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2Corinthians 12 (web)

Affirmation and Humilation

Affirmed by His Heavenly Vision

12:1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast.
For I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
12:2 I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago
(whether in the body, I don't know, or whether out of the body, I don't know; God knows),
such a one caught up into the third heaven.
12:3 I know such a man
(whether in the body, or outside of the body, I don't know; God knows),
12:4 how he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words,
which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
12:5 On behalf of such a one I will boast,
but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in my weaknesses.
12:6 For if I would desire to boast, I will not be foolish; for I will speak the truth.
But I forbear, so that no man may account of me above that which he sees in me, or hears from me.
12:7 By reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations,
that I should not be exalted excessively, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh,
a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted excessively.
12:8 Concerning this thing, I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
12:9 He has said to me,
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses,
that the power of Christ may rest on me.
12:10 Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities,
in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong.
12:11 I have become foolish in boasting.
You compelled me, for I ought to have been commended by you,
for in nothing was I inferior to the very best apostles, though I am nothing.
12:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were worked among you
in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty works.

Avoiding Financial Support

12:13 For what is there in which you were made inferior to the rest of the assemblies,
unless it is that I myself was not a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong.
12:14 Behold, this is the third time I am ready to come to you,
and I will not be a burden to you; for I seek not your possessions, but you.
For the children ought not to save up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
12:15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.
If I love you more abundantly, am I loved the less?
12:16 But be it so, I did not myself burden you.
But, being crafty, I caught you with deception.
12:17 Did I take advantage of you by anyone of them whom I have sent to you?
12:18 I exhorted Titus, and I sent the brother with him.
Did Titus take any advantage of you?
Didn't we walk in the same spirit?
Didn't we walk in the same steps?

Provoking Repentance

12:19 Again, do you think that we are excusing ourselves to you?
In the sight of God we speak in Christ. But all things, beloved, are for your edifying.
12:20 For I am afraid that by any means, when I come,
I might find you not the way I want to, and that I might be found by you as you don't desire;
that by any means there would be strife, jealousy,
outbursts of anger, factions, slander, whisperings, proud thoughts, riots;
12:21 that again when I come my God would humble me before you,
and I would mourn for many of those who have sinned before now,
and not repented of the uncleanness and sexual immorality and lustfulness which they committed.

Discussion Questions

vs 1 If there is nothing to be gained by his continued boasting, they why does he continue to boast?
vs 7,8 How did God help Paul to maintain an appropriate level of humility?
How has God helped you to maintain an appropriate level of humility?
What are examples of sources of humiliation?
vs 9 What are examples in the Bible of choosing the weak over the strong?
vs 12 What kinds of evidence identify one as an apostle and how do these differ from the identifying marks of ordinary Christians?
vs 14 What is the Biblical principle concerning financial dependency between parents and children?
And how did Paul practice this in his relationship with the Corinthians?
vs 21 Why would Paul be humbled if he found inappropriate behavior among the Christians in Corinth when he returns?


A Vision of Paradise

2Cor 12:1-4  I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know— God knows. And I know that this man— whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

In competing against false teachers, Paul has been boasting of his credentials. Though he says he shouldn't have to. He has been deriding the Corinthians for their allegiance to false teachers on the basis of such teachers vain credentials, mere idle boasts. While through these last couple of chapters Paul has spoken of his superior credentials, though reluctantly.

It may be the case that such false teachers had boasted of visions from God. Paul writes to the Colossians, "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions." Col 2:18 Here Paul says he also experienced visions, but speaks with much more humility and purposely does not go into details. Such visions would tend to invoke pride, of which Paul will speak of in the next few verses, and as such he is being careful here to suppress any sense of pride, even speaking in the third person of himself. And he is careful to admit what he doesn't know.

Beware of the kind of rhetoric you use when you speak of having a revelation from God. For sinful human pride characteristically finds a way to express itself.

But as for the particulars here:

Fourteen years ago
It is interesting that in Galatians 2:1 he had just spoken of his conversion and then said, "Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas." And there to confront the cult of the circumcision. Could be that his confrontation in Jerusalem and this letter to the Corinthians occurred the same year, in which case the vision occurred early on in his conversion.

The Third Heaven
This simply refers to what we normall call "heaven" as where the Father resides as is used in such expressions as "Our Father in heaven". The second heaven then is the abode of the stars, and the first the atmosphere.

A bit of speculation here. To the man on the cross who died next to Jesus, the Lord said, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:43 Yet where was Jesus that day? He was not in heaven. For he would not ascend to his Father in heaven until 40 days after his resurrection. In Acts chapter two Peter speaks of Jesus being in the grave saying, "His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption." Then he spoke of Christ's resurrection. But prior to his resurrection Jesus was in Hades. Jesus described Hades in Luke 16 as a place of the dead divided into two parts separated by an impassable rift. One side was pleasant (we shall call "paradise"), and the other when we typically think of as "hell". Now what may have happened is when Jesus rose from the dead he open the gates of paradise, having atoned for sin, and essentially relocated paradise to heaven. Thus today we speak of Christians dying and going to "heaven", whereas prior to Christ's resurrection they spoke of people dying and going to "hades", also called "sheol".

Limit Your Boasting

2Cor 12:5,6 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.

People who boast about themselves characteristically lie in that they credit themselves more than they deserve, seeing as boasting is generally an expressing of the prideful human nature. Thus Paul is careful not to make too much of himself. "We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you." 2Cor 10:13 Humility and speaking the truth go hand in hand. Remember Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 who boasted of giving more to the Lord than they gave? God killed both of them for lying. We Christians could avoid alot of sin along these lines if we simply didn't care what others thought of us.

And let us not take credit for other people's work. Some do this in evangelism. Jesus said, "I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor." John 4:38 And remember to give God credit for his part in all our labors.

A Thorn in the Flesh

2Cor 12:7-10 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Much as Satan is view as an enemy, he is useful in discipling Christians, much like God had previously used the Babylonians and other nations to discipline Israel. Paul himself used Satan to discipline fellow Christians. "hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord." 1Cor 5:5 But realize that discipline is not always punitive. It also can be preventative, as it was here in Paul's case. For note he says, "To keep me from becoming conceited" But as torment can help the Christian maintain a proper level of humility, so affluence and comfort can invoke pride. Our sinful nature responds to circumstances. So beware of getting too comfortable.

Note here also that God answers prayer, though the answer may be "no'. But even so, persistent prayer often results in understanding as we see here - an understanding which results in life applications 14 years later. So don't consider prayer in vain, though the answer may be "no".

Often we pray not to experience hardship, or only pray when hardship comes so that we may be delivered from it, but as we mature we learn to appreciate the benefit of hardship. Paul speaks of even delighting in such things. So "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" Heb 12:7 and "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." 2Tim 2:3

The Apostolic Credentials of Miracles

2Cor 12:11,12  I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles," even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle— signs, wonders and miracles— were done among you with great perseverance.

Again he makes reference to "super-apostles" as he did in 2Cor 11:5 No these are not men who fly around in capes with a big "S" in their chest. He's alluding to the Corinthian's obsession with celebrites - an obsession which later grew into the kind of idolatrous worship of the saints characteristic of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Paul's rhetoric here "even though I am nothing" simply doesn't fit into such dogma.

But while Paul made nothing of himself with regards to a celebrity status, he proved by this works that he was an apostle. For much as Peter could say of Jesus, "Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know." Acts 2:22, so could Paul. Miracles were the credentials of Jesus and his apostles. Why believe in Jesus? Why believe his apostles? Because of the miracles they did. The miracles provide forensic evidence validating their testimony. "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." Acts 19:11,12

Now this being the case it should comes as no surprise that such authentic miracles are not as common today among the Christian community, else they water down the credentials of apostleship were they common today.

Avoid Being a Financial Burden

2Cor 12:13-15 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?

Again he's speaking facetiously. But he reiterates this practical point - that one evidence of his sincerity is that he intentionally doesn't get paid for ministy. For people paying you for ministry is liken to the hired man and not the shepherd of the sheep. Here Paul uses the analogy of the family. "Children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children." but  in fact many parents intentionally haven't even met this standard. For some have children just  so they may have someone to take care of them in old age. Though "if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God." 1Tim 5:4 But generally parents recognize their responsiblity in raising children, graciously saving up for them. This also should be the view of the minister. Isn't it shameful for a father to be financially dependent upon his children? Yes, it may be necessary at times, but it shouldn't be the norm as has become the case in institutional Christianity where it goes on unquestioned.

Not only was Paul not financially dependent upon the Corinthians, he was one who spent himself on them. And, just to reiterate, he said to the Ephesian elders, "You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’" Acts 20:34,35

Don't Exploit Others

2Cor 12:16-19 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not act in the same spirit and follow the same course? Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.

Paul was rather annoyed at the fact that he had to defend himself, given his credentials, the miracles he had performed in their presence and the sacrifices he made on their behalf. And thus the facitious rhetoric he's been using. Here he's making fun of the fact that his enemies are being crafty, while here he speaks facitiously of being crafty in that he proved his sincerity in just the opposite way of his enemies, who likely demanded pay for their ministry. To the Thessalonians he wrote, "You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed— God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children." 1Thess 2:5-7 Likewise Titus followed the same example. Ministers who sacrifice personal rights and entitlements gain credibility.

Just as parents should look to the edification of their children, despite the personal sacrifice it may require of themselves, so also children should recognize and appreciate such sacrifices that were made on their behalf.

Imperfect Christians

2Cor 12:20,21 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

He noted such characteristics in 1Cor.  "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly— mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?" 1Cor 3:1-3 Yet also to note that he made no allusions in these passages explicitly to their salvation status, though he calls it into question in 2Cor 13:5. But we can see that immature behavior does not necessarily mean such Christians are unsaved. One does not have to be perfectly sinless to be reckoned saved. And much as this should be obvious, I mention it because I have run across those who reckon sinless perfect a condition of salvation.

Another thing I have also run across are Christians who excuse themselves from attending church because there is quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger and the like. Yet Paul did not disfellowship himself from such churches. It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick. It should be that the squeaky wheel gets oiled. If there's a problem, fix it. Yet many Christian use the rhetoric of babies, excusing themselves for a place where they can get "fed". Might it not be time for you to get out of your diapers and start feeding others? "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another" Heb 10:24,25

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Aug 15,2020