.

Second, God’s purpose over and through Satan’s troubling us is our Christ-likeness and humility. Paul was in danger of pride and a sense of superiority, and God took steps to keep him humble. This is a crazy-strange thing in our self-centered age, but God thinks humility is more important than comfort; God thinks humility is more important than freedom from pain. He will give us a mountain top experience in the Garden of Eden itself, and then bring us through every kind of trial and anguish, as needed, to keep us from thinking we have “arrived” and no longer need to totally rely on His grace.

But, ultimately, God’s purpose in our “thorns” and weaknesses is to glorify the grace and power of Jesus. In v. 9 Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” God made us weak to make you and me a showcase for Jesus’ power. And yet, not the way the world would demand it: Not by getting rid of all our weaknesses; but by giving us strength to endure and even rejoice in tribulation.

Of course, we must let God be God here: That is, if He wills to show the perfection of His Son’s power in our weakness instead of by our escape from weakness, then He knows best and we must trust Him. Hebrews 11 is a good guide here. It says that by faith some escaped the sword (v. 34) and by faith some were killed by the sword (v. 37). By faith some shut the mouths of lions (v. 33), and by faith others were sawn in two (v. 37). By faith some were mighty in war, and by faith others suffered defeat and imprisonment.
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The deepest need that you and I have in weakness and adversity – that empowers us to turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies, and do good to those who hate us – our deepest need is not quick relief, but the bedrock-confidence that what is happening to us in these weak times is part of the greatest purpose God has in the universe: Drawing everyone and everything’s attention to the grace and power at work in Jesus Christ: The grace and power that took Jesus to the cross; the grace and power that kept Him there until God’s work of love was done. That’s what God is building into our lives. That’s why we can take pleasure in our weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that we suffer for Christ. For when we are weak – and we let ourselves be weak trusting in the grace and power of Jesus – then we are unconquerably strong!