2 Corinthians Chapter 12
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Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; 2 Corinthians 12:1a

In the previous chapters Paul, frustrated by false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13) who came in and captured the attention and acceptance (2 Cor. 11:4) of the Corinthian church and challenged Paul's apostleship and the message of the true gospel, was provoked with a Godly jealousy over them (2 Cor. 11:1) and is now concerned that these intruders who boasted themselves as Apostles (2 Cor. 11:12-13) through their showmanship, are leading the Corinthians astray to follow a different gospel (2 Cor. 11:3-4). Since the Corinthian church that Paul had planted were so accepting of these "impressive" false apostles because of the display and boasting they put on, Paul, in foolishness meets the church on the same level in order to win them back to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 11:3). Paul then lists the things he could boast about that completely blows these other false apostles out of the water, though the whole time testifying such boasting is in foolishness (2 Cor. 11:21).


Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ and therefore boasting is not needed for it is true even if he does not boast. However, in Paul's previous letter to the Corinthians he stated that he became "all things to all men, so that I may be all means save some" is now employing that very principle to the Corinthians here in that if they will follow one who boasts, then he will boast, "since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also" (2 Cor. 11:18), but not that boasting is profitable (v1) but for their sake he sees it as "necessary" so Paul continues:


but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. - 2 Corinthians 12:1b-4

"14 years ago". Paul approximately 14 years prior was preaching in Lystra as recorded in Acts 14. During this time The Jews from Antioch and Iconium, having won over the crowds (Acts 14:19), stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, and they supposed him to be dead. Furthermore the disciples supposed him to be dead and as they stood around him, Paul got up and entered back into the city (Acts 19:20), possibly to go finish what he started. Paul when speaking about being in his body or out of his body most likely is referring to whether or not he was dead for Paul, earlier in this letter, wrote of his desire "to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8).


"The third heaven" (v2) is equated with "paradise" (v4) here which is a place beyond the immediate heaven of earth atmosphere (Gen. 1:20, 2 Sam. 18:9), and beyond the further heavens of space and constellations (Deut. 4:19, Isa. 13:10, Gen. 15:5, 22:17, Psa. 8:3, Matt. 24:29), to being in the presence of God (Luke 23:43). Scientist on both sides of the creation debate agree that the known universe is expanding thus testifying of a space outside of itself that it must expand into. Though Paul isn't permitted to speak of that which would be inexpressible in words anyways, yet Paul, possibly because of this experience, writes with authority on matters of heaven as one who is an eye witness testifying that the risen Lord is said to have "passed through the heavens" (Heb. 4:14) and "ascended far above all the heavens" (Eph. 4:10) to be "exalted above the heavens" (Heb. 7:26). Paul likewise speaks of paradise as being where believers who have died are even now currently present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8, Phil. 1:23). "Inexpressible words" Paul, even if he was permitted to speak of that which he saw would not be able to express it (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9) as not only did words not exist, but words could not exist to describe it and to attempt to do so would be an injustice.


If you've ever tried to describe a beautiful sunset to someone who was born blind, could you do so in a way that would do it justice? How would you put to words or put in a word picture something that would communicate the glory of a sunset to a person with no frame of reference? Likewise how could Paul do justice in describing what he saw in paradise to use who have no frame of reference? There was a young lady who was born blind who had a surgeon who examined her case files and believed he may be able to operate in order to give the child sight. Up until this time her mother had done her best to describe the blue skies, fluffy clouds, and other things as best she could. Now when the was completed they put multiple layers of bandages over her eyes and each day they would remove more layers as to not overwhelm this little girls eyes with to much light all at once. On the day when they removed her last covering and she saw her mother's face for the first time she became estatic, then she saw the big front window her mother described and ran over to it and looked out upon the sky, the grass, and the other children playing and she broke out in sobbing. Her mother asked her what was wrong whereas the little girl replied "mother, why did you not tell me it was all so beautiful?". It wasn't that the mother didn't try, but that what the little girl now saw was inexpressible with words, especially with the little girl not having a previous frame of reference. So it is with us and with heaven. Paul now having been caught up to paradise had a frame of reference none of us have had. This experience must have given incalculable strength to Paul's apostleship and possibly a resolve that pressed on despite the heavy adversity listed in the previous chapter. This is the same Paul who penned the words:


I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ - Philippians 3:8


My mother-in-law who played a very large part in my discipleship (and still does), when she was on her deathbed having laid there for days stricken with terminal cancer became to weak to even cough in order to clear her lungs of fluid. She was to weak to move, to weak to breath, and was quite miserable. In her last moments her husband was holding her right hand and stroking it, then suddenly after a long period of being dormant, she opened her eyes wide, got a big smile on her face, and lifted her other arm toward the heavens and took about three more breaths and that was it.


Paul is not taking joy in this boasting but is repeatedly calling it foolish and not profitable. In fact, because of the thorn given to him Paul is able to testify of these experiences not as a boast but rather as a testimony. One may be puffed up by such an experience, but any such "puffing up" for Paul is popped by the thorn given to him. Furthermore, because Paul understands the contrast between being exalted by oneself and being exalted by God ("so that the power of Christ may dwell in me") Paul in true wisdom understands such boasting is foolishness for such boasting can't co-exist with the power of Christ. Furthermore, because this experience wasn't self-induced it gave no room for self-glorification.


Question: Have you ever had horizontal joys robbed by a thorn that "popped your bubble"?


On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. - 2 Corinthians 12:5-6

As Paul boasts he speaks of himself in third person as though he's speaking of someone else and these verses offer some insight as to why. Paul is boasting of "this man" as though he is not identifying himself with "this man", almost as if he's bragging about another. Notice this contrast: when Paul boasts for the sake of the Corinthians he boasts of "this man" but Paul begins speaking in first person again when he says "on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses". Paul identifies not with the man of boasting but with the man of weakness. Paul doesn't see himself as the stud of the story he's sharing but as the weak man he knows himself (and others) to be. His concern here is that in lieu of such boasting that someone may put Paul on a pedestal. The danger in putting people such as pastors on pedestals is that when we find out they also have weaknesses, perhaps they have a drinking problem, or they have a sexual problem, and we become devastated and are prone to throw out the baby with the bathwater. That is perhaps Paul's concern here. For he is willing to foolishly boast to win them back over but he's equally concerned about them falling away when they realize he's also a man of weakness.


Often we will even put ourselves on a pedestal. Paul himself wrote "knowledge makes arrogant" (1 Cor. 8:1) arrogance denotes a looking down on a fellow man from a pedestal position. There is a constant danger of knowledge making it's host arrogant and it's something we are all prone to do. For example driving. We are all expert drivers, we have all logged enough hours of driving and been through all the classes to make us experts on the matter. Being experts on the matter and having all this knowledge of how things should be done do we not critique other drivers even on a daily basis? Perhaps we offer advise even though they aren't in hearing range, or perhaps we roll down our window and shout and use our horn in order to educate them. You see knowledge tends to make arrogant and therefore sometimes we need to be brought low, and kept low, in order to not return to a pedestal position. Solomon writes "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling." (Prov. 16:18).


Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! - 2 Corinthians 12:7


Paul isn't above becoming arrogant and boastful either and it's an act of humility for him to let the church know this and for him to let us know that even for him he needed this thorn specifically to keep him from exalting himself because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations God had given him. Paul on one hand spent three years in the Arabian desert being tutored by Christ Himself (Gal. 1:11-20) yet this same Paul afterwards, as recorded in Romans 7, made known the conflict of the two natures and his bondage and struggle with sin (Rom. 7:14-25). Having published articles online and often getting feedback after sharing in various bible studies and at the pulpit I've gotten encouraging feedback. Recently I had one person say to me "I always love it when you speak" as I was stepping down from the stage. This puffs me up. If I'm being honest I often become arrogant as well. Critiquing other sermons and teachings, delivery methods, how to capture the audience, etc., things I know to be from my wretchedness and yet I do them. I love to learn, I love to teach, but in these states of arrogance my focus shifts in my teaching from a heart of how might I minister to these people to a heart of how will this affect what people think of me. I take courage in knowing Paul, who wrote more of the New Testament than any other author struggled with this, that our God who ministered to Paul with a thorn can and does minister to me in this way as well. The greater the revelation God gives the more we are tempted to exalt ourselves.


The more God brings you up high the more He may bring you low. But it is for our good and others that He brings us low. The more revelation we receive the more we are prone to exalt ourselves and to think of ourselves as spiritually superior and others as spiritually inferior. As we become better drivers we are prone to judge other drivers and see ourselves as superior and them as inferior.


Question: When was the last time you saw someone else as a superior driver than you? Or have you reached such a level of driving that everyone is either inferior or at best, as good as you are.


Paul may have been tempted to look at everyone else as either spiritually inferior, or at best, as good as he was.


"Thorn in the flesh". The Greek word for thorn here is skolops which is anything pointed including a stake such as a tent stake. Now many Christians love to speculate on what this thorn is, some say his poor eye sight hinted at in Galatians 6:11, others have suggested it's what Paul described in verse 10. These things are possible, we don't know, Paul doesn't directly elaborate on what the thorn is but he does qualify it with, "a messenger of Satan to torment me" and what it's purpose is; "to keep me from exalting myself".


This word "torment" here intrigues me. The Greek word used here is kolaphizó which means "to strike with the fist, buffet, mistreat violently" and in it's usage here the HELPS word studies states "the idea is striking with something sharp and painful, sticking deeply in the flesh so it remains there". I believe the text supports the idea of this being perpetual and not a one time event as Paul further down testifies of imploring the Lord that it might leave them suggests that it remains and isn't a "one and done" type of torment. The word torment shouldn't be taken lightly. If you read the previous chapter in 2 Corinthians you know Paul has been through some really gnarly stuff and we know that such sufferings and tribulation produce endurance and perseverance (Jam. 1:3, Rom. 5:3). What then would still "torment" a man who has been through as much stuff as Paul?


When Paul visited the Corinthian church it says in 1 Corinthians 2:3 that he was with them "in weakness and fear, and in great trembling". It doesn't elaborate on why this was, much like we also don't know what this thorn was but I ask the same question, what causes a man as bold as Paul to be crippled by fear? And may I ask what magnitude did God allow this "messenger of Satan" to have on Paul in order to continually counter the foreseen arrogance resulting from the surpassing greatness of the revelations? Take note of that, Paul equates this thorn to a "messenger of Satan", what does a messenger do? They deliver messages. What kind of messages can one expect from a messenger of Satan, and in this case it brings Paul low and keeps him in a state of weakness which you see throughout his letters to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:10, 2 Cor. 11:30, 12:5, 12:9, 13:9). Not only did it bring Paul low, it left him begging God for it's removal:


Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. - 2 Corinthians 12:8

Paul went to the Lord multiple times whereas the Lord did not oblige according to what Paul wanted but according to what God wanted. Given the magnitude of the effect on what Paul was going through it's no wonder that he pleaded with God for it's removal, after all, he was tormented by this continually.


Question: Who else in scripture dealt with a multitude of fears? Would that same person have reason to exalt himself?


Some people get stuck in this quest for removal of the thorns from their life. Many bitter emails I get from people wondering why God won't deliver them from their fears and weaknesses but I challenge them, what happened if God obliged? I've had some describe how they would become a champion of God with such a great testimony if God would only do this one thing. But hear what they are saying. They would be a champion... not God. If God let them do that they may become even more self-reliant and start really believing they are God's gift to humanity instead of relaying that Christ was God's gift to humanity. I have another brother who complained often about not having any money and would get frustrated with God over this issue. Yet this same brother has often wanted to borrow another brother's "impressive" truck in order to flaunt it at his workplace as if it were his. If God loves him as a loving parent would He give into this prayer request or out of love keep the man from having money in order that he wouldn't become prideful in his using it?


Question: Paul wasn't strong enough to not be arrogant without this help, is it okay that we aren't either?


And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” - 2 Corinthians 12:9a


"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness". Humility wasn't the only purpose of the thorn, but God had the end result in mind. That in his being humbled it would result in the power of God dwelling in him and with that, working through him.


How many times have you heard of those in the faith who have suffered greatly who all have this testimony within them: "I wouldn't have asked for it, but I wouldn't trade having gone through it for anything". For in those times of weakness they truly met God. In those times He wasn't just intellectually known but He was to them Emmanuel and they knew it an intimate level. Joni Eareckson Tada is one of those testimonies. After misjudging the shallowness of the water in Chesapeak Bay at the age of 17 she dove in and suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and became a quadriplegic (or tetraplegic), paralyzed from the shoulders down. Yet she testifies to find Jesus in your hell is ecstasy beyond compare and I wouldn't trade it for any amount of walking in this world". It would do you a great justice to this study if you watched her 7 minute video here.


Paul earlier in this letter spoke of even despairing of life (2 Cor. 1:8) under the excessive burden of the great affliction that came to him in Asia. Yet even this was for a glorious purpose "Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:9). If the Apostle Paul is prone to being puffed up, and prone to being self-reliant, then we shouldn't think we are any better than he.


I have no Apostle Paul or Joni Eareckson Tada type testimony but I will say that my own experience in stepping out in faith on a missions trip to a dangerous city which has the most violent crimes per population in the world forced me to rely on God where I had no other options. It wasn't that I was a man of great faith, my stepping out was merely a mustard seed at best and I was quite fearful to go, I actually said no at first and held that position until prompted that Peter had every good and logical reason to not step out of the boat (Matt. 14:28-29). Well long story short, I went, and after seeing the many ways God showed up to provide in ways I didn't think He even took notice of testified to my heart (not just intellectual knowledge) that God is with me and He cares for me in ways I didn't imagine.


Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9b

Paul would rather have a relationship with God, abiding in His strength, His power, rather than be a strong and fearless man. Yes he went to the Lord and asked for deliverance, but he is now testifying that He wouldn't trade the power of Christ in him for anything in the world, even that which torments him. For Paul agrees with God that the weakness is needed specifically so that the power of Christ can dwell in him.


Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. - 2 Corinthians 12:10

Question: Do we agree with God on the necessity of our own weaknesses? Paul in realizing God's wisdom for his weakness in order that the power of Christ may be within him came to be "content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties" having learned that when he is weak, then he is indeed strong. Can we make that same claim? Are we ready to be content with our weaknesses and perils or are we still at the alter asking for deliverance? Are you in a place where you would consider God's answer to Paul to be His answer to you? I know this isn't easy. Paul and Joni do too.


Wherever we feel we are strong has actually become a snare to us. Wherever we think we are capable, that we can handle it, and we don't need help, that is the area you are most apt to stumble or fall. For in our self-sufficiency we will eventually come across some situation that is bigger than us and we will not be able to handle it. And if you are the type of person who is self-sufficient, strong, capable, and come across that thing to great for you to handle it devastates you. In the areas you know you are weak and know you have to trust in the Lord in this, in those areas His strength is then made perfect in your weakness and you're able to stand and go through things you never thought you could go through because you were forced to rely on Him and therefore His strength became manifested in your weaknesses. It's no wonder that it is from Paul who says "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).


Peter writes; "but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation." (1 Pet. 4:13). What an unusual instruction: keep on rejoicing. Bibleref.com has this to say on this matter:

"Before we were in Christ, our lives were meaningless (1 Peter 1:18). In Christ, our lives have meaning and great significance, because Christ's life has meaning and great significance. A day is coming when all of Christ's glory will be revealed to the universe. His full worth will become obvious to all. By extension, our lives will be shown to be meaningful and worthwhile on that day as well. And to the extent that we have suffered for Him, we will have that much more joy and gladness on that day (Romans 8:17).

We don't yet fully understand the significance of that moment—how could we? However, we do understand that it is the moment that all of human history has been leading up to. We take by faith that suffering for Christ now will contribute to our joy then. This allows believers to consider suffering for Christ's sake a thing worth rejoicing in—even while we undoubtedly would prefer it to stop."


Question: Is the suffering you're going through or will go through actually included in God's plan? Did Paul know that the thorn was part of His plan before he implored God? Some suffering may be obvious that it's for God's purpose, but what about your suffering? Take a fresh consideration of what Paul writes in Romans 8:


"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."


It does not say most though I think many of us read it as that. It doesn't say most it says all. This present suffering has not been overlooked by your doting, loving Heavenly Dad. God is not like a worldly parent who may be blunt in their discipline but He is very purposeful and a skilled physician who knows exactly what He is doing and is motivated to do so in love (Prov. 3:12, James 1:2, Heb. 12:6).


Some wonder when they will become okay with their suffering; when will it not be suffering anymore. But may I say that the moment your suffering is no longer suffering, then said suffering loses it's benefit as well. What I'm saying is, if God brings about a tormentor in order that His power may dwell in you, if said tormentor, be it still needed is removed, then it closed the way for the blessing that comes through it as well.


Laura story is a singer/song writer who wrote the song "blessings" which at large was her own testimony through the journey she's gone through and is going through with her husband in regards to him getting a brain tumor and now living with disabilities as a result of the surgery to remove that tumor. Here is a video of her and Joni pairing up their gifts.


I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. - 2 Corinthians 12:11a

Paul now apologizes but says they forced him, compelled him to do so. He didn't want to bring up these things and felt foolish doing so but said he felt compelled to do so for their sake, they forced his hand so to speak. Because of the challenge by these false teachers brought against him he was forced, compelled to do it.


Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. - 2 Corinthians 12:11b

Paul is saying in terms of their ranking him against other apostles that he is in no way inferior according to their measurement, yet even with that, he says he is still a nobody. What does that tell you about the rest of the Apostles? That they too are nobodies. We are nobodies. It is God who is somebody, of whom without we have no glory at all. Paul puts himself down at the bottom in terms of the real ranking system as that is his and our proper place. So often after being a Christian for awhile and receiving revelations from God on how things work we become "experts" on things beyond just driving. So easily we lose sight of the grace of God that exalted us in the first place that we forget that we are just as bad as those we are judging (Matt. 7:1-2), and that but for the grace of God, there go I. If someone preaches the word of God we tend to elevate them, or worse we elevate ourselves, we are so prone to ranking people that we forget that without God we are nothing. We're all nothing and yet we're all close to God in our nothingness. Some people will ask for prayer from people they deem to be more "spiritual" as if they have a special access because of their piety into the presence of God, yet they/we do not. While all have equal access to God through the same grace. "For in Him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). And apart from that we can do nothing (John 15:5).


The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. - 2 Corinthians 12:12

Paul is saying all the signs of a true apostleship were performed among them and that he should have actually been commended by them. In other words they saw with their own eyes all the signatures of a true apostle and he shouldn't have to defend himself but should have been actually commended by them because of these "signs and wonders and miracles". When these false apostles came in they should have been defending Paul. They themselves saw things that marked a true apostle things like performing miracles. This evidence should have unarguably communicated to them of Paul's true apostleship without any need for Paul to have to boast. Such signs also give creed to Paul's testimony for such miracles can only be done in the power of God and God who is true wouldn't put His signature on someone who is false.


For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! - 2 Corinthians 12:13

Paul in no way treated the Corinthian church any different or lesser than any other church except in their case he didn't take an offering. Scripture says to not muzzle the ox while he is threshing (Deut. 25:4), and again it is written that a laborer is worthy of their wages (1 Tim. 5:18). Paul had every right to take an offering but in their case he did not and with a bit of sarcasm he says to forgive him of such a wrong doing to them.

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