In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul addresses head on the subject of weakness and suffering. It is a vulnerable attempt by Paul to both defend his ministry as well as to model gospel-centered humility. The church in Corinth was in need of both messages.
The Corinthians lived in a developed urban center, an area of resources and opportunity which provided the people with a certain level of privilege. One result was a developing climate of individualism where material wealth, external appearances, status, and strength were being praised. Further complicating the situation, the church had welcomed a group of self-proclaimed, boastful apostles who were forerunners of the prosperity preachers. They were attacking Paul’s ministry stating his life was marked by excessive suffering and trials, therefore invalidating his message.
Paul’s self-defense would include much boasting, boasting about weakness. What sort of effective defense incorporates the exposing of weaknesses and shortcomings? Paul said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). By taking this approach Paul put his critics to shame.
A proper understanding of human weakness is a mark of the work of the true gospel. Only the gospel of Jesus provides freedom from the heavy burden of shame without first requiring the weak to become strong. Paul shares of the “thorn in his flesh” that was given to him by God. This thorn, a humbling weakness of some kind, was purposed by God to protect Paul from himself, to protect him from arrogance and self-sufficiency. From this we learn the timeless principle that God’s grace is sufficient for all of our various trials, sufferings, sins, and weaknesses.
Paul provided needed clarity to the Corinthian church helping to expose the false teachers among them. He also magnified the counterintuitive nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we grasp the breadth of our sin and weakness, it allows us to comprehend the surpassing strength and grace of God.