2 Corinthians 12 (NLT)
Paul’s Vision and His Thorn in the Flesh
This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago.
The third heaven doesn’t suggest different “levels” of heaven. Instead, Paul is using terminology common in that day, which referred to the “blue sky” as the first heaven, the “starry sky” as the second heaven, and the place where God lived and reigned as the third heaven.
–David Guzik (and all following comments in blue)
Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. 3 Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know 4 that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.
So different from the “I’ve been to heaven and come back” accounts we read these days. This vision happened fourteen years ago, and still Paul is reluctant to speak of it. No breathless descriptions of what he saw or heard — just that it was beyond telling. But clearly the vision was given to Paul in order to strengthen and sustain him for the trials of ministry ahead.
The word Paradise comes from a Persian word which means a walled-garden. When a Persian king wished to confer a very special honour on someone specially dear to him, he made him a companion of the garden and gave him the right to walk in the royal gardens with him in intimate companionship. In this experience, as never before and never again, Paul had been the companion of God.
5 That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. 6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, 7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Who would have nothing to do with thorns must never attempt to gather flowers.
–Henry David Thoreau
“Perhaps you have looked into the face of a Christian who is always smiling, who never seems to have any worry, is always happy and radiant and, as you have thought about your own circumstances, you have said in your heart, ‘I wish I were he! He seems to have no problems. He doesn’t have to take what I do.’ But perhaps you have lived long enough, as I have, to know that sometimes the most radiant face hides great pressures, and often the man who is being most blessed of God is being most buffeted by the devil.”
After the glory came the pain. The King James Version and the Revised Standard Versions speak of the thorn in the flesh. The word (skolops, Greek #4647) can mean thorn but more likely it means stake. Sometimes criminals were impaled upon a sharp stake. It was a stake like that that Paul felt was twisting in his body. What was it? Many answers have been given. (Barclay then lists a number of theories given by various scholars.) By far the most likely thing is that Paul suffered from chronically recurrent attacks of a certain virulent malarial fever which haunted the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean.
8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.
When his passionate and repeated plea was not answered, it must have concerned Paul. It added another dimension to this trial.
It had a physical dimension, in that it was a thorn in the flesh.
It had a mental dimension, in that it was a messenger of Satan.
It had a spiritual dimension, in that it was an unanswered prayer.
9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
The other evening I was riding home after a heavy day’s work. I felt very weary and depressed when swiftly and suddenly as a lightning flash that text came to me, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
I reached home and looked it up in the original, and at last it came to me in this way: “MY grace is sufficient for you.” And I said, “I should think it is, Lord,” and burst out laughing. The truth seemed to make unbelief so absurd.
It was as though a mouse feared it might die of famine, and Joseph might say, “Cheer up, little mouse, my granaries are sufficient for you.” Again, I imagined a man way up on a lofty hilltop, saying to himself, “I breathe so many cubic feet of air every year, I fear I shall exhaust the oxygen in the atmosphere.” But the earth might say, “Breathe away, O man, and fill your lungs ever, my atmosphere is sufficient for you.”
Be great believers! Little faith will bring your souls to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your souls.
–Charles Haddon Spurgeon
“Oh! Every word was a mighty word unto me; as ‘My,’ and ‘grace,’ and ‘sufficient,’ and ‘for thee.‘”
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
“From all this I gather, that the worst trial a man may have may be the best possession he has in this world; that the messenger of Satan may be as good to him as his guardian angel; that it may be as well for him to be buffeted of Satan as ever it was to be caressed of the Lord himself; that it may be essential to our soul’s salvation that we should do business not only on deep waters, but on waters that cast up mire and dirt. The worst form of trial may, nevertheless, be our best present portion.”
–Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Paul’s Concern for the Corinthians
11 You have made me act like a fool—boasting like this. You ought to be writing commendations for me, for I am not at all inferior to these “super apostles,” even though I am nothing at all. 12 When I was with you, I certainly gave you proof that I am an apostle. For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you. 13 The only thing I failed to do, which I do in the other churches, was to become a financial burden to you. Please forgive me for this wrong!
14 Now I am coming to you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you. I don’t want what you have—I want you.
This is the testimony of every godly minister. They do not serve for what they can get from God’s people but for what they can give to God’s people. They are shepherds, not hirelings.
This is the heart of Jesus towards us. We often think that what God really wants is what we have; but He really wants us. Jesus selflessly seeks our good, and His heart is for us, not for what He can “get” from us.
After all, children don’t provide for their parents. Rather, parents provide for their children. 15 I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me.
16 Some of you admit I was not a burden to you. But others still think I was sneaky and took advantage of you by trickery. 17 But how? Did any of the men I sent to you take advantage of you? 18 When I urged Titus to visit you and sent our other brother with him, did Titus take advantage of you? No! For we have the same spirit and walk in each other’s steps, doing things the same way.
19 Perhaps you think we’re saying these things just to defend ourselves. No, we tell you this as Christ’s servants, and with God as our witness. Everything we do, dear friends, is to strengthen you. 20 For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. 21 Yes, I am afraid that when I come again, God will humble me in your presence. And I will be grieved because many of you have not given up your old sins. You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.
It is one thing to sin by accident. It is another to sin by design. Paul is speaking to the Corinthians — and to us — when we choose to indulge in sin, holding on to things that ought to be dismissed in obedience to Jesus. Let us examine our lives for what is displeasing to the Lord, repent, confess, be forgiven, and then made new in Christ!
Chris Tomlin and the wonderful promise of this chapter — “Your Grace Is Enough.” HERE.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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