This is the final lesson in our Overflow series that we have considered in 2020. For the last time, let us listen to Jesus’ words in John 7:37-39.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39 ESV)
It is a beautiful picture that Jesus gives us. Satisfaction is only found in Jesus. Come to him and drink if you are thirsty. Not only this, as you are satisfied in Christ you will also overflow with living waters from your heart to the world. We have looked at how we can overflow in worship, prayer, love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, thankfulness, and contentment. In this lesson we are going to talk about overflowing in contentment. Now you may be confused because I just said that we already talked about overflowing with contentment in September. But when we speak of contentment we typically speak about being content with our possessions. This was the focus of the lesson in September. But there is another area of contentment that God is concerned about: contentment in our circumstances. Being content with where we are in life can be somewhat of a challenge. We are told by our culture not to be happy with where we are. Social media shows us that everyone else is having a better life than we are. Everyone else is happy, clappy joy and we are sitting in the misery of life’s typical pains. So how can we be content in any circumstance? How can we overflow with contentment to the world no matter what we are going through in our lives? This is what we are going to look at in this lesson. Turn in your copies of God’s word to 2 Corinthians 12.
Understanding the Difficulty (12:7-8)
In the first six verses of 2 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks generally about having some pretty special experiences with the Lord. He was caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable things. But that is not the point that Paul wants to get at. The point he wants to get at begins in verse 7. Paul says that a thorn in the flesh was given to him. There has been so much speculation about what the thorn in the flesh was. But we are not specifically told what that was and we should be glad for this so that we can all relate to Paul. All of us have thorns in the flesh. All of us have difficulties. During various seasons of our lives we are going to be going through something that is hard. As Paul writes this letter he is also going through something that he generically calls a “thorn in the flesh.” Have you ever had an actual thorn in your flesh? It hurts. I have a tree in my front yard that has thorns on it. So when I hang the Christmas lights it stabs me. It really hurts. Thorns in the flesh hurt. Paul hurts.
As Paul is hurting, he is praying to the Lord for this pain to be removed. Look at verse 8. Three times Paul pleaded with the Lord about this. Now think about this. Friends, this is an apostle. Surely the Lord will answer his apostle Paul. Surely he has the inside track to move God to answer him in the way that he wants. The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord for what was tormenting him to be removed. But God said no. I hope that we hear this. God said no even to his apostles. So what is Paul going to do about this? How should he look at his life? How should he look at God?
God’s Answer (12:9)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
Think about what God is telling Paul with this answer. First, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” My grace is enough for you (NET). My grace is all you need (NLT). God has given you what you need for what you are dealing with. Whatever your pain or difficulty, you have what you need from God. Now I would imagine that Paul did not feel that way. That is why he is repeatedly praying for God to remove this thorn in his flesh. But even though Paul does not feel like it, God is telling him that he has all he needs. God’s grace is sufficient for this circumstance. God tells Paul that he does not need his thorn removed. You have God’s grace and favor to endure this situation. So we need to hear these words when we are in our difficulties and are discontent. God is telling us that his grace is sufficient for us.
Notice what else God said: “For my power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s power is more readily seen when we are in our seasons of weakness. God is telling us that we need some of these weaknesses in our lives. We need God to say no to us. Our difficulties cause us to see God’s power. Essentially, in our difficulties God is putting up a sign declaring that he is at work in your life. Life construction is ahead as he works to transform you. This is exactly what Paul understands from what he is going through. Look again at verse 7. Why did God allow Paul to have a messenger of Satan harass him? Why did God have this thorn in Paul’s life? Paul gives the answer in verse 7: “To keep me from becoming conceited.” This was to keep him from boasting about himself. This was to keep him from having pride and exalting himself. God was doing something for Paul by allowing this thorn in the flesh in his life. God was saying no to Paul’s pleading because he had a work he needed to accomplish in Paul. It is a fascinating window into the mind and work of God. Your thorn in your flesh is to teach you and transform you. God is working on your through your difficulty.
Paul’s Response (12:9-10)
Listen to the rest of what Paul says because it is pivotal for handling the times when God says no.
Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10 CSB)
Did you hear what Paul said? I will take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties. He delights in these things for Christ’s sake. Why? Paul understands that Christ’s power rests on him in his weaknesses. His strength in the Lord will come through these weaknesses. Remember that Paul has critics about all the weaknesses he has. They spoke of his lack of ministry skill. He came under a lot of criticism. What I want you to see is Paul had weaknesses from his flesh and his abilities. Further, Paul has this messenger of Satan afflicting him, this thorn in the flesh. Paul repeatedly prayed and God said no each time. But Paul understood that Christ’s power rests in us when we are in our weaknesses. So rather than being angry with God when he answers our prayers with a “no,” we need to see that God has a purpose and is at work in our lives. Rather than being upset about our life circumstances, we need to see that God is at work.
So how are we able to overflow with contentment in our life circumstances? The first way we can have contentment in our circumstances is to see that God is at work in our circumstances. Know that God is doing something in your life. God is doing something in your character. This is what Paul understood. God needs to teach me something through this circumstance. He says in verse 7 that this was done to keep him from exalting himself and from becoming conceited. In essence, if God says no, then you need the answer to be no. I can be content in what in what I am going through because I need this difficulty. We must look to God and understand that we need this.
Second, we can be content because when we are weak, then we are strong. How can Paul say that he will take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties? How can you say that you are content with that? How can you say that you are pleased in those circumstances? Paul says because it is only when he is weak that he is strong. Please think about this. How is it that we are strong when we are made to be weak?
We become strong in our weakness, hardship, and difficulty because this is when we rely on God and not on ourselves or anyone else. Strength comes in our weakness because we finally stop looking to rescue ourselves and help ourselves and truly look to God for help. Suffering reminds us that we are not in control. God is in control and must rely on him and not myself because I cannot fix my thorn in the flesh.
We become strong in our weakness because our hope stops resting on our present circumstances. When things are going well in life we so easily start depending on this life and all of it going well. It is only when things are tough that we stop hoping in this world because it is not giving back to us what we want it to give. My hope cannot be “here” because “here” is not going well.
We become strong in our weakness because God has us in the circumstance we are in. God has us where we are. This is what David said in the beloved Psalm 23. Even though the shepherd is leading us through the darkest of valleys, we will not fear because God’s rod and staff are comforting us. God is with us and walking us through this darkness. We can be strong because we know that God has us right here in this moment. This is what God wanted Israel to understand as well. Listen to what Moses tells Israel after they had gone through the 40 years in the wilderness.
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2–3 ESV)
Why did God put Israel in the wilderness? So that they would depend on God alone. Listen to how Moses described this just a few sentences later.
…who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. (Deuteronomy 8:15–16 ESV)
Moses says that God put us in the wilderness so that we would trust him. Further, God was doing good to Israel. Israel needed the wilderness so that God could do good to them in the end.
We can overflow with contentment about our lives when we see that God has us in this wilderness to teach us and transform us. We can overflow with contentment because our weakness will cause us to see the power of God more clearly. We can overflow with contentment because our weakness will take our eyes off of this world and place them firmly on our Lord and make us rely on him and not ourselves. Strength will come through the weaknesses we endure. God has you in your circumstance. Will you complain about your circumstance or walk with God through your circumstance for your strength and for his glory?