2 CORINTHIANS 12
Enter subtitle here
1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
He is, of course, speaking of himself. His form of words indicate that he is not speaking as an independent person, or of personal accomplishments, but as a chosen instrument of Christ. When he wrote this, it was fourteen years since the beginning of his ministry in the ecclesias, when Barnabas brought him from Tarsus to Antioch. The vision to which he refers was before that.*
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
Paul did not know what form the vision took, or how it was presented to him -- whether he saw with his eyes or just with his understanding. It was not important. God's ways of operation are beyond our capacity of comprehending.*
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Paradise - The Kingdom age and beyond / Third Heaven of v2. See also Luke 23:43
Peter clearly tells us what the third heaven is. Speaking of the great world dispensations, separated by the universal judgments of God, he refers to the "Heavens and earth of old" (2 Pet. 3:5) -- before the Flood -- perishing in an overflowing of water: the first heavens.
Then (2 Pet. 3:7) "The heaven and earth which are now, reserved unto fire of the day of judgment" -- the second heavens.
And finally the "New Heaven and New Earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13),
-- for which we look: the third heaven -- the Millennium and Beyond.
Especially the Beyond, as far as the visions of Paul are concerned. The Millennium itself is but the brief stepping-stone to the eternal order of things wherein God will be "all in all."
These visions Paul was not permitted to discuss with anyone -- not even his closest and most intimate associates in the work. They were for him alone, of all mankind. What a burden of glory and responsibility for a mortal man to bear!*
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
What was Paul's "thorn in the flesh"? It is impossible to say. There are many theories. We can, however, determine certain things about it, from this passage and others. The two most widely held theories as to what it was are epilepsy and ophthalmia -- a painful, handicapping, offensive-appearing eye disease.
It is to the Galatians and Corinthians, the two places where his authority is challenged and his person derided, that he speaks of this affliction. What we do know about it is that it was first of all humiliating and humbling -- this present passage says that was its divine purpose.
It was a burden and a handicap in the work of the Truth. He speaks of it as a "thorn" -- or more properly a "stake in the flesh." He speaks of it as a "temptation" and an "infirmity" that is a trial and a weakness.
The big lesson is that Paul had to be handicapped, humbled, mortified, humiliated, for his own safety and good. Pride is the great danger. We can all see it so clearly in all its silliness in everyone else.*
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
He apparently knew its purpose, but still he found it such a grievous burden that three times he implored that it be removed. The first two times he appears to have been refused, without being given an explanation, but on the third occasion he was given an answer by Christ that was all-sufficient for him.
The affliction was given, he says at first, "lest he be exalted" by his special privileges, and position in God's purpose. This is negative -- to prevent something undesirable happening, and Paul would feel it had served its purpose and he was doubtless confident -- perhaps rightly so -- that the danger of that had passed.
But Jesus' final answer gives the positive, constructive side; and Paul understood, and was content...The painful, distressing, humiliating thorn in the flesh was not just a negative leash to keep Paul from going wrong. Rather, in the love and wisdom of God, it was a positive force to make him a more fitting, suitable, and useful vessel for the grace poured upon him and the work set before him. *
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
When I am weak, then am I strong.
After the third entreaty for relief from the thorn, Paul understood and was content.
It was not just a matter of resigning himself to the inevitable, and patiently accepting something he could not help. That is not enough. That will never do. That won't accomplish anything.
That again is just negative. That's no glory to God. If it is glory to anyone, it is glory to the one who suffers meaninglessly in patience. Paul goes much further (v. 10) --
"Therefore I TAKE PLEASURE -- I rejoice -- in infirmities, in contempt, in hardship, in persecution, in distress for Christ's sake, for when I am weak then am I strong."
When I am most helpless physically, socially, financially -- most helpless from every natural, worldly point of view -- then am I closest to the infinite strength and power and might and care of Christ who strengtheneth me.
We can see -- and Paul could see -- that his thorn in the flesh was not just an external added burden to counteract the effect of his visions and revelations.
Rather it was an integral, essential part of the whole pattern of Christ's infinite grace upon him. It was part of the special, unique revelation that was personally given to him of the marvelous working of the wisdom of God.
What is the lesson for us? We are not Paul. The more we learn and realize and meditate upon concerning this man, the more we realize our utter comparative uselessness and insignificance and unprofitableness.
Here was a man who, second only to Christ himself, was completely enrapt and enveloped in the purpose of God -- who stood at its very heart and vortex.
But the lesson IS for us. In our little, secondary, inconsequential way, the lesson is for us.
It means a complete reversal of all mental values, so as to be able to truly, sincerely find peace and rejoicing in tribulation and deprivation: a complete change of life-interest, of life treasure, of life-meaning.
Everything that seems important to the natural mind must become completely unimportant. Everything that seems unimportant to the natural mind must become infinitely important. All the meaningless little round of daily care -- what shall we eat, what shall we drink, wherewithal shall we be clothed, where shall we live -- must become utterly unimportant to us, if we are to learn the lesson of life.
These things truly must be taken care of in an orderly way, as quickly and simply as possible, but they CANNOT become objects of interest or absorption or continual conversation. The mind must be filled with better things.
Paul is so intensely absorbed in the infinite grace and glory of his divine calling that to him all the troubles and cares and losses and sufferings and burdens of the present are but a light and passing thing of little moment.
He sums up his glorious philosophy of life beautifully and movingly in the latter part of chapter 4 of this epistle --
"God has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."
"We are troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair. . ." (2 Cor. 4:6-8).
How often are we too "perplexed!" But, like Paul, we must never despair.
"Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down but not destroyed."
"Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."
"For our light affliction which is but for a moment. . ."
This is how Paul sums up the intense, lifelong burden of suffering and sorrow that he endured for Christ --
"... our LIGHT affliction which is BUT FOR A MOMENT worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
"We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,"
"For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:9, 16-18). *
15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
The apostle's agape (a self-sacrificing bond which moved him to strong emotions and exhausting preaching) toward the ecclesia was not reciprocated by the Corinthian ecclesia.
Not that he was deterred in his efforts on their behalf (2 Cor 2:4). He realised that true happiness and contentment were to be found in seeking the welfare of others. Helping them to an understanding of Yahweh's infinite love and wisdom. Agape is not necessarily a two-way bond. It IS a quality of character we MUST develop in ourselves, to forget ourselves - and serve others, if we are to be in harmony with the mind of Christ, and fit vessels for the future age (Eph 5:2,25).
* Bro Growcott - In Labours Abundant