STUDY | Spend the week studying 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Consult the commentary provided and any additional study tools to enhance your preparation.
DETERMINE | Which discussion points and study questions will work best for your group.
PRAY | Pray for our pastors and this week’s message, the upcoming group time, your group members, and their openness to God’s Word.
LANDING POINT | God promises to show His strength in my weakness.
Remember the 4 Rules for Small Group Discussion
- Confidentiality. What’s said in the group stays in the group.
- No cross-talk. Be considerate of others as they share. Refrain from side conversations and texting during group time.
- No fixing. We are not in the group to fix each other. Jesus does that part.
- Sharing. Be sensitive to the amount of time you share. Don’t talk too much or too little. Every person brings something valuable to the group.
As your group time begins, use this section to introduce the topic of discussion.
There’s one thing we cannot avoid in this life: suffering. Life in a fallen world is filled with suffering. Sometimes we bring it on ourselves. We choose to think and live in a way that invites more suffering into life. Other times, however, suffering comes our way uninvited.
Each of us has or will encounter suffering on our journeys. It may be a lost job, the terminal diagnosis of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, chronic pain or an unexpected tragedy that broadsides us. God is not absent in your suffering. He is with you in the midst of it and promises to give you His grace to endure it. He promises to be strong for you in your weakness.
This week your group will discuss how you can count on God’s grace to be enough to turn your pain into powerful living by His grace.
Q: Where do you see suffering around you?
Q: What does it look like to suffer well?
Select 2-3 questions to discuss as a group.
A HEAVENLY VISION
In this part of Paul’s letter, he’s addressing his opponents, who are boasting about their spiritual experiences. As a response, Paul recalls an experience 14 years earlier when he received a vision of heaven and the coming glory. He saw paradise and heard things so glorious that he wouldn’t dare repeat them.
This vision sounds like something to brag about, but Paul doesn’t. He says the only thing he will boast in is his weakness. He could point to this vision as a way to prove his spiritual superiority or best his opponents. Instead, he shares another experience that reveals his weakness and God’s power and grace working through it. Paul was more concerned with bragging on God than bragging on himself.
Read: 2 Corinthians 12:1–10. What point is Paul trying to make by sharing his vision?
Q: What does it mean to boast in your weakness?
PROTECTION FROM PRIDE
Paul was the most influential figure in the early church. God was working through him in remarkable ways to take His gospel to the Gentiles. The reason God gave Paul this vision was to strengthen the apostle for the future, for serving Him and suffering for His sake. God was shaping Paul’s character to be totally dependent on Him—not on his abilities or accomplishments.
For Paul, there was a danger that anyone of influence or power faces: pride. To keep Paul from becoming prideful, God permits a “thorn in the flesh” in his life. We aren’t sure what this thorn was but it was painful enough that Paul asks for it to be taken away. But God doesn’t take it away. Instead, He does something better. God promises to give Paul the grace he needs to make it through his hardship.
By allowing the thorn to remain, God cuts pride at its roots. What would be a burden to most becomes a blessing for Paul. Paul discovers that his thorn is his way of glorifying God’s grace and power in his life. It’s through his weaknesses, not heavenly visions, that Paul gets to show God’s power and grace at work in him.
Q: Explain how suffering shapes your character.
Q: Why is pride so dangerous? What does it do to you?
Select 2-3 questions from this section to answer.
A GRACIOUS PAIN
Like Paul, we face suffering and often ask God to take it away. Sometimes God graciously takes it away, but there are times when He doesn’t. It may seem cruel of God to let His children suffer when He could easily remove the suffering. But God isn’t being cruel. He’s revealing His love. God allows pain and hardship into your life to be your guides. He permits them so that they will draw you closer to Him and away from sin. Pain and hardship may not seem like your preferred companions on the journey, but they actually lead you to God like nothing else can.
Q: Recall a time when God revealed His love and grace to you through suffering.
Q: What does it look like to support someone in their suffering? What should you avoid doing or saying?
A CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE
Paul had a change in perspective. Instead of hating his thorn, he learned to embrace and believe that: • God was loving to give him the thorn. The suffering was for his good and growth.
• God’s grace was sufficient to see him through the suffering.
Paul stopped asking God to take away the thorn and began thanking God for the promise of His grace. With God’s grace, the apostle could endure any suffering for Christ's sake.
God wants to do the same in you. His grace is sufficient for you. He promises to give it so you can be shaped into a man or woman who finds Him and His strength in the midst of suffering.
Q: Name one area where you experience pain or hardship. Write a statement that acknowledges God’s love and sufficient grace.
Q: How would you live differently if you had a perspective on suffering like Paul?
Select 1 question from this section to ask your group.
THE WAY OF THE CROSS
Jesus once said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The way of the Christian is the way of the cross. To follow Jesus is to walk the path that He walked. That path led Him to the cross, an instrument of immense suffering and death. But Jesus didn’t deny the cross. He endured it. He knew it was the only way to rescue us out of sin and back into a relationship with God. Jesus suffered to turn the evil and suffering caused by sin into good for God’s glory.
Q: Why must you deny yourself before taking up your cross and following Jesus? Why is the order of these things important?
Q: What’s one thing you can do this week to remember that Jesus suffered for you and for your good and joy?
Spend time talking to the Father about any suffering you’re experiencing. Be honest with Him about it. Pray for God to give you a right perspective on your suffering and for a heart that believes that His grace is sufficient for you in any circumstance.
Midway through this week, send a follow-up email to your group with some or all of the following:
• Read Romans 5:3–5 and reflect on what suffering produces in us.
• Ask the group to share any stories or lessons learned where they see God at work in their lives.
True Apostleship “Paul is reticent to speak about such things because he does not believe that recounting one’s extraordinary mystical visions will do anything to build up the community. It only serves to build up the teller’s ego and therefore is perilous. It certainly offers no proof of apostleship. History is littered with the tales of frauds who have seduced and deluded followers by claiming to have some divine mission from some divine vision. Consequently, Paul rehearses this extraordinary episode in a way that only stresses how useless it is to prove anything about him. True apostleship is established by the building up of the community (1 Cor. 14:3–5, 26; 2 Cor. 5:13), not by how many ecstatic experiences one can claim.”
Explaining Paul’s Vision “According to a common enumeration, the first heaven is the atmosphere of the birds and clouds, the second is the sky in which we see the stars, and the third is heaven, the invisible dwelling place of God.”
Identifying the Thorn “Many possibilities have been suggested for this ‘thorn,’ such as a physical ailment of some sort (‘in the flesh’; cf. Gal. 4:13–15), a harassing demon (‘a messenger of Satan’), or the constant harassment of Jewish persecutors. Throughout the history of the church, no agreement has been reached among hundreds of commentators. As it stands, the ‘thorn’ of Paul’s experiences is readily applied to a variety of trials faced in this life. Few of God’s servants have been free from at least some kind of hindrance, weakness, or opposition.”
1. Douglas J. Moo, “The Letters and Revelation,” in NIV Zondervan Study Bible: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 2377.
2. Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2238.
3. David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 509.
4. R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2065. 5. R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2066.