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Sufficient Grace

The thematic presentation of my sermon on Daniel’s trip to the lions’ den is brought to you by Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. In that letter, Paul relates to the Corinthians a word from the Lord Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). It is this powerful word that is so vividly illustrated in the drama of the lions’ den, both through Daniel and Darius. Given its bearing on the sermon text, I thought I would take this reflection as an opportunity to expand on the power-in-weakness idea from 2 Corinthians.

Considering first the context of these words, in this section of Paul’s letter he is countering the challenge of “super apostles” who questioned the legitimacy of Paul’s ministry. To prove himself, he launches into a “Fool’s Speech” in which he boasts in a number of things. At the beginning of chapter 12, he says, “I must go on boasting” and then describes the experience of a heavenly vision and revelations that “cannot be told, which man may not utter” (v4). But it is at this point that Paul says, “on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses” (v5).

Then Paul pivots to a specific example of weakness: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me” (2 Cor 12:7-8 ESV). While we don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was—and it is unprofitable to speculate on it—we do know that it was grievous enough to be described as a “messenger of Satan” from which Paul desperately desired to be free. Perhaps this was of the occasions that taught Paul to learn contentment in every situation (cf. Phil 4:11-13).

Either way, all of this leads up to the Lord’s answer to Paul’s prayer that is the thematic frame for Daniel 6: “But he [that is, the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9 ESV).

Commenting on this verse, Paul Barnett begins, “Christ's reply to Paul's prayer must be seen as the climax not only of this passage (12:1-10) and of the “Fool’s Speech” (11:1-12:13), but in some ways of the entire Second Letter to the Corinthians. Whatever the stake/thorn was, and however great it's pain for Paul, he testifies that the ‘grace’ of Christ was ‘sufficient’ in dealing with it. This was the Lord's reply to Paul's prayer.”[1]

That this would be the Lord’s reply is entirely consistent with the outworking of Christ’s public ministry. It was characterized by perceived weakness. Many were looking for a military ruler who would overthrow Roman hegemony and restore the kingdom to Israel, but this Messiah was meek, gentle, and lowly whose most violent conquest came at the expense of the moneychangers in the temple. Furthermore, Christ’s painful and shameful death on the cross was a worldly picture of weakness. And yet, it was in the perceived weakness of Christ’s public ministry and humiliating death that the power of God to save was demonstrated. As Barnett puts it, “The powerful salvation of God had been wrought in the powerless crucified One.”[2]

And what is true for the master is true for the servant as well, which is why Paul hears this answer to his prayer from the Lord Jesus Christ. But note that Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness on account of the sufficient grace of Christ to supply to his “weak” disciple. Though Paul was weak in a worldly sense, by the power of Christ’s sufficient grace, he could powerfully endure both the thorn and every other trial in his life, which enabled him to be content in every situation. Thus, contentment and endurance are possible only through the sufficient grace of the Lord Jesus which he gives to his “weak” people for the sake of his own glory.

“As children of Adam, despite such this-worldly instruments of power as they may yield—intellect, health, wealth, influence, or position—they do, sooner or later, become powerless and vulnerable. Upon such persons, who in their powerlessness—whether bodily, relational, financial, or structural—call out to the Lord, the grace of Christ is shown and the power of Christ rests.”[3] This is what Daniel models for us today.

[1] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 572. [2] Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 572. [3] Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 574.

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