In grappling with this lengthy passage in 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9, we strive to keep the main things the main thing…
Hear the full audio of Bible Study from February 24.
INTRODUCTION: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Here is the brilliant lightning bolt striking comfort beneath the thunderheads of trouble and hardship. Overhead looms every overwhelming cause which hides the love of God from our sight, like storm clouds blocking out the sun. Rather, a tumult of trials howls upon us in such a violent and relentless downpour. They accumulate and flood over our lives, making our steps unsteady and our path hidden.
Then suddenly, God’s power is unleashed–made perfect in weakness and lighting our way to His shelter. Again, the Lord’s power is unleashed, revealing safety and refuge for us now in God’s grace. This power revives the failing heart with new life, energizes faith, causing us to draw deep, hopeful breaths. God’s GRACE, (G)od’s (R)iches (A)t (C)hrist’s (E)xpense, that is, the Gospel proves always to be the power which is made perfect in our weakness.
PART ONE: The Passage of 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9
A.) Hear our Epistle reading. Listen for important words repeated as we go.
B.) Remember, the Epistles were read aloud to the congregations, as a letter. What did you hear? Which are the most repeated words set before us here?
C.) Of those you noticed above, which do you think is most prominent?
D.) 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 is probably one of the most familiar, popular and beloved passages in Paul’s letters, perhaps in all of Scripture. Its setting, that is, its context is very important.
PART TWO: “Bragging Rights” and Boasting Rightly in Your Weakness
E.) When we say someone has earned “Bragging Rights,” what do we mean?
F.) “Boasting” is a very prominent word for Paul and and important spiritual concept for us in our passage. The ‘boast‘ noun is used 11 times; the ‘Boasting‘ verb is used 38 times in the New Testament. St. Paul was inspired to use these words more than all other New Testament writers combined:
- 36/38x this verb, 10/11x this noun are found in Paul’s epistles.
- 26/36x this verb, 6/10x this noun are found in the two letters to Corinthians.
- 20 times ‘Boasting,’ 3 of 6 times ‘boast‘ can be found in Second Corinthians alone.
G.) Paul seems to use “Boast” like we might use the word “Lament.” By such “Boasting,” the believer gives voice to the reality of one’s hardship, loss, pain or grief–not to gain attention or elicit sympathy, but to declare enduring hope in God’s grace and seek His help.
PART THREE : Our Passage applied in Apology and Solid Declaration
H.) The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article VI. “Of Confession and Satisfaction,” par. 61-64 (In Kolb/Wengert or certain other English translations, this quote is printed instead under the section heading Apology XII. “Repentance,” par. 158-161)
61] Job is excused that he was not afflicted on account of past evil deeds; therefore afflictions are not always punishments or signs of wrath. Yea, terrified consciences are to be taught that other ends of afflictions are more important [that they should learn to regard troubles far differently, namely, as signs of grace], lest they think that they are rejected by God when in afflictions they see nothing but God’s punishment and anger. The other more important ends are to be considered, namely, that God is doing His strange work so that He may be able to do His own work, etc., as Isaiah 28:1ff teaches in a long discourse. 62] And when the disciples asked concerning the blind man who sinned, John 9:2-3, Christ replies that the cause of his blindness is not sin, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. And in Jeremiah 49:12, it is said: They whose judgment was not to drink of the cup have assuredly drunken. Thus the prophets and John the Baptist and other saints were killed. 63] Therefore afflictions are not always punishments for certain past deeds, but they are the works of God, intended for our profit, and that the power of God might be made more manifest in our weakness [how He can help in the midst of death].
Thus Paul says, 2 Cor. 12:5,9: The strength of God is made perfect in my weakness. Therefore, because of God’s will, our bodies ought to be sacrifices, to declare our obedience [and patience], and not to compensate for eternal death, for which God has another price, namely, 64] the death of His own Son. And in this sense Gregory interprets even the punishment of David when he says: If God on account of that sin had threatened that he, would thus be humbled by his son, why, when the sin was forgiven, did He fulfil that which He had threatened against him? The reply is that this remission was made that man might not be hindered from receiving eternal life, but that the example of the threatening followed, in order that the piety of the man might be exercised and tested even in this humility. Thus also God inflicted upon man death of body on account of sin, and after the remission of sins He did not remove it, for the sake of exercising justice, namely, in order that the righteousness of those who are sanctified might be exercised and tested.
I.) Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Art. VII. The Holy Supper
68] But it must [also] be carefully explained who are the unworthy guests of this Supper, namely, those who go to this Sacrament without true repentance and sorrow for their sins, and without true faith and the good intention of amending their lives, and by their unworthy oral eating of the body of Christ load themselves with damnation, that is, with temporal and eternal punishments, and become guilty of the body and blood of Christ.
69] For Christians who are of weak faith, diffident, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the greatness and number of their sins, and think that in this their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and the benefits of Christ, and who feel and lament their weakness of faith, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience, they are the truly worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament [and sacred feast] has been especially instituted and appointed; 70] as Christ says, Matt. 11:28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Also Matt. 9:12: They that be whole need not a physician, but they that be sick. Also [ 2 Cor. 12:9 ]: God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Also [ Rom. 14:1 ]: Him that is weak in the faith receive ye [ Rom 14:3 ], for God hath received him. For whosoever believeth in the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith, has eternal life [ John 3:15f. ].
71] And worthiness does not depend upon great or small weakness or strength of faith, but upon the merit of Christ, which the distressed father of little faith [ Mark 9:24 ] enjoyed as well as Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith.
72] Let the foregoing be said of the true presence and two-fold participation of the body and blood of Christ, which occurs either by faith, spiritually, or also orally, both by worthy and unworthy [which latter is common to worthy and unworthy].
PART FOUR: “Let Him Who Boasts, Boast in…______________________“
J.) On a very basic, physical level, what body part is mainly used to boast?
K.) What part of the body, then, must one use to boast rightly?
L.) Where and when should such rightful Christian Boasting take place?
Our Lutheran confessions point us to two above:
_______________________________ and _______________________________
M.) “My weakness“ is personal for Paul, but not kept private. Are yours? Why?
N.) “My grace is sufficient for you!” What does ‘sufficient‘ mean? For whom?
O.) We boast wrongly when we cover our personal weaknesses and uncover our personal strengths, skills, accomplishments. We boast rightly when we confess our troubles and constant need for Christ’s power. We acknowledge our Lord’s gracious exercise of that power in the Gospel. By these Word and Sacrament means, Christ alone helps and preserves us so we may persevere in hope–unto everlasting life.
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