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flower on thistle

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told the Christians that he had asked the Lord to take away a “thorn in the flesh,” a “messenger of Satan” sent to “harass” him in order to keep him from becoming conceited because of the “surpassing greatness of the revelations” that had been given to him (2 Corinthians 12:1-8).

The Lord denied Paul’s request to remove this satanic messenger and said this interesting thing:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9).1

What does God’s grace have to do with denying the removal of a satanic messenger? Doesn’t grace mean God’s unmerited favor? Really? It is God’s unmerited favor to allow this thorn from the devil to remain?

Was God thinking clearly?

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2004-07-08_1925_1_fromjoewatson

This is the third and last installment in a series of articles in which we are endeavoring to consider the amazing Christian God and how He chooses those who are weak. His stunning choices are in direct contradistinction to how we think, which is that we should be strong, influential and “noticed” in order to get the big things done  and be “effective” in ministry.

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2004-07-08_1925_1_fromjoewatsonIs it surprising that God chooses people who are foolish, weak, and worthless? Does the Lord know what He’s doing? Silly question, I know. Yes, He does, because in comparison to what He does by His incomparable power, everything we do is foolish, ineffective, insignificant, and worthless. The problem is that we tend to think otherwise. We work hard and plan. We build effective organizations. We have influence. We make our name known in order to increase that effectiveness and influence. We prove we’re making a difference in the world by virtue of our advertised metrics. However, our amazing God is not necessarily looking for hard work, human planning, impressive organizations and influence in order to accomplish His irrational and powerful purpose. He’s looking for people who are foolish, weak and despised. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have selected the least of all people, the Jews, as His chosen people and nation. He wouldn’t have come as a totally helpless baby to a poor couple in an obscure place called Bethlehem, in a little-known, weak nation that had been conquered by a very powerful one. He wouldn’t have chosen only twelve, very fallible men to establish His Church. He wouldn’t have departed into heaven after He rose from the dead and left “only” His Holy Spirit to help and guide His followers, with no organizational plan whatsoever.

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2004-07-08_1925_1_fromjoewatson

Throughout the narrative of the Bible, God makes choices about people whom He chooses to serve Him, and He selects those individuals according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11; Hebrews 2:2-4). In addition to God’s sovereignty, wisdom, power, and all of His other amazing attributes, He is to our astonishment, low and humble in the core of His being. So, knowing this about Him, what is His will, what is His counsel about those through whom He might choose to participate in His work in the world? Paul gave the Corinthians the answer to that question in First Corinthians 1:27-29: God chooses people who are foolish, weak, low, despised, and are nothing.

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Some may respond to this by saying, “But Paul said that the Corinthians were quarreling and striving. Sure, there may be divisions in the Church because of denominational affiliations, but the people in churches today for the most part don’t quarrel and strive with those in other churches about their pastors.” Let’s think about this for a moment. We’re well ensconced in a universally accepted church world in which there are not only many different denominations but a plethora of churches within those denominations. Therefore, it’s difficult to imagine what these first century Corinthians were dealing with, but let’s try. Imagine yourself in a room in which were gathered the members of three churches and on the platform sat the three pastors of those churches. In the meeting it’s announced that only one of these men will now lead all three fellowships under one roof and that all of the members will have the opportunity to decide which one will get the job. What would that meeting be like? On what criteria would the people base their choice? Am I mistaken to think that if one man was actually chosen, the choice would be made—all things moral and doctrinal being equal—on the basis of his ability to speak and how he presented himself? What would the people do after a choice had been made? Would there be any quarreling and striving? After the votes had been tallied, would there be those who would decide that they were going to keep their own pastors, regardless of the outcome?

Paul tells us that, according to God’s wisdom, it is not His intention to build His Church according to this kind of worldly criteria. Read the rest of this entry »

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