My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 NASB)
In 1913, John D. Rockefeller monopolized the oil industry and had a personal fortune of $900 million – 2% of the U.S. gross domestic product. Adjusted for inflation, that amounted to $21 billion in 2016 dollars!
Someone once asked him, “How much money is enough money?” And he replied, “Just a little bit more.”
On an infinitesimal scale, we all understand how he felt. Whether we lead a comfortable life or barely scrape by from paycheck to paycheck, we instinctively suspect that we don’t have quite enough.
There is a big difference between having enough and feeling that we have enough.
When the apostle Paul was deeply frustrated by a “thorn in the flesh,” probably a debilitating physical disorder, he brought his frustrations to God. Three separate times, he begged the Lord to take away the “thorn.” But instead of removing the problem, the Lord promised to provide the help that he needed to thrive, even with a thorn.
God said, “Rescue isn’t necessary, because my grace is sufficient for you. The undergirding help that God provides is enough to take care of you.”
The Greek word for “sufficient” in this verse highlights the difference between having enough and feeling that we have enough. The word is arkeō, appearing 8 times in the New Testament.
Arkeō conveys two different ideas, depending on whether it appears in the active voice or the passive voice. Active and passive are familiar concepts in English. Active verbs tell what a person does: John hit George. Passive verbs tell what is done to a person: John was hit by George.
In Greek, the active spelling of arkeō means “to be sufficient, to be enough.” It describes the objective truth that you have what you need. Examples:
- John 6:7 – Facing a crowd of over 5000 hungry people, Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people?” Philip, always a practical man, pointed out that even 200 days wages would not be enough to feed this hillside of humanity. They just didn’t have enough money.
- Matthew 25:9 – Jesus told the story of ten young women waiting for the bridegroom to arrive, so that they could join the wedding procession. When five of them found that that their lamps were running out of oil, they asked the other five to share their supply. However, the ones who had planned ahead refused to give away their oil. “There is not enough for both us and you,” they replied. They didn’t have enough oil to provide for both groups.
- John 14:8 – At dinner the night before Christ’s arrest, Philip interrupted the conversation to tell Jesus, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” After three years of instruction from the Lord, Philip figured that one more thing would satisfy their needs for understanding.
All of these verses describe the simple facts of the matter, at least in the opinion of the speaker. They had tallied up the resources available and decided whether or not the supply was sufficient to meet the need.
On the other hand, the passive spelling of arkeō means “to be satisfied, to be contented.” It describes the subjective experience of accepting the fact that the supply is genuinely enough, so that you can rest calmly, rather than clawing for a little more.
- Luke 3:14 – John the Baptist told the Roman soldiers to be content with their wages.
- 3 John 10 – The apostle John was describing the actions of a despotic church leader when he complained, “He talks wicked nonsense against us, and not being content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.” This guy wasn’t satisfied with just slandering an apostle; he felt the need to go even further into rebellion.
- 1 Timothy 6:8 – If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
- Hebrews 13:5 – Be free from the love of money, being content with what you have.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord used the active voice of arkeō. The fact is that God’s grace was sufficient, that it was enough to meet Paul’s need. Paul’s responsibility was to take God at his word and to choose to be content with what He supplied.
We know that God does care for His children, that He gives what they truly need. His grace is enough for us (active meaning). Our part is to trust Him by being content with what He provides (passive meaning). I can rest confidently in the knowledge that what He gives is precisely the best thing for me.
You can see the same principle in the wonderful prayer of Psalm 90:14 – “O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”
Are we asking, “Give us enough so that we will be satisfied?”
Or are we asking, “Make us satisfied with what you give us?”
The combined impact of both ideas is what we really need.
© Ezra Project 2019