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2 Corinthians 12:1-10

BLESSINGS OUT OF BUFFETINGS

 

Intro:  Once a little girl found a cocoon hanging from a limb in the forest.  She took it to her room and placed it in a jar, expecting one day to see a butterfly emerge.  One day, she saw the butterfly within the cocoon trying get out.  It was struggling and trying to push its way out of the tight opening.  In an effort to help the poor insect, she very carefully slit open the cocoon.  After that, the butterfly was able to easily exit the cocoon. But, a strange thing happened.  Instead of spreading two beautiful wings, the butterfly had two withered, shriveled, useless, ugly wings hanging by its side.  Why?  God designed the butterfly and his cocoon so that the tight opening would straighten and strengthen his wings.  Without the pressure of the tight opening, the butterfly was robbed of the beauty of his wings, and more importantly, he was robbed of the ability to fly into the heavens.  He was condemned to a life of walking around on the ground!

      Now, we are not butterflies this evening, but we need the pressures and trials of life, if we are to develop into all that God has saved us to be.  In our text, Paul tells us why he was able to soar above the heads of most other believers in his day.  He tells us that it was the pain and the sufferings he endured that gave him the power with God enjoyed.

      As we look into this passage, I want to talk to you about the buffetings Paul mentions.  You see, what this man endured can teach us a lot about the problems, suffering and trials of our own lives.  What we can learn here will give us the ability to rise above the ordinary Christian life.  Just like that butterfly, we will find that the trials and the sufferings of life will refine and prepare us to take flight for the glory of God.  Let’s look into this passage as we think for a while about this thought: Blessings Out Of Buffetings.  Please allow me to show you the benefits that can come out of the problems in your life!

 

  I.  v. 7                   THE PAIN OF THE BUFFETINGS

A.  The Personality Of This Pain – Paul tells us about the nature of the trial he endured by the two words he uses to describe it: thorn and buffet.  We have all endured being pricked by a thorn and we know the piercing, nagging pain they can produce.  The word “thorn” comes from a word which refers to “a sharp wooden stake to torture or impale someone”.  The word “buffet” means “to strike with the fist, to mistreat”.  Whatever it was that Paul endured, it was, to him, like being beaten with an open fist or being impaled on a stake.

      What was the nature of Paul’s thorn?  No one knows for sure, but it has been suggested that Paul suffered from an eye disease of some sort, Gal. 6:11.  We do know that his bodily presence was somewhat weak, 2 Cor. 10:10.  Some have suggested that Paul’s thorn was malaria, epilepsy, or some other physical affliction.  No one knows for sure, but whatever it was, it made the task of preaching and ministering to the churches far more difficult for Paul.

      One thing we know for sure about Paul’s thorn is this: it may have been carried out by Satan, but it was conceived by God!  Keep in mind that whatever it was that afflicted this great preacher, it was part of God’s plan for his life!

 

(Note: You may be going through a time like this right now.  If you aren’t, you can rest assured that there is a time of pain just down your road.  In fact, we are all going to experience many periods of thorns and buffetings in life.  No one likes them, but they are part of the human experience, Job 14:1; Ecc. 2:23!

      When the thorns pierce you and the buffetings shake your foundation, you need to remember that nothing can touch your life that is not part of God’s plan for you, Rom. 8:28. If it has come your way, then God has signed off on it!  Ill. Job – Job 1-2!)

 

(Note: Perhaps it is good that we do not know what Paul’s problem was.  Why? Because I am preaching to people who have thorns and are experiencing buffetings right now.  If Paul had named his thorn, then we might conclude that the promises of God associated with that thorn were only good for others with the same problem.  But, since we don’t know what he suffered from, we can apply the promises he received to the situations we face!)

 

B.  The Place Of This Pain – Paul’s thorn was “in the flesh”.  It afflicted his physical man.  Often, the thorns and buffetings we endure in this life will manifest themselves in the physical realm, through sickness and other forms of physical suffering.  At other times, we will endure emotional pain, such as depression, loneliness and heartbreak.  Sometimes our thorns will be spiritual in nature, as we doubt our salvation, struggle with holiness and battle spiritual pride.

      I am simply trying to let you know that suffering can come in many shapes.  We can hurt on many levels, not all of which are visible to the naked eye!  We should never be surprised at how the thorns of life manifest themselves.

C.  The Persistence Of This Pain – The word “buffet” is a verb and it is in the “present tense and the active voice”.  That may not mean much to you, but what it tells us that this thing which afflicted Brother Paul was something that was continual in nature.  In other words, he lived with this thing all the time!  When this problem came, it came to stay!  He even asked God three times for relief, still the problem endured!

 

(Note: We need to understand that the things we may be called upon to endure may not be over in an hour or a few days.  Some people, for God’s own reasons, are given thorns and buffetings that seem to endure for years.  Why? We may find some answers in the next few verses, but for some of these things there are no answers.  It will only be in eternity that we will know all the reasons why some things came to pass.

      I said that to encourage you!  When the thorns and buffetings of life come your way, and they linger in your life, do not be discouraged!  God is doing something special in your life, and in His time, He will make that perfectly clear!)

 

 II.  v. 7-8          THE PURPOSE OF THE BUFFETINGS

A.     Buffetings Regulate Our Flesh – For Paul, the buffeting came his way to keep him from being “exalted above measure”.  This phrase means “to lift oneself above one’s place”.  Because of all the blessings Paul had been given, v. 1-6, and because of all the mighty ways in which God had used him, v. 7, there was the danger that Paul might try to take all the glory for himself.  Therefore, God gave Paul this thorn in the flesh to regulate that flesh.  It was sent to remind Paul that this thing was about God and not about Paul!  In other words, it was sent to keep Paul humble!

 

(Note: We have that same tendency don’t we?  When the Lord uses us for His glory, there is something within us that wants to claim that glory for ourselves.  But, sufferings and troubles tend to keep us anchored firmly to the earth.  We are reminded of just what we are and of just what we can do without Him: Nothing, John 15:5.  So, one of the purposes of the thorns and the buffetings of life is that they remind us that we are made of flesh and that we need Him and His power to get anything done!  There is nothing like a time of crisis to remind you how weak and frail you really are!  We don’t like that, but we sure do need it from time to time!)

 

B.     Buffetings Rejuvenate Our Faith – Notice that Paul’s trials drove him to his knees.  When he began to hurt, he began to seek the Lord is a fresh and a new way.

 

(Note:  Often, when the path of life is easy, we forget how much we need the Lord.  We get slack in our devotional lives and we tend to become a little too self-sufficient.  But, when trouble comes knocking, when we are pierced by one of the thorns of life and when the blows of buffeting begin to fall upon us, we are shocked back to reality once again.  It is true: difficulty will drive you to your knees!  Now, since that is true, and since the Lord knows that I am more apt to seek Him when I hurt and when I have a need, doesn’t it make sense that He will allow me to find myself in that position?  You see, there are times when we play around with spiritual things, but when we hurt, we get serious with God!  He knows that, so He allows us to walk through some desolate places so that we might seek His face!)

 

III.  v. 9a             THE PROMISE IN THE BUFFETINGS

(Notice what Paul said in verse 7: “there was given to me…”  The choice of the word “given” is interesting!  Paul speaks of his buffeting, of his thorn, as a gift!  When we are going through a time of severe trial and pain, we may not see it then, but that time is a gracious gift of God!  How? There are a couple of precious promises revealed in these verses that are fulfilled during our time of buffeting.)

      A.  The Promise Of Divine Sufficiency – Paul prayed for the thorn to

be removed.  The Lord’s answer was this: “My grace is sufficient for thee…”  The word “sufficient” means “to be possessed of unfailing strength; to be enough”.  The Lord is telling Paul, “Paul, I know you have a big task to accomplish.  I called you to that task.  I know you feel weak and inferior for the need.  But, Paul, you need to know that I have the power you lack.  You will never be enough, but I am always enough!”

 

(Note: How many times have we looked at our situation and said, “If only this problem was solved or this thing over here was somehow different, then I could really serve the Lord!”  Or, “If I could just feel better, I could do something for Jesus.”  Or, “If my husband or wife was only saved, it would be so much easier for me to serve the Lord.”  Or, “Oh, I wish I was younger, or smarter, or more talented, then I could be used of God.”

      The problem with that kind of thinking is that it is all wrapped up in self and what self can do!  It says, “I am all I need and if I could just work out a few little details, then I could be so much more.”  In truth, we are nothing and we can do nothing without Jesus!  If you are saved and you are walking in the will of the Lord, then you are right where He has put you, problems and all, Psa. 37:23; Psa. 40:2.  What we need to understand this evening is the truth that we will never be enough, but He is always more than enough, Eph. 3:20!  What the Lord says to Paul, He says to us: “I am in control!  I will meet your need and I will take care of you!” 

      Jesus says that “my grace is sufficient”.  Grace is “the undeserved love and favor of God”.  He will give grace to support you and sustain you regardless of what you may face before you get out of this life!  What He did for others, He will do for you!  (Ill. 3 Hebrews; Daniel; the widow who fed Elijah; etc.)  There will be grace to stand for Him, grace to serve Him, grace to live for Him, grace to die for Him, grace to face life for Him.  There will be grace, amazing, matchless, marvelous grace for every hump in the road of life!)

B.  The Promise Of Divine Sovereignty – The Lord Jesus tells Paul that He is working out a divine, sovereign plan in Paul’s life.  He reminds Paul that God’s plan will only be accomplished through God’s strength.  It was not the power of the Apostle that would get the job done for Jesus. It was the power of God!

            When the Lord says that His “strength is made perfect in weakness”, it simply means that God gets more glory from using the weak things of the world that He does by using the things of greatest strength and power, 1 Cor. 1:27.  By making Paul weak, God could display His power and strength!  That sounds like a paradox, but it is true!  God gets far more glory out of weaker vessels!

            Look at the disciples.  They were ordinary, weak men, but God used them to alter the world for His glory!  Look at the church, ordinary, weak, flesh and blood, but it is the vehicle God has chosen to do His work in this world, 1 Cor. 1:26.

            Therefore, when the Lord allows the thorns to pierce you and when He allows the trials and sufferings of life to buffet you, remember that He has a plan and He is getting glory out of your weakness.  You may never know, this side of eternity, just how the Lord used your pain for His glory!  You see, God has a plan for all you are going through, or you wouldn’t be in it!  Someone is watching, or God is working through it some way for His Own glory!

 

      (Ill. Fanny Crosby – Blinded at the age of five by a wrong prescription given by a doctor.  But, in her 90 years of darkness she penned some 8,000 gospel hymns.  Her pain has brought more glory to God than she could have ever imagined!)

 

IV.  v. 9b-10           THE PRIZE OF THE BUFFETINGS

(Ill. As Paul closes His thoughts in this passage, he reminds us that the thorns and buffetings of life are not in vain.  There is much benefit to be derived from the pains we endure in life.  Of course, Paul does say, “...for Christ’s sake”.  The things he endured were not the result of foolish decisions on his part.  He was suffering for Jesus! How much of what we face is the result of our own foolish choices and fleshly decisions?  It doesn’t minimize the pain or the need to get to God, but it does emphasize the need for us to walk in His will and not our own!  Notice the Prize of the Buffetings.)           

A.  The Prize Of Power – Paul says that when the infirmities of life have him pressed beneath their weight, then he is stronger than ever!  Why, because the power of God is able to work in his life.  His own power is subdued by his sufferings and the power of God is able to move in a way that it could not under other conditions!  Paul says, “It doesn’t make sense, but when I am at my weakest after the flesh, I am the strongest spiritually!”

            My, what a truth!  When we are broken by the buffetings of life, we are brought to a place where God can move in us, on us and through us in extraordinary ways!  Do you want the power of God to rest upon your life?  Then, prepare to hurt!  You see, God will not share His glory with another, Ex. 20:5!  And, before He will use us in a great way, He will first put us in a position of dependence upon Himself!  If you want the power, then you have to pay the price!

B.  The Prize Of Praise – As you read these verses, Paul uses words like “most gladly, glory, take pleasure”.  These words indicate that the Lord, through grace, had taught Paul the secret of rejoicing in the midst of difficulty!  Most of us can rejoice when the battle is over, or when life is running along on an even keel, but we have real trouble rejoicing when heartaches and trials come our way!  Paul’s sufferings, on the other hand, had taught him how to praise the Lord.  Of course, Paul wasn’t alone.  Job also learned this valuable lesson, Job 1:20-22.  Now, neither Paul nor Job was enjoying what they were facing, but they had learned the truth that God is in control, He knows what He is doing and He is using the pain for His glory!  You see, Paul was seeing beyond the thorn and beyond the buffeting.  He was seeing the power and the glory that was coming because of what he was facing!  That is why he had peace and could praise the Lord in the middle of his buffeting!

 

      (Note: When we come to the place where we can see our trials from God’s perspective, then our whole outlook will be altered.  We will stop seeing our situation as being hard, harsh and difficult, but we will understand that it is God’s perfect plan for our life.  We will see that He is working out His will in us.  We will see that He is getting glory.  We will learn to yield to Him and His will for our lives.  When we get to that place, then the Lord can work through us and our situation in ways we never imagined!)

 

C.  The Prize Of Peace – Notice that Paul names all these things that he is “in”.  Yet, he tells us that it is “in” these things that he has found peace and contentment!  He had learned a secret that many of never get a handle on.  Paul had learned the truth that God is just as real and just as powerful in the battles of life and He is during the times of peace and prosperity!

 

      (Note: Isn’t it true that we spend a lot of our time praying for God to get us out of trouble or to keep us out of trouble?  How long has it been since you got down before the Lord and thanked Him for your trouble?  How long has it been since you thanked Him for putting you in a place where you had to trust Him?  How long since you thanked Him for His grace, for His sufficiency, for His touch upon your life?  We always want God to get us “out” or keep us “out” of something, but how long has it been since you thanked Him for putting you “in” something?)

 

Conc:  Are you being buffeted right now?  Are the harsh blows of life landing on you, leaving you bleeding, bruised and battered before the Lord?  Are you being pierced by the cruel, sharp thorns of physical, emotional or spiritual affliction?  If you are, then just let me remind you that God’s promises are still true!  His mercies are new every day, Lam. 3:21-22!  Do you need to come before Him today to get grace for your race?  Do you need help for your valley?  Do you need to find that prize in your pain?  If you do, I want you to come before the Lord right now.  I want you to stop asking Him “Why?”.  I want you to get before Him and ask Him to show you what He is doing in your life.  I want you to ask Him for grace to praise Him “in” your buffetings.  I want you to bow before the Lord and thank Him for your thorn.  You say, “I can’t do that!”, then you need to come and ask Him to help you reach that place.  Listen, none of us have arrived!  This is hard for me too, but part of healing our hurts is coming to the place where we yield to God and to what He is doing in our lives.  This altar is open; bring your thorn to Him right now!

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