2 Corinthians Chapter Twelve
2 Corinthians 12
Note: The following commentary covers chapters 12 and 13.
Nevertheless, though forced to speak of himself, the apostle would glory only in his infirmities. But he is, as it were, outside his natural work. His past life unfolds before his eyes. The Corinthians obliged him to think of things which he had left behind. After having ended his account, and declared that he would glory in his infirmities alone, there was one circumstance that recurred to him. Nothing can be more natural, more simple, than all these communications. Must he glory? It is but unprofitable. He would come to that of which a man-as in the flesh-could not glory. It was the sovereign power of God, in which the man had no part. It was a man in Christ of whom he spoke-such a one had been caught up to the third heaven, to paradise; in the body, or out of the body, he knew not. The body had no part in it. Of such a one he would glory.
That which exalted him on the earth he would put aside. That which took him up to heaven-that which gave him a portion there-that which he was "in Christ"-was his glory, the joy of his heart, the portion in which he readily would glory. Happy being! whose portion in Christ was such that, in thinking of it, he is content to forget all that could exalt him as man; as he says elsewhere as to his hope, "that I may win Christ." The man, the body, had no share in a power, to taste of which he had to be caught up into heaven; but of such a one he would glory. There, where God and His glory are everything, separated from his body as to any consciousness of being in it, he heard things which men in the body were not capable of entering into, and which it was not fitting that a mortal man should declare, which the mode of being of a man in the body could not admit. These things had made the deepest impression on the apostle; they strengthened him for the ministry; but he could not introduce them into the manner of understanding and communicating which belongs to man's condition here below.
But many practical lessons are connected with this marvellous favour shewn to the apostle. I say, marvellous; for in truth one feels what a ministry must his have been, whose strength, and whose way of seeing and judging, were drawn from such a position. What an extraordinary mission was that of this apostle! But he had it in an earthen vessel. Nothing amends the flesh. Once come back into the consciousness of his human existence on earth, the apostle's flesh would have taken advantage of the favour he had enjoyed to exalt him in his own eyes, to say, 'None have been in the third heaven but thou, Paul.' To be near God in the glory, as out of the body, does not puff up. All is Christ, and Christ is all: self is forgotten. To have been there is another thing. The presence of God makes us feel our nothingness. The flesh can avail itself of our having been in it, when we are no longer there. Alas! what is man? But God is watchful; in His grace He provided for the danger of His poor servant. To have taken him up to a fourth heaven-so to speak-would only have increased the danger. There is no way of amending the flesh; the presence of God silences it. It will boast of it as soon as it is no longer there. To walk safely, it must be held in check, such as it is. We have to reckon it dead; but it often requires to be bridled, that the heart be not drawn away from God by its means, and that it may neither impede our walk nor spoil our testimony. Paul received a thorn in the flesh, lest he should be puffed up on account of the abundant revelations which he had received. We know, by the epistle to the Galatians, that it was something which tended to make him contemptible in his preaching: a very intelligible counterpoise to these remarkable revelations.
God left this task to Satan, as He used him for the humiliation of Job. Whatever graces may be bestowed on us, we must go through the ordinary exercises of personal faith, in which the heart only walks safely when the flesh is bridled, and so practically nullified, that we are not conscious of it as active in us when we wish to be wholly given to God, and to think of Him and with Him according to our measure.
Three times (like the Lord with reference to the cup He was to drink) the apostle asks Him that the thorn may be taken away; but the divine life is fashioned in the putting off of self, and-imperfect as we are-this putting off as to practice that which, as to truth, if we look at our standing in Christ, we have put off, is wrought by our being made conscious of the humiliating unsuitableness of this flesh, which we like to gratify, to the presence of God and the service to which we are called. Happy for us when it is by way of prevention, and not by the humiliation of a fall, as was the case with Peter! The difference is plain. There it was self-confidence mingled with self-will in spite of the Lord's warnings. Here, though still the flesh, the occasion was the revelations which had been made to Paul. If we learn the tendency of the flesh in the presence of God, we come out of it humble, and we escape humiliation. But in general (and we may say in some respects with all) we have to experience the revelations that lift us up to God, whatever their measure may be, and we have to experience what the vessel is in which it is contained, by the pain it gives us through the sense of what it is-I do not say through falls.
God, in His government, knows how to unite suffering for Christ, and the discipline in the flesh, in the same circumstance; and this explains Hebrews 12:1-11. The apostle preached: if he was despised in his preaching it was truly for the Lord that he suffered; nevertheless the same thing disciplined the flesh, and prevented the apostle priding himself on the revelations he enjoyed, and the consequent power with which he unfolded the truth. In the presence of God, in the third heaven, he truly felt that man was nothing, and Christ everything. He must acquire the practical experience of the same thing below. The flesh must be annulled, where it is not a nullity, by the experimental sense of the evil which is in it, and must thus become consciously a nullity in the personal experience of that which it is. For what was the flesh of Paul-which only hindered him morally in his work, by drawing him away from God-except a troublesome companion in his work? The suppression of the flesh felt and judged was a most profitable exercise of the heart.
Observe here the blessed position of the apostle, as caught up into the third heaven. He could glory in such a one, because self was entirely lost in the things with which he was in relation He did not merely glory in the things, neither does he say "in myself." Self was completely lost sight of in the enjoyment of things that were unutterable by the man when he returned into the consciousness of self. He would glory in such a one; but in himself, looked at in flesh, he would not glory, save in his infirmities. On the other hand, is it not humiliating to think that he who had enjoyed such exaltation should have to go through the painful experience of what the flesh is, wicked, despicable, and selfish?
Observe also the difference between Christ and any man whatsoever. Christ could be on the mount in glory with Moses, and be owned as His Son by the Father Himself; and He can be on the plain in the presence of Satan and of the multitude; but, although the scenes are different, He is alike perfect in each. We find admirable affections in the apostles, and especially in Paul; we find works, as Jesus said, greater than His own; we find exercises of heart, and astonishing heights by grace; in a word we see a marvellous power developed by the Holy Ghost in this extraordinary servant of the Lord; but we do not find the evenness that was in Christ. He was the Son of man who was in heaven. Such as Paul arechords on which God strikes and on which He produces a wondrous music; but Christ is all the music itself.
Finally, observe that the humiliation needed to reduce the rebellious flesh to its nothingness is used by Christ to display His power in it. Thus humbled, we learn our dependence. All that is of us, all that constitutes self, is a hindrance; the infirmity is that in which it is put down, laid low, in which weakness is realised. The power of Christ is perfected in it. It is a general principle; humanly speaking, the cross was weakness. Death is the opposite of the strength of man. Nevertheless it is in it that the strength of Christ revealed itself. In it He accomplished His glorious work of salvation.
It is not sin in the flesh that is the subject here when infirmity is spoken of, but what is contrary to the strength of man. Christ never leant on human strength for a moment; He lived by the Father, who had sent Him. The power of the Holy Ghost alone was displayed in Him. Paul needed to have the flesh reduced to weakness, in order that there might not be in it the motion of sin which was natural to it. When the flesh was reduced to its true nothingness as far as good is concerned, and in a manifest way, then Christ could display His strength in it. That strength had its true character. Remark it well: that is always its character-strength made perfect in infirmity. The blessed apostle could glory in a man in Christ above, enjoying all this beatitude, these marvellous things which shut out self, so much were they above all we are. While enjoying them, he was not conscious of the existence of his body. When he was again conscious of it, that which he had heard could not be translated into those communications which had the body for their instrument, and human ears as the means of intelligence. He gloried in that man in Christ above. Here below he only gloried in Christ Himself, and in that infirmity which gave occasion for the power of Christ to rest on him, and which was the demonstration that this power was that of Christ, that Christ made him the vessel of its manifestation. But this nevertheless was realised by painful experiences. The first was the man in Christ, the second the power of Christ resting on the man. For the first the man as to flesh is nothing; as to the second it is judged and put down-turned to weakness, that we may learn, and Christ's power may be manifested. There is an impulse, an ineffable source of ministry on high. Strength comes in, on the humiliation of man as he is in this world, when the man is reduced to nothingness-his true value in divine things-and Christ unfolds in him that strength which could not associate itself with the strength of man, nor depend on it in any way whatsoever. If the instrument was weak, as they alleged, the power which had wrought must have been-not its power, but that of Christ.
Thus, as at the beginning of the epistle we had the true characteristics of the ministry in connection with the objects that gave it that character, so we have here its practical strength, and the source of that strength, in connection with the vessel in which the testimony was deposited, the way in which this ministry was exercised by bringing a mortal man into connection with the ineffable sources from which it flowed, and with the living, present, active energy of Christ, so that the man should be capable of it, and yet that he should not accomplish it in his own carnal strength-a thing moreover impossible in itself. 
Thus the apostle gloried in his sufferings and his infirmities. He had been obliged to speak as a fool; they who ought themselves to have proclaimed the excellence of his ministry had forced him to do it. It was among them that all the most striking proofs of an apostolic ministry had been given. If in anything they had been behind other churches with regard to proofs of his apostleship, it was in their not having contributed anything to his maintenance. He was coming again. This proof would still be wanting. He would spend himself for them, as a kind father; even although the more he loved, the less he should be loved. Would they say that he had kept up appearances by taking nothing himself, but that he knew how to indemnify himself by using Titus in order to receive from them? It was no such thing. They well knew that Titus had walked among them in the same spirit as the apostle. Sad work, when one who is above these wretched motives and ways of judging and estimating things, and full of these divine and glorious motives of Christ, is obliged to come down to those which occupy the selfish hearts of the people with whom he has to do-hearts that are on a level with the motives which animate and govern the world that surrounds them! But love must bear all things and must think for others, if one cannot think with them, not they with oneself.
Is it then that the apostle took the Corinthians for judges of his conduct? He spoke before God in Christ; and only feared lest, when he came, he should find many of those who professed the name of Christ like the world of iniquity that surrounded them; and that he should be humbled amongst them, and have to bewail many who had already sinned and had not repented of their misdeeds.
For the third time he was coming. Everything should be proved by the testimony of two or three witnesses; and this time he would not spare. The apostle says, "This is the third time I am coming"; yet he adds, "as if I were present the second time, and being absent now." This is, because he had been there once, was to have gone there on his way to Macedonia, was coming a second time, but did not on account of the state the Corinthians were in; but this third time he was coming, and he had told them beforehand; and he said beforehand, as if he had gone the second time, although now absent, that if he came again he would not spare.
He then puts an end to the question about his ministry by presenting an idea which ought to confound them utterly. If Christ had not spoken by him, Christ did not dwell in them. If Christ was in them, He must have spoken by the apostle, for he had been the means of their conversion. "Since," he says, "ye seek a proof that Christ speaketh in me, examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith. Do ye not know yourselves, that Christ dwelleth in you, unless ye be reprobates?" and that they did not at all think. This was quite upsetting them, and turning their foolish and stupid opposition, their unbecoming contempt of the apostle, to their own confusion. What folly to allow themselves to be led away by a thought which, no doubt, exalted them in their own eyes; but which, by calling in question the apostleship of Paul, necessarily overturned, at the same time, their own Christianity!
From "which to you-ward is not weak" to the end of verse 4 is a parenthesis, referring to the character of his ministry, according to the principles brought forward in the previous chapter: weakness, and that which tended to contempt, on the side of man; power on God's part: even as Christ was crucified in weakness and was raised again by divine power. If the apostle himself was weak, it was in Christ; and he lived in Him, by the power of God, towards the Corinthians. Whatever might be the case with them, he trusted they should know that he was not reprobate; and he only prayed to God that they should do no evil, not in order that he should not be reprobate (that is, worthless in his ministry, for here he is speaking of ministry), but that they might do good even if he were reprobate. For he could do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. He was not master of the Corinthians for his own interest, but was content to be weak that they might be strong; for what he desired was their perfection. But he wrote, being absent, as he had said, in order that when present he might not be obliged to act with severity, according to the authority which the Lord had given him for edification, and not for destruction.
He had written what his heart, filled and guided by the Holy Ghost, impelled him to say; he had poured it all out; and now, wearied, so to speak, with the effort, he closes the epistle with a few brief sentences:-"Rejoice, be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace." Happen what might, it was this which he desired for them; and that the God of love and of peace should be with them. He rests in this wish, exhorting them to salute one another with affection, as all the saints, including himself, saluted them; praying that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, might be with them all.
 This chapter is altogether a striking one. We have Christians in the highest and lowest conditions; in the third heaven, and in actual low sin. In the first, a man in Christ (true in position, if not in vision, of us all), the apostle glories, and we are right to glory-that is a man in Christ. As to what he is in himself he has to be brought to utter nothingness. But neither the glorying in the man in Christ, nor his being made nothing of in flesh, is power: the latter is the path to it; but then, being nothing, Christ's power is with him, rests on him, and here he has power in service, the man in Christ his own place-Christ in, or His power on, the man, his strength to serve. So that we have the highest apprehension of the Spirit, the lowest failure in flesh, and the way of power in making nothing of the latter, Christ's power being thereon with us, practical power while in the body. But there will be the sense of weakness, the want of proportion between what we are as to the earthen vessel, and what is ministered and enjoyed. It is not merely what is evil but the earthen vessel in which the treasure is.
── John Darby《Synopsis of 2 Corinthians》
2 Corinthians 12
The apostle's revelations. (1-6) Which were improved to his spiritual advantage. (7-10) The signs of an apostle were in him, His purpose of making them a visit; but he expresses his fear lest he should have to be severe with some. (11-21)
Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:1-6
(Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-6)
There can be no doubt the apostle speaks of himself. Whether heavenly things were brought down to him, while his body was in a trance, as in the case of ancient prophets; or whether his soul was dislodged from the body for a time, and taken up into heaven, or whether he was taken up, body and soul together, he knew not. We are not capable, nor is it fit we should yet know, the particulars of that glorious place and state. He did not attempt to publish to the world what he had heard there, but he set forth the doctrine of Christ. On that foundation the church is built, and on that we must build our faith and hope. And while this teaches us to enlarge our expectations of the glory that shall be revealed, it should render us contented with the usual methods of learning the truth and will of God.
Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
(Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
The apostle gives an account of the method God took to keep him humble, and to prevent his being lifted up above measure, on account of the visions and revelations he had. We are not told what this thorn in the flesh was, whether some great trouble, or some great temptation. But God often brings this good out of evil, that the reproaches of our enemies help to hide pride from us. If God loves us, he will keep us from being exalted above measure; and spiritual burdens are ordered to cure spiritual pride. This thorn in the flesh is said to be a messenger of Satan which he sent for evil; but God designed it, and overruled it for good. Prayer is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every malady; and when we are afflicted with thorns in the flesh, we should give ourselves to prayer. If an answer be not given to the first prayer, nor to the second, we are to continue praying. Troubles are sent to teach us to pray; and are continued, to teach us to continue instant in prayer. Though God accepts the prayer of faith, yet he does not always give what is asked for: as he sometimes grants in wrath, so he sometimes denies in love. When God does not take away our troubles and temptations, yet, if he gives grace enough for us, we have no reason to complain. Grace signifies the good-will of God towards us, and that is enough to enlighten and enliven us, sufficient to strengthen and comfort in all afflictions and distresses. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Thus his grace is manifested and magnified. When we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; when we feel that we are weak in ourselves, then we go to Christ, receive strength from him, and enjoy most the supplies of Divine strength and grace.
Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:11-21
(Read 2 Corinthians 12:11-21)
We owe it to good men, to stand up in the defence of their reputation; and we are under special obligations to those from whom we have received benefit, especially spiritual benefit, to own them as instruments in God's hand of good to us. Here is an account of the apostle's behaviour and kind intentions; in which see the character of a faithful minister of the gospel. This was his great aim and design, to do good. Here are noticed several sins commonly found among professors of religion. Falls and misdeeds are humbling to a minister; and God sometimes takes this way to humble those who might be tempted to be lifted up. These vast verses show to what excesses the false teachers had drawn aside their deluded followers. How grievous it is that such evils should be found among professors of the gospel! Yet thus it is, and has been too often, and it was so even in the days of the apostles.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 2 Corinthians》
2 Corinthians 12
 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
It is not expedient — Unless on so pressing occasion. Visions are seen; revelations, heard.
 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.
I knew a man in Christ — That is, a Christian. It is plain from 2 Corinthians 12:6,7, that he means himself, though in modesty he speaks as of a third person.
Whether in the body or out of the body I know not — It is equally possible with God to present distant things to the imagination in the body, as if the soul were absent from it, and present with them; or to transport both soul and body for what time he pleases to heaven; or to transport the soul only thither for a season, and in the mean time to preserve the body fit for its re-entrance. But since the apostle himself did not know whether his soul was in the body, or whether one or both were actually in heaven, it would be vain curiosity for us to attempt determining it.
The third heaven — Where God is; far above the aerial and the starry heaven. Some suppose it was here the apostle was let into the mystery of the future state of the church; and received his orders to turn from the Jews and go to the gentiles.
 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
Yea, I knew such a man — That at another time.
 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
He was caught up into paradise — The seat of happy spirits in their separate state, between death and the resurrection.
Things which it is not possible for man to utter — Human language being incapable of expressing them. Here he anticipated the joyous rest of the righteous that die in the Lord. But this rapture did not precede, but follow after, his being caught up to the third heaven: a strong intimation that he must first discharge his mission, and then enter into glory. And beyond all doubt, such a foretaste of it served to strengthen him in all his after trials, when he could call to mind the very joy that was prepared for him.
 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.
Of such an one I will — I might, glory; but I will not glory of myself - As considered in myself.
 For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
For if I should resolve to glory — Referring to, I might glory of such a glorious revelation.
I should not be a fool — That is, it could not justly be accounted folly to relate the naked truth.
But I forbear — I speak sparingly of these things, for fear any one should think too highly of me - O where is this fear now to be found? Who is afraid of this?
 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.
There was given me — By the wise and gracious providence of God.
A thorn in the flesh — A visitation more painful than any thorn sticking in the flesh. A messenger or angel of Satan to buffet me - Perhaps both visibly and invisibly; and the word in the original expresses the present, as well as the past, time. All kinds of affliction had befallen the apostle. Yet none of those did he deprecate. But here he speaks of one, as above all the rest, one that macerated him with weakness, and by the pain and ignominy of it prevented his being lifted up mere, or, at least, not less, than the most vehement head ache could have done; which many of the ancients say he laboured under. St. Paul seems to have had a fresh fear of these buffetings every moment, when he so frequently represses himself in his boasting, though it was extorted from him by the utmost necessity.
 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
Concerning this — He had now forgot his being lifted up.
I besought the Lord thrice — As our Lord besought his Father.
 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.
But he said to me — ln answer to my third request.
My grace is sufficient for thee — How tender a repulse! We see there may be grace where there is the quickest sense of pain. My strength is more illustriously displayed by the weakness of the instrument. Therefore I will glory in my weaknesses rather than my revelations, that the strength of Christ may rest upon me - The Greek word properly means, may cover me all over like a tent. We ought most willingly to accept whatever tends to this end, however contrary to flesh and blood.
 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.
Weaknesses — Whether proceeding from Satan or men.
For when I am weak — Deeply conscious of my weakness, then does the strength of Christ rest upon me.
 I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.
Though I am nothing — Of myself.
 Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
The third time — Having been disappointed twice.
I seek not yours — Your goods.
But you — Your souls.
 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
I will gladly spend — All I have.
And be spent — Myself.
 But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.
But some may object, though I did not burden you, though I did not take anything of you myself, yet being crafty I caught you with guile - I did secretly by my messengers what I would not do openly, or in person.
 Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you?
I answer this lying accusation by appealing to plain fact.
Did I make a gain of you by Titus — Or any other of my messengers? You know the contrary. It should be carefully observed, that St. Paul does not allow, but absolutely denies, that he had caught them with guile; so that the common plea for guile, which has been often drawn from this text, is utterly without foundation.
 I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?
I desired Titus — To go to you.
 Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.
Think ye that we again excuse ourselves — That I speak this for my own sake? No. I speak all this for your sakes.
 And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.
Who had sinned before — My last coming to Corinth.
Uncleanness — Of married persons.
Lasciviousness — Against nature.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 2 Corinthians》
Chapter 12. Experience in Paradise
Act in the Same
Follow the Same Course
I. A Man In Christ
II. A Thorn in My Flesh
III. Three "Fear" for the Church
── Chih-Hsin Chang《An Outline of The New Testament》
Chapter Twelve General Review
OBJECTIVES IN STUDYING THIS CHAPTER
1) To understand why the Lord allowed Paul to suffer so much
2) To see why Paul took pleasure in his infirmities suffered for
We find Paul compelled to continue his "foolish boasting". Coming to
the issue of visions and revelations of the Lord, he describes "a man
in Christ" (most commentators believe Paul has reference to himself)
who fourteen years before had been caught up into
inexpressible words unlawful to utter. Paul would boast of "such a
one", but in direct reference to himself he would only boast in his
"infirmities", lest people think too highly of him (1-6).
Lest he be exalted above measure because of the abundance of
revelations he had received, a "thorn in the flesh" (also described as
a "messenger of Satan") was given to buffet him (that is, to keep him
humble). When he asked the Lord on three separate occasions to remove
it, the Lord's reply was that His grace was sufficient and His strength
was made complete in times of weakness. This prompted Paul to take
pleasure in his "infirmities" endured for Christ's sake (which I
believe to have been the "thorn in the flesh"). For when he was weak,
the power of Christ in him made him strong (7-10).
Paul's "foolish boasting" concludes with a mild rebuke for their
compelling him to do it, for it is they who should have commended him.
Indeed, while with them he demonstrated the "signs of an apostle"
(signs, wonders, mighty deeds) that clearly showed he was not in anyway
behind "the most eminent apostles". The only charge that could be
brought against him? He had not accepted support from them like he had
from other churches (11-13).
The remaining part of this chapter is filled with an expression of love
and concern for them. He explains again why he will not accept support
from them: like parents for their children, Paul will gladly spend and
be spent for their souls. Neither he nor those he sent to them had
taken advantage of them in any way, and have sought to do all things
for their edification (14-19). Finally, he expresses his fear that
when he comes the conditions will not be what he and they wish. He is
fearful that there will be all sorts of strife, and that many of those
who have sinned will not have repented (20-21).
I. PAUL'S "FOOLISH BOASTING" CONTINUES (1-13)
A. THE VISION OF
1. Though such boasting is not profitable, Paul finds it
necessary to discuss visions and revelations of the Lord (1)
2. He writes of one (possibly himself) who:
a. Was caught up to the third heaven, that is,
b. Heard inexpressible words, unlawful for a man to utter (4b)
3. Of such a one Paul would boast, but not of himself, except in
his infirmities (5)
4. His concern is that people might think too highly of him (6)
B. THE THORN IN THE FLESH (7-10)
1. That he not be exalted above measure by the abundance of his
revelations, he was given a thorn in the flesh (7)
a. Called a messenger of Satan
b. Designed to buffet him
2. He pleaded with the Lord that this "thorn" might depart from
a. He did so three times (8)
b. The Lord's reply (
1) "My grace is sufficient for you"
2) "My strength is made perfect in weakness"
3. This led Paul to boast in his infirmities, for in his weakness
the power of Christ has opportunity to make him strong (9b-10)
C. THE SIGNS OF AN APOSTLE (11-13)
1. He was compelled to engage in foolish boasting by those who
ought to have commended him (
a. For in nothing was he behind "the most eminent apostles"
b. For among them he accomplished the signs of an apostle:
signs, wonders, and mighty deeds (12)
2. His only mistake? He had not been a financial burden to them!
II. PAUL'S LOVE AND CONCERN (14-21)
A. HIS LOVE FOR THEM (14-19)
1. Ready to come for the third time, he will not be burdensome to
a. He does not seek what is theirs, but them (
b. Like parents providing for their children, he will gladly
spend and be spent for their souls (14b
c. Even though it seems to jeopardize their love for him (15b)
2. Some have taken this to be craftiness and guile on his part
a. But he asks them whether he has taken advantage of them by
any of those he had sent to them (17-18)
b. He needs no excuse, for he does all things for their
B. HIS CONCERN FOR THEM (20-21)
1. His fear is that when he comes, they will not find one another
the way they wish (
2. His fear is that there will all sorts of strife (20b)
3. His fear is that he will find many of them unrepentant of
their sins (21)
REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE CHAPTER
1) What are the main points of this chapter?
- Paul's "foolish boasting" continues (1-13)
- Paul's love and concern (14-21)
2) As Paul continues his "foolish boasting", what does he now come to?
- Visions and revelations of the Lord
3) Where was the "man in Christ" taken? What did he hear? (2-4)
- To the third heaven (
Paradise); inexpressible words, unlawful for
a man to utter
4) Of himself, in what would Paul boast? About what was he concerned?
- In his infirmities; lest anyone think of him too highly
5) Why was Paul given "a thorn in the flesh"? (7)
- Lest he be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations
6) How many times did Paul plead with the Lord to remove the "thorn"?
What did the Lord respond? (8-9)
- Three times
- "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect
7) In what, then, did Paul choose to boast? Why? (9-10)
- His infirmities for Christ's sake
- That Christ's power might rest upon him and make him strong
8) What were the "signs of an apostle" that Paul had done among the
- Signs, wonders, and mighty deeds
9) What had Paul done that some charged made the Corinthians inferior
to other churches? (13)
- He had not been a burden to them (i.e., had not accept monetary
10) Why would Paul continue not to be a burden to them? (15)
- He would very glad spend and be spent for their souls, like a
parent does for a child
11) What was the motive behind all that Paul did for the Corinthians?
- Their edification
12) What was Paul afraid might occur when he got to
? (20) Corinth
- Contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions,
backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults
13) What was Paul afraid of finding when he got to
? (21) Corinth
- That some of them had not repented of their uncleanness,
fornication, and licentiousness
Paul's Thorn In The Flesh (12:7-10)
1. In 2 Co 12:7-10, Paul tells of "a thorn in the flesh" which greatly
a. It was something for which he prayed the Lord to remove from him
b. The Lord did not do so, but gave Paul an answer that greatly
2. We might not be able to know exactly what the "thorn" was, but there
are some valuable lessons to be gleaned as we consider...
a. Why this "thorn" was given to Paul
b. Paul's initial reaction to the "thorn"
c. His reaction to the answer given him by the Lord
[In this study we shall consider each of these things, starting with
I. WHAT WAS PAUL'S "THORN IN THE FLESH"?
A. SEVERAL POSSIBILITIES HAVE BEEN PROPOSED...
1. A pain in the ear or head (Tertullian)
2. Unruly fleshly lusts (medieval commentators)
3. Stammering speech (MacKnight)
4. Malarial fever (Ramsay)
5. Acute eye problems (Farrar and others)
a. Such as a severe form of ophthalmia (inflammation of the
b. Based upon comments in Ga 4:13-15; 6:11
c. Possibly brought on initially by the blinding vision on the
B. I BELIEVE IT WAS THE "INFIRMITIES" PAUL SUFFERED...
1. I.e., the persecutions he suffered as an apostle of Christ
2. This was the view proposed by Chrysostom: "And so by the
"messenger of Satan," he means...those who contended with and
fought against him, those that cast him into a prison, those
that beat him, that led him away to death); for they did
Satan's business." (Homilies 26)
3. Peter H. David, in Hard Sayings Of The Bible, offers several
reasons for this view:
a. In the OT adversaries are sometimes referred to as "thorns
in your sides" (Num 33:55; Judg 2:3); there is no
metaphorical use of "thorn" for illness or temptation
b. The term "messenger" in Paul's writings always refer to a
c. The basic topic of 2 Co 10-13 is Paul's opponents, those
who were troubling the Corinthians and Paul himself
d. Paul parallels the "thorn" with a "weakness" (or infirmity)
in which he will glory; in the context of 2 Co 10-13 he
connects his infirmities or weakness with persecution -
2 Co 11:30-33; 12:10; 13:3-4
4. With Peter David I conclude that the "thorn" was "the
opponents who dogged Paul's tracks throughout his mission,
confusing churches every time he left one church to plant
another." (Hard Sayings Of The Bible)
[Whatever the "thorn", it was "a messenger of Satan". That is, it was
something from Satan with evil intent. Yet it is evident that God
allowed it to remain! This leads us to ask...]
II. WHY WAS THE "THORN" GIVEN?
A. LEST PAUL BE "EXALTED ABOVE MEASURE" (2 Co 12:7)...
1. Paul had been blessed to receive many revelations...
a. On the road to
- Ac 9:3-6 Damascus
- cf. Ac 22:17-21 Jerusalem
Troas- Ac 16:8-10
- Ac 18:9-11 Corinth
again - Ac 23:11 Jerusalem
f. On his way to
- Ac 27:22-25 Rome
g. The vision of
Paradise- 2 Co 12:1-6
2. It would have been quite easy...
a. For Paul to be filled with pride over these revelations
b. For the church to exalt him too highly
B. TO "BUFFET" HIM (2 Co 12:7)...
1. The word "buffet" means "to strike with the fist"; thus to
strive against, contend
a. Paul "buffeted" himself to keep his body under control
- cf. 1 Co 9:27
b. But this was something brought upon him by Satan
3. This external "buffeting" was allowed to remain, to keep Paul
C. THERE IS A PRACTICAL LESSON RELATED TO HUMILITY...
1. Humility is a necessary trait for God's people - Lk 18:13-14;
1 Pe 5:5-6
2. Sometimes it is useful to have "outside help" to keep us
[There are other lessons to be learned, which we will see as we
III. PAUL'S REACTION TO THE "THORN"
A. BEING HUMAN, HE WANTED TO GET RID OF IT! (2 Co 12:8)...
1. He pleaded with the Lord three times to remove it
2. Just as the Lord Himself prayed in the garden at
- Lk 22:39-43
3. Notice the interesting similarities between Paul and the
a. Both prayed three times
b. Both did not receive the answer for which they prayed
c. But they both received answers that were sufficient...
1) An angel came to minister to Christ
2) The Lord told Paul:
a) "My grace is sufficient for you"
b) "My strength is made perfect in weakness"
B. THIS SHOULD REMIND US OF CERTAIN PRINCIPLES OF PRAYER...
1. We are to pray with persistence - Lk 18:1-8
2. We are to pray in earnest - Mt 7:7
3. We are to pray specifically (as Paul did)
-- Yet God knows what is best for us, so the answer may not be
what we wish
[Valuable lessons, indeed; but even more lessons can be gleaned as we
IV. PAUL'S REACTION TO THE LORD'S ANSWER
A. TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT THE LORD'S ANSWER (2 Co 12:
1. "My grace is sufficient for you"
a. The Lord would give Paul what he "needed"
b. But not necessarily what he "wanted"!
2. "My strength is made perfect in weakness"
a. I.e., it is in times of weakness and hardship that the
Lord's strength can be experienced most completely!
b. For in such times we really come to depend upon the Lord,
and not upon our own strength or wisdom!
B. NOW CONSIDER PAUL'S REACTION...
1. "I will boast in my infirmities" - 2 Co 12:9b
a. Rather than bemoan his trying circumstances, he will glory
b. For it is in such infirmities that he has the opportunity
to experience the power of Christ in his life as He helps
him deal with them!
2. "I take pleasure in infirmities...for Christ's sake. For when
I am weak, then I am strong." - 2 Co 12:10
a. Infirmities can be a time for rejoicing! - cf. Ro 5:
b. For that can be a time in which to experience the strength
Christ gives, and the development of character that pleases
Him! - cf. Ro 5:3b-5; also Ja 1:2-4
1. It may be impossible to determine exactly the nature of "Paul's
Thorn In The Flesh"
a. Some commentators believe that this ambiguity was by design
b. Otherwise, those with other "infirmities" may think the spiritual
lessons are not for them
2. But from a perplexing passage, we can glean powerful principles
applicable to all...
a. In time of infirmity, pray!
b. But don't be surprised if the answer to your prayers are similar
to those given to Paul
1) "My grace is sufficient for you"
2) "My strength is made perfect in weakness"
c. The Lord may choose not to remove the infirmity...
1) Instead, He may choose to give you the strength to endure it
2) If so, then rejoice that power of Christ rests upon you!
As we close, think about the Lord's statement as it relates to the
problem of SIN, and the SALVATION He offers ("My grace is sufficient
for you")... - cf. Ti 3:4-7
Act in the Same Spirit
Follow the Same Course
I. A Man In Christ
1. The Third Heaven
2. Inexpressible Things
3. Do Not Boast
II.A Thorn in My Flesh
1. Torment from Satan
2. Plead with the Lord Three Times
3. Grace is Sufficient
III. Three “Fear” for the Church
1. Not as Wanted
2. Quarreling and Disorder
3. Humble and Grieve
－－ Chih-Hsin Chang《An Outline of The New Testament》