3. Read II Corinthians 12:1-8. Of what could Paul boast? Why did he choose not to boast?
Paul here continues to address an issue that troubled the Corinthian congregation. Legalists who claimed superiority on grounds of birthright and strict adherence to the written and oral law were continually plaguing the church. At Corinth they had come in to weaken Paul's credibility and influence and drag the people back under the heel of the pharisaical system.
The Corinthians needed the wisdom, insight, and mantle of authority God had bestowed upon Paul. For this reason and not for his own sake Paul found it necessary to re-establish with them his position as Christ-appointed leader.
Could the legalists boast their genealogy, heritage, and education? If he so desired Paul could surpass them with his own: a Hebrew of the Hebrews, as regards zeal and righteousness in the law, he was blameless. Compared to the riches of Christ, he counted all as offal.
Could others crow about works? In II Cor. 11:23-28 Paul narrates his lengthy list of afflictions in God’s service.
In the area of revelation, God having shown him unspeakable things in a vision of heaven, Paul approaches the subject with caution: he does not want to be found a fool.
“…lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.” II Corinthians 12:6 KJV.
And lest he become conceited there was given him an affliction, not specifically named, but from which the Lord refused him deliverance, a reminder of the all-sufficiency of God’s grace.
Although these difficulties were of a local and contemporary character, Paul’s rebuttals offer broad and timeless principles and good spiritual application for all Christians when we are tempted to boast. God’s precious truth is unchanging.
4. Read Hebrews chapter 11. Study the people listed below and find their weakness and strength as seen in the passage. (Remember – weakness can mean sin, human frailty, fear, inadequacy or inability, suffering and struggling.)
a. Abel - He walked the earth a flesh and blood human being, subject to death as are all of us apart from the implanted life of Christ. By faith he offered a better sacrifice than did his brother, Cain. He was a righteous man whose life speaks as a testimony today.
b. Noah – Noah's strengths were many: he was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; he walked with God. He obeyed God by building the ark according to God’s specifications. He was also a preacher of righteousness, warning the world of wrath to come. The Bible states he did all that God commanded him.
Noah strayed from his path of customary righteousness when he became drunk in his tent and allowed his progeny to commit sodomy on him. This is stated, but Ham rather than Noah is charged with the offense.
c. Abraham - Abraham lived a life of obedience to God. From the beginning it seems coming out of his native dominions to a strange land of which he had no foreknowledge he possessed a simple and childlike trust in the one true God.
All along he exhibited a great heart of humility in dealing with others, always giving the best to such as his nephew Lot and taking the hindmost to himself. He handled his conquest at the valley of Shaveh with courage and honesty, deferring to God. Abraham passed his greatest test of obedience in his willingness to sacrifice his only (true) son Isaac, earning God’s unconditional promise of blessings and a reputation as the father of the faithful.
There were a few times when Abraham allowed himself to be pressured into disobedience. He let fear overcome faith when he chose to present Sarah his wife as his sister(partly true) at the court of Pharaoh. God defended Abraham, even in this weakness. Later in the land of Canaan he allowed Sarah to influence him to go into her handmaid Hagar with less than ideal results, a son of bondage, not the Isaac of promise.
d. Sarah – A strong-minded woman of great beauty, Sarah sometimes took God’s business into her own hands. Once she laughed at God’s prophecy that she would bear a son in her old age. Nevertheless Sarah was an obedient wife to Abraham for which she is commended in her submission to him, calling him lord. “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” Heb. 11:11 KJV.
e. Isaac and Jacob –Isaac was an obedient son and respectful toward God when he meekly surrendered at the altar of sacrifice. Later he chose a wife of his father’s kindred and married Rebekah. In an almost eerie replication of his father’s capitulation to fear in Egypt, Isaac influenced Rebekah to pass herself off in Gerar as his sister. Later Isaac preferred one son, Esau, above another, Jacob, and that is certainly a human weakness. By faith in his old age he blessed Jacob and Esau concerning events to take place in the future.
During his early life, Jacob is well-known for living up to his name of deceiver. He deceived his father and he deceived his brother Esau in stealing both the blessing and birthright. After many years of suffering the deceit of his uncle Laban, he learned compassion, perseverance, and fair dealing. After wrestling with the angel of the Lord his name was changed to Israel, meaning 'one who overcomes.' Israel lived to a good old age; his life was filled with both blessings and hardships, but by faith he was able to bless his progeny before his death.
f. Joseph – It is difficult to find weakness in the man, Joseph. Some say he was a tattle tale and a spoiled brat as a young lad - a dreamer. I find however that he was only naïve. When asked about his dreams, he told the truth even at risk of his father’s incredulity and his brothers’ wrath. Perhaps he was unwise but that is easy to forgive in one so young and idealistic. Joseph suffered greatly and yet he continued to live a virtuous life, to love deeply, and with weeping, to forgive. The Lord used him mightily and I am sure it is to the Lord Himself Joseph would credit any strength or wisdom he possessed. He was a true servant of God, trusting at times when I am sure it seemed all reason for hope had vanished.
g. Moses – It has been proposed that Moses’ life may be divided into thirds, each part consisting of forty years: the first forty being self-confidence; the second forty, no-confidence; and the last forty characterized by God-confidence. Moses' natural disposition leaned toward being an energetic arguer which trait God transformed into a good thing when he argued on behalf of Israel; and it seems he had a temper but before God finished with him he was known as the meekest man on earth. His one great sin that kept him from seeing the Promised Land occurred when he struck the rock with his rod rather than speaking to it as the Lord commanded. Moses strength was his God and all his feats he accomplished through faith in that God. Each time I read through the book of Exodus his patience amazes me anew.
h. Rahab – Considering her roots it is totally amazing that Rahab did what she did. Harlotry is hardly an admirable ambition or one to which we would subscribe our daughters, yet Rahab is counted among the faithful, and she takes her place in the very lineage of Christ, our Lord. She took the part of the Israeli soldiers and hung out the scarlet cord, saving her own life and that of her family. By falling in with a nation her own people considered the enemy, she became a friend to the entire world.
I. Various – (v. 32-40) All had weakness common to man (I Cor. 10:13) but out of their weakness were made strong, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Heb. 11:39-40 KJV)
*Questions excerpted from Belinda Dunn Bible Study Confident Weakness. Answers and comments by Janice Cartwright