Text: 2Corinthians 12
With love, even God’s own divine love in our hearts, Paul and I speak to you from 2Corinthians 12 today. We want you to join us in being the Amen to God’s promises of reconciliation, of salvation, and of the infilling of the Holy Spirit! Yes! Truth! He has done it in me! You will say the same thing, when you are filled!
If I were to give this a title, it would be, “His Power is Perfected in Weakness.” In the Lord’s response to Paul, He does not refer to Paul’s inability to resist sin, for Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and his sin nature is crucified.
To what weakness does the Lord refer, then? Doing what Christ Himself did, for our sakes — offering Himself, giving up His glorious position at the right hand of the Father, in order to go to a cross.
As Jesus hung there, many mocked Him and called Him weak, unable to save Himself. But three days later, the power of God was shown, for Christ rose from the dead, proof that He is indeed the Christ! Following the “weakness” of Christ’s crucifixion, God’s power was perfected (completed, finished, performed) by way of His resurrection, ascension and glorification!
Likewise, Paul has offered himself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to the Lord (Romans 12:1). Many have mocked Paul (even today!). We’ll get to that shortly. The false teachers and the believers at Corinth have mocked him, calling him weak and unimpressive.
But Paul’s sin nature was crucified, and the Lord’s power was completed in him, as seen in his ministry! Paul walked as Christ walked, and was He is in this world. So, just as in Christ’s “weakness,” the power of God was seen, it is the same with Paul. In his “weakness,” offering himself to the Lord, the power of God was seen!
It is the same for you and me, when we surrender to God’s will entirely, and obey Christ’s command to be filled with His Spirit. We do not literally die, but our sin nature does. When that happens, the Lord’s power will be seen in us! It will be obvious that it is His power and not ours, for we will always say, It is Him, and not us! His power is completed in us because we have died so He can live in us!
One final point, before we begin to look at this passage verse-by-verse. Did Paul also have a physical weakness placed upon him by the Lord, as some have suggested? We will talk about that shortly. Many theories have been put forth, and each one will be examined, as the Lord has directed me.
Verse 1 —
The false teachers boast in many things, but they cannot boast that they walk as Christ walked, for He never, ever knew them (Matthew 7:23)! But Paul defends himself with boasts of a different kind.
He must boast of what Christ has done in him — it is necessary, but not to his advantage (profitable). He is in Christ, and Christ is in him — the greatest advantage! Nothing more is needed, for Christ’s power is seen in “weak” Paul.
But the boastful false teachers gain much for themselves, boasting about themselves to the infants in Christ in Corinth, thereby gathering many followers to themselves!
Verses 2-4 —
I know a man in Christ, Paul says, who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Paul does not know if he was bodily carried to the third heaven, or if it was his spirit who was carried there.
The third heaven is where God’s throne is located — it is the kingdom of God, also known as Paradise. The first heaven is the sky above us. The second heaven is the realm of Satan and his demons.
So, Paul was caught up (the same word used of the rapture of believers at the end of things), and taken to the place where God sits on His throne. And there, he heard inexpressible words!
And what he saw, in such a vision, is not lawful to speak about — that is, the Lord has not given Paul permission to describe what was shown to him. But he surely saw much, and bits and pieces of the vision are scattered throughout the many letters he wrote to the churches over which the Lord appointed him as shepherd.
Verses 5-6 —
Paul boasts of “such a man,” in order not to boast in his own power, as the false teachers do. They want to make a name for themselves. But Paul will boast in his weakness, so that Christ’s power may be worked in and through Him!
But he will not be foolish (mindless, reckless, stupid, ignorant, egotistical), for he will speak the truth, and not the lies of the false teachers. He refrains from their kind of boasting, for he wants no one but Christ to get the credit for what Paul says and does.
Verses 7-8 —
Paul says, Because of the surpassing (superabundant) greatness of the revelations I received from the Lord, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment (beat) me — to keep me from exalting myself. Paul does not exalt himself, so this is another sarcastic statement from him. He does not exalt himself, but the false teachers and some of the believers in the church at Corinth exalt themselves!
But what is this thorn in the flesh? Who gave it to him? The passage does not say the Lord gave it to him. But he deals with a thorn (pointed thing) in his flesh (body). Yet he is hale and hardy, traveling long distances, surviving physical punishment almost continually, yet pressing on as if nothing had been done to him! Surely, this is evidence of the power of God, restoring Paul’s physical body!
Some Bible commentators say Paul was a dwarf and a hunchback, and had an eye disease that Paul makes reference to in Galatians 4:13-15. These are his thorns, they claim. But they do not know Jewish law. If any of that were true, he never could have entered the temple in Jerusalem, at the end of his ministry (Acts 21:26). Dwarfism and a hunched back would have been considered uncleanness!
As for the eye disease, he had a problem with his eyes while in Galatia, whatever it was had to have been healed. Otherwise, he surely would not have been allowed to enter the temple! Again, he would be considered unclean!
Some claim that their physical diseases are their “thorn in the flesh.” Had I believed that, I never would have sought the Lord for healing of secondary progressive MS, beloved! And I wonder what great revelation these Christians have had, to make a thorn in the flesh necessary in order to keep them from exalting themselves.
Then what is Paul’s thorn? In the Old Testament, there are several references to enemies of Israel, that they were sent as pricks and thorns because Israel had rebelled against the Lord (Numbers 33:55, Joshua 23:13, Judges 2:3). I believe Paul refers to that kind of a thorn. Why?
The context of this entire letter is Paul’s intense concern that the believers at Corinth are following false teachers. And he was a Hebrew scholar who knew the Old Testament backwards and forwards. He knew what the Lord called “thorns.” So, it is reasonable to say that the “thorn” in Paul’s flesh is not a physical weakness, but his opponents — the Judaizers, Gnostics, and other false teachers who are endangering the salvation of those for whom Paul is an overseer.
Paul beseeched the Lord three times, regarding this thorn, asking that it might leave him alone! Some say the “three times” is an echo of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus knew He was about to be crucified, and asked His Father three times if there was any other way.
But remember that He said to His Father, “Not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He fully knew His Father’s will. But He asked three times, and said, “Not My will,” so you could see what you must do.
Here is what Jesus wanted you to see by His actions in the Garden, beloved — there is no way for His power to be seen in you, until your sin nature is crucified. So say to Your Father, Not my will, but Yours be done! Then His power will be completed in you, for you have been “weak” in the eyes of the world as they observe your full submission to His will!
Verses 9-10 —
The Lord answered Paul’s requests for the thorn’s removal, saying that His grace (the divine work in Paul’s heart, and its reflection in his life) is sufficient (enough) for Paul. Why? Because the Lord’s power is perfected in weakness.
Again, it is a reference to Christ’s death and resurrection, where Christ appeared weak, but God’s power was shown. It is the same for Paul, who no longer lives, but Christ lives in him —
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Crucifixion seems weak, but the Lord’s power was perfected, made perfect, completed, accomplished in Paul because he is now crucified and no longer lives! Christ lives in Him! Hallelujah!
He will boast in his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in him. Do you see it? Surrender to God’s will appears to be weakness. But if you surrender fully, then Christ’s power will be in you! His strength will be in you! No wonder He commands us to stay and wait, to submit ourselves fully to His will, so we are filled with His Holy Spirit! Beloved, today is a good day for your sin nature to die!
Most gladly, therefore, Paul is well content with (takes pleasure in) weaknesses (feebleness), with insults (reproaches), with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties (being in a narrow place, like prison), for Christ’s sake! Why? When Paul is weak, then he is strong with Christ’s strength! Christ’s power is completed, perfected, accomplished in Paul!
When I offered myself as a living sacrifice, I received Christ’s power! Therefore, He is glorified through me, because I could not possibly do what I do, in my own strength! Everyone must agree that it is not me, but Him!
Have you offered yourself as a whole burnt offering to the Lord? Has your sin nature been crucified? Then you walk in His power. If not, you remain in the same condition as the infants in Christ in Corinth, susceptible to every false teaching that proliferates in today’s church!
Verses 11-12 —
Paul has become foolish (mindless, unwise) by saying what he has said. But he was compelled by the believers at Corinth, who are calling his apostleship into question! They made it necessary for him to boast in what Christ has done in him!
Actually, he says, they should have given him their seal of approval, for in no respect is he inferior to the super-apostles who are leading them astray — even though he is a nobody! Again, irony is in play here. Paul is well known, particularly by the Lord, but by all the churches as well!
Then he reminds the believers at Corinth that the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. How could they forget? They did not forget, but they are infants in Christ, who reject his words. So, they dismiss all the “God works” they have seen him do, and question his integrity.
Verse 13 —
Paul asks the believers at Corinth, For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches? You treat me as inferior, but I have not treated you in that way.
Come to think of it, there was one thing Paul did differently, with the church at Corinth — he did not become a financial burden to them. Forgive me this wrong, he says! He is sarcastic, for it is entirely ironic that they should treat him as inferior!
Verse 14 —
Here he is, ready to come to them a third time. He will not be a burden to them, financially or otherwise. Spiritually speaking, it is his intent that they see their need to be filled with the Spirit, so they no longer bear the burden of the sin nature!
He does not seek what is theirs — material things — but THEM! His concern is the poverty-stricken condition of the hearts of these infants in Christ!
They think he wants money, but he says children do not save up for their parents. He is their parent, their father in the faith. But parents save up for their children, and he has great riches which he would be glad to give them — even the infilling of the Holy Spirit!
Verse 15 —
I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls, Paul cries! If I loved you more, am I to be loved less? God knows he loves them (11:11)!
God knows I love you, and rejoice to spend myself and fully expend myself for your souls! Therefore, do not love Paul or me less! The words we speak are to build you up, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13, and upcoming Verse 19 of this chapter)!
Verses 16-18 —
Paul says, even if you loved me less, I was not a burden in any way to you. Now he is sarcastic again, saying, crafty fellow that I am (as if he tricked them), I took you in by deceit! Surely not, but that is what the false teachers are doing to the believers at Corinth!
Certainly, he has not taken advantage of them (defrauded them), as the false teachers have! He himself has not done so, nor have any whom he sent to them!
He beseeched Titus to go, and sent the brother whose fame in the gospel has spread far and wide (8:18)! Titus did not defraud them! He asks, Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit (the Holy Spirit) and walk in the same steps (walk as Jesus walked in this world)?
Verse 19 —
All this time, the believers at Corinth have thought Timothy and Paul are defending themselves against the allegations launched against them by the Corinthian church and the false apostles. But the words Paul speaks, are spoken in Christ — he is filled with Him! And all that he speaks is for the upbuilding of these believers at Corinth (again, Ephesians 4:13)!
Verse 20 —
Why do they need this upbuilding? They are yet infants, they are not yet filled, they have not yet reached the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ!
Therefore, Paul is afraid that they will not be as he wishes (as he wants to find them), when he comes. And Paul may be found to be not what they wish (as they want him to be). He will not deliver to them the smooth words the false apostles are glad to speak to them, but will speak the truth which is in Christ, and call them to repentance!
Paul fears that the believers at Corinth will still be exhibiting the fruit of the flesh, rather than the fruit of the Spirit — that there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes (backbitings), slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances (disorder, confusion)! To the church at Galatia, Paul writes —
Galatians 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But what is the fruit of the Spirit? God’s character, His fruit —
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
When Paul comes for this third visit, he wants to see evidence that they have crucified the flesh, have been filled with the Spirit, and are bearing the fruit of the Spirit! But evidence of their infancy remains. So he is afraid he will not find them bearing God’s fruit. It is the same today, beloved! Many believers bear the fruit of the flesh instead of the fruit of the Spirit! Many should be ashamed and repent!
Verse 21 —
So Paul is afraid that when he comes again, God will humiliate him (bring him low) before the believers at Corinth! Again, this is irony! It is the false teachers who will be humiliated when they stand before God and Jesus Christ says, “I never knew you!”
And he is afraid that he may mourn (grieve, wail) over those among the believers in Corinth who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity immorality and sensuality which they have practiced. He is concerned that these infants in Christ have not repented, and are still sinning!
Do you believe there is no need to repent of sins you commit after becoming a Christian? Do you believe that being filled with the Spirit is unnecessary? Do you believe that you will not need to stand before the judgment seat of Christ? Listen to Peter —
1Peter 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
Heed Paul’s and my words, which are from the Lord, beloved! You need something you do not have. Cry out to the Lord, and He will meet your need, just as He did with Paul and me, and others who He has filled with His Holy Spirit!
O Lord, may your church have ears to hear this truth. Amen. So be it!