These verses show us two examples regarding prayer: First, it illustrates how God can respond to our prayers, and second, how Paul reacted to God's answer. We, like Paul, want God to remove our afflictions any time we are in discomfort, but especially when the affliction is chronic and, we feel, inhibits accomplishment. God's response to Paul, however, fit a far greater need, perhaps to keep Paul humble so that his many gifts did not become a curse. Instead, God gave him strength to bear up under the affliction, thus keeping him in a constant state of dependency for strength to go on. Paul humbly accepted this and continued his ministry despite his affliction, knowing it was fulfilling God's will.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Nine
Paul turned what could have sent him into deep bitterness and passivity (an affliction God decided not to heal when Paul felt he needed it) into a strength (humility and a deeper reliance on God). As painful, frustrating or hindering as it was, his circumstance never deterred him from being an apostle who by the grace of God labored more abundantly than all others (I Corinthians 15:10).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Two
Was there ever a man who was given as many gifts as the apostle Paul? Judging from how much God wrote through him—how much God used his mind, intellect, training, experience, yieldedness, and willingness to work and sacrifice himself on behalf of God and the church—it might have been very easy for him to have been puffed up. He even said himself that nobody worked any harder than he did, writing, "I labored more abundantly than they all" (I Corinthians 15:10).
However, he was not bragging. It is not wrong to take the right kind of pride and to speak the truth about what we really have done. There is nothing wrong with a developed skill and confidence in our ability to do it. If we do not have any confidence, will we ever offer ourselves in service to others? There must also be a proper recognition of where all that power, strength, and everything flows from. It flows from the gifts, from what God has given.
God mercifully allowed Paul to suffer a physical problem to keep him mindful of his dependence on Him. The truly humble are knowledgeable of their dependence, and they cry out to God continually for help, for what God only can supply: His Holy Spirit, His love, His faith, the forgiveness of sin, etc. Theirs is not just a feeling of weakness, because everyone, the converted and the unconverted, experiences weakness.
People with pride experience a feeling of weakness too, but they compensate, not by seeking God's help, but by flaunting what they think others will accept and bring praise to them. As long as a person continues to depend on himself, this world will continue as it is. Nothing will change. This attitude is illustrated in the beginning so simply. Without actually saying the words, Adam and Eve told God in Genesis 3, "We don't need you."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Seven)
God's grace is sufficient for us. Grace in general terms is "favor." It is what God favors us with, what He gives to us. It can include spiritual gifts or physical things that He provides. By His grace, we have food to eat every day, we have clothes to wear, and we have a roof over our heads or cars to drive.
Paul considered his "thorn in the flesh" to be part of God's grace, a hard thing to say. How could he say that an affliction that God allowed could be part of His grace toward him? Because with an infirmity, whatever it happened to be, God balanced out for Paul the revelations that he had received, so that he would not become big-headed, sin presumptuously, and lose his salvation.
It was good for Paul to be afflicted, because if he were not afflicted, he just might have done something that he would have regretted, like presumptuously taking upon himself too much, more than had been given. So Paul says, "I'm content being afflicted, because I know that God's grace is sufficient for me. This affliction is good for me, helping me to make it into God's kingdom."
We have a hard time thinking this way. We consider this sort of affliction to be evil, but Paul turns that on its head, saying, "No, it is good, because with this affliction, I am weak, and because I am weak, then I don't get the big head. Then Christ can work in and through me, and the work gets done." So he was content.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Corinthians 12:9:
1 Peter 5:5