2 Corinthians 12
1Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2I 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.
3And I know how such a man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows--
4was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.
Paul again explains that he doesn’t enjoy having to boast about his apostleship and authority, for he would rather speak of the Lord. Yet it is necessary in order to keep the Corinthians from following the false apostles. Thus, he decides to tell them of his visions and revelations from the Lord, something a true apostle would have experienced while a false one would not have. It pains him to even speak of himself as having the vision, given that he doesn’t want to make himself the focus. Thus, he speaks of his experience in the third person, though it is clear that he is speaking of himself (v. 7). He says he was caught up into the very presence of God into heaven. Whether in the body or not, he didn’t know, and it didn’t much matter. The important thing was that Paul witnessed paradise firsthand and heard words from God that he wasn’t allowed to speak or share with others. What these words were was not the point, but the point was that Paul had the chance to be in the very presence of God and to witness things pertaining to utter holiness.
5On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.
6For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.
Paul speaks of himself in the third person because he would prefer to only boast in his weakness given his appreciation for the glory, holiness, and jealousy of God. Paul wasn’t lying to share this glorious vision, but he didn’t care to draw attention to himself, only to the Lord. He chose not to share any more lest people would think more highly of him than they ought. Paul made it his purpose simply to declare the truth and not to exalt himself or make himself the focus. Paul wanted to be known only as a messenger of truth and a vessel of Christ. Christ was to be the focus and the glory.
7Because 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!
8Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.
In fact, Paul was given a thorn in the flesh in order to keep him from exalting himself. This points to Paul’s vulnerability and human weakness, and thus he is not trying to brag about his own strength. It also shows how much God loves him that He would go to extreme measures to keep Paul from becoming arrogant and thus unusable for His purposes. The revelations and visions were so wonderful that God had to send a messenger of Satan to torment him. The word “torment” literally means to “strike with the fist” or to “maltreat with violence.” So Paul clearly suffered as a result of this harsh treatment which God ordained and allowed a demon to orchestrate. God knew that suffering in the flesh would be good for Paul, for as Peter says, those who have suffered in the flesh have ceased from sin (1 Peter 4:1). Sometimes God ordains suffering and allows Satan to torment us so that we remain weak, which allows God to use us and show Himself strong through us. If we start bragging about ourselves as if we are the main event or can rely in our own strength, we have robbed God of worship and glory. God gracefully kept Paul from doing this by allotting suffering for him, not more than he could handle with God’s grace but just enough (1 Corinthians 10:13). Paul prayed three times to the Lord, begging that God would take the pain away, but God’s answer was “no.” God knew this was best for Paul, and so he let the suffering continue.
9And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness " Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
10Therefore 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.
God’s explanation to Paul for why He didn’t take the suffering away was so that Paul would demonstrate faith and trust in the sufficiency of God’s grace to sustain him through it. It made him weaker and weaker so that he couldn’t turn to his flesh and trust in himself. He could only turn to Christ for strength, and thus, even in this time of great weakness, Paul could be used powerfully of the Lord. God’s power is always perfected in weakness because it keeps us out of the way so that God can show Himself strong and work through yielded, pliable vessels. So if Paul was going to boast, it would be in weakness, not in the supposed strength of his own humanity. His boast would be that God loved him enough to weaken him so that God could be seen as strong in and through him. Paul’s ministry legacy was not about his personal presence or speaking ability because he chose to be weak, but it was about God’s power which worked extraordinarily through a man who made himself ordinary by faith as God worked in his heart to make him weak. So Paul could take joy and contentment from weakness, insult, distress, persecution, difficulty, and all suffering for Christ’s sake because these were the times when he was really strong by faith in Christ. When he was weak according to the flesh, he could be strong in spirit. God delights in showcasing His strength and power through those who by faith recognize that they have none. This is God’s way, and God gets the glory.
11I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me 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.
12The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.
13For 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!
So Paul bragged, though he bragged about his own weakness as a means of criticizing those who boasted in their own strength, namely the false apostles. The reality is that the Corinthians should know the truth such that Paul shouldn’t have been forced to prove his apostleship at all. They had seen that he wasn’t inferior to the other true apostles and certainly when compared to the false apostles in that he had performed signs, wonders, and miracles among the people. This was to be expected of a true apostle, and Paul did these things. Furthermore, he treated the Corinthians with great love and care such that he didn’t even take money from them. In no way did he treat the Corinthians worse than other churches, particularly given that he used the support of other churches to fund his service for them. Sarcastically, he asks them to forgive him for doing that wrong of genuine service to them.
14Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
15I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls If I love you more, am I to be loved less?
Paul first visited the Corinthians in Acts 18. His second visit would have led to the harsh rebuke, namely the book of 1 Corinthians. He almost came another time (2 Corinthians 2:1), but he decided not to given that he was concerned that he would have to be harsh again. Now, he has planned a third time to come to the Corinthians. Again, his pledge is that he will not burden them financially by taking any funds from them. He is not interested in their material possessions but in their hearts. Just as parents save money for their children and not children for their parents, so too, Paul, as their spiritual parent, did not want them to save money for him. He would gladly spend himself in order to contribute to the well-being of their souls. So, given how much he loved them, he could certainly have demanded that they pay him his due support, but he wasn’t going to do that because of his love for them.
16But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit.
17Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those whom I have sent to you, have I?
18I urged Titus to go, and I sent the brother with him Titus did not take any advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps?
Paul did not exercise his right as an apostle to take support, but still some might have said that he was being crafty because he asked Titus to take money. Yet clearly he had not taken advantage of them through the brothers whom he sent to them. Titus did not take advantage of them, and neither did Paul. They both acted in good faith before the Lord.
19All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved.
20For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;
21I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.
Paul is not defending himself to them, but his purpose is to edify them in the Lord because they need to be rescued from the deceit of the false apostles. Thus, Paul’s purpose in this discourse was to point the Corinthians to God, not to focus on his own apostleship. He did speak of his authority as an apostles because he was afraid that they might not continue in obedience and in sound doctrine but that they might fall away into strife, division, jealousy, anger, slander, gossip, arrogance, and other confusions, commotions, and tumults. Where there was order and unity, Paul was afraid that it would be all destroyed because of the false teachers. This would humiliate Paul in that it would make him feel as if he had failed the Lord in shepherding the flock. Paul fears that he would come and see many still in immorality, impurity, and sensuality, things he had rebuked them for previously. This would cause him to grieve and mourn greatly, and because he doesn’t want this to happen, he defends his authority to them. In defending his apostleship, he defends the truth about the gospel and Christ so that he can exhort the Corinthians to live in holiness.