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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
As we prepare to begin chapter 12, let’s remember to thank God for His written Word and this fresh, new day in which to study it. I also pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him (Ephesians 1:17).
Welcome to HBS.
Last week we left our Apostle Paul defending his apostolic authority and his gospel by adopting one of the schemes of the false apostles, i.e. boasting, and using it against them (11:17). The Jewish intruders had “captured” the Corinthians attention with their false teaching, tuning Paul out, effectively. Paul decided, if foolishness rules the day, then let there be foolishness, if this is what it takes to win back these Believer’s confidence in his leadership and his gospel: But in whatever respect anyone else is bold – I speak foolishness – I am just as bold myself (11:21b). He planned to meet his opposition point for point, which he did commendably; in other areas he exceeded them (11:22-29).
Introduction to Chapter 12
In chapter 11 Paul listed his apostolic credentials, which included his trials as a missionary for the Lord, hopefully clearing the air about senseless boasting. Yet we find his foolish boasting continues on into chapter 12. In their list of accusations against Paul the false apostles had stated he had zero visions and revelations. If he were a true apostle, these would have been included in his letter of recommendation. Since they had compelled him to boast, he decided to mention in brief an event that occurred 14 years before. This is why Paul feels it necessary to go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
Please open your Bible at 2 Corinthians 12:1.
2 Corinthians 12
*Below are two Bible verses. One is taken from the NASB Bible and the other is taken from the KJV Bible. Note the differences.
1: Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord (NASB).
1: It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory (boast). I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord (KJV).
I wanted y’all to see how the NASB and KJV Bible translations appeared in print. One would have to study their Bibles to understand the meaning of the word boasting (NASB). Some people assign a meaning to a word too quickly. This is why we are to study our Bible. This word can have two meanings. It can mean to brag, or show off. This was one of the charges the Jewish intruders brought against Paul. They accused him of boasting in just about every situation, which means every time he spoke. However Paul explains the reason for his boasting in 2 Corinthians 10:8, 13, 11:10.
As Paul used the word here it means: to rejoice, as in victory. If we rewrote this sentence using today’s English, it could appear like this: “It is not profitable, for me to rejoice too victoriously! I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.”
Visions – the Greek word for this term is Optasia (op-tas-ee’-ah), Noun Feminine, Strong’s Greek #3701, meaning: a sight, an appearance presented to someone whether asleep or awake.
Revelations – the Greek word for this term is Apokalupsis (ap-ok-al-oop-sis), Noun Feminine, Strong’s Greek #602, meaning: a disclosure of truth, instruction concerning things before unknown; manifestation, appearance.
To be brief, visions are seen and revelations heard, and it’s important we understand when our Apostle Paul saw the Lord, he also heard Him; this is what he means to say in 12:1. As I like to say, Paul received his marching orders from Head-quarters! He wasn’t a free agent like the false apostles. Paul’s experiences with the Lord began on the Damascus Road (Acts 9). This is where he saw and heard the Lord Jesus Christ as the twelve never did. Paul saw Him in His risen glory; shining brighter than the sun. This is what caused Saul to be blinded, knocking him off his horse to the ground (Acts 9:3-9). As the text explains, Christ appeared to Saul to reveal something to him: But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have (what) seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you (Acts 26:16). Meaning, further revelations were coming all pertaining to the mysteries of God’s grace (Ephesians 3:1-11).
Not long after his conversion, when Paul returned to Jerusalem, he again saw and heard the Lord. Please turn with me in your Bible to Acts 22:17-18: It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, “Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ “They” were the Jews and Paul’s testimony concerned the Lord’s program for the current dispensation of God’s Grace. So this was in keeping with the Lord’s earlier promise to appear to Paul and reveal further revelations. Now, here we are about 25 years later, and Paul writes, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I’ve only shown you two examples, however, Paul had more visions and revelations recorded in this book (Acts 16:9-10, 18:9-11, 27:23-25).
Let’s move on to verse 2.
2: I 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 (where God resides).
I know a man in Christ – Paul could just as easily speak of a woman in Christ because this book says: And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (2 Corinthians 5:15 – Berean Literal Bible). This comment means nothing more than this man was united to Christ because he exercised his faith in the gospel (Romans 16:7).
Why doesn’t Paul identify himself as “the man” who had this vision? Why does he narrate this story in the third-person, when the given details indicate a personal experience? No one knows. I wanted y’all to know that. For me to guess would only serve to add one more opinion to that growing list of wide-ranging ideas. We do know Paul preferred to glory (boast) in his weakness unlike the super apostles (11:30).
Paul states this event occurred fourteen years ago, but Paul doesn’t say where this event took place. We know this letter was written around 58 AD, which means this event occurred around the year 44 AD, several years after his conversion. He could be referring to the event that took place in Lystra. He was stoned by some Jews who had came from Antioch and Iconium, and won over the crowds; becoming an unruly mob they stoned Paul, dragged him outside the city and left him there for dead. But while his disciples stood around, he got up and entered the city (Acts 14:19-20). But, again, this book does not say.
Let’s go to verses 3-4.
And I know how such a man- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows – was caught up into Paradise (i.e. God’s presence) and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.
Whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know - Paul repeats this phrase (12:2-3) emphasizing the fact that he didn’t know what happened. So if you’re wondering was he carried bodily up to heaven, or did his spirit separate itself from his body and travel to heaven alone, Paul doesn’t know –either one was possible.
Paul only mentions two things: he was caught up and he heard inexpressible words.
Permit me to ask you a question. Where else in scripture do you find Paul using the words “caught up?” Permit me to direct your attention to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the (single) trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be (what) caught up together with them (waiting there) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
The Greek word for caught is Harpazo (har-pad’-zo), Verb, Strong’s Greek # 726, meaning: to seize, to snatch out of the way, to carry off. The Apostle Luke’s usage of the word in Acts 8:39-40 denotes the Spirit physically seizing Phillip and transporting him to another geographic location straight away.
In Paul’s situation, it denotes a powerful action of God. Paul said he was snatched away to the third heaven or Paradise, i.e. God’s presence where he heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. This could mean Paul was instructed, i.e. commanded to remain silent about what he saw and heard while there. It could also mean Paul’s silence was due to the fact that there are no words in the human vocabulary to fully express what he saw and heard (See 1 Corinthians 2:9). In any case, here he is fourteen years later and Paul still remains silent about this experience except to say, “I know a man…:” unlike his rivals who freely talk about their so-called experiences and while doing so call into question the genuineness of those experiences.
In verse 5 Paul remarks: On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.
Notice Paul maintains the distinction between the narrator and the individual (writing in the third person) up until the second half of this verse. Paul essentially says that this “nameless” man who had the vision really had something to boast about. But Paul, himself, could only boast in his weaknesses, which was exactly what he did in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30.
6: For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, (how can I be) 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.
This verse is loaded with sarcasm and it’s aimed at his accusers. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish – If Paul chooses to boast in something other than his weaknesses, he would not be making a fool of himself, as the Jewish intruders were. Why - because unlike his rivals, who had an exaggerated opinion of themselves that had little or no foundation in reality or truth, he would be speaking the truth. The false apostles flaunted their past experiences and credentials, which the Corinthian Believers only heard about; there were no witnesses to support their claims. Whereas, our Apostle ministered to these Corinthians, up close and personal, for eighteen months (Acts 18:1-11). Therefore, Paul’s saying, “Do not credit me with what I have not shown you, but with what I have done while among you – you’ve seen my work!”
Let’s go to verse 7.
A Thorn in the Flesh
2 Corinthians 12
7: Because 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!
I’m reminded of another individual’s extraordinary experience with the Sovereign God recorded for us in the O.T. which also came at personal expense. When Jacob wrestled with God at the Jabbok River, he hobbled away from that experience with a permanent limp (Genesis 32:25). Here Paul said after he entered Paradise (the third heaven), where God lives, he came away with a permanent thorn in his flesh.
Trying to determine what Paul meant by his thorn in the flesh has generated a lot of scholarly debate over the centuries but zero answers. No one knows. The word thorn in the Greek is Skolops (skol’-ops), Noun Masculine, Strong’s Greek #4647, meaning: a pointed piece of wood, a sharp stake, splinter, i.e. something pointed such as a fishing hook. Because it’s located in his flesh people assume he’s referring to a physical disorder such as epilepsy, a speech impediment, migraine headaches, or an eye malady of some sort. Scripture gives some credence to an eye problem. Paul spoke of the large letters he used in writing to the Galatians (Galatians 6:11). He also said the Galatians would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him (Galatians 4:13-15). But his eye problem may have been related to aging, a chronic eye disease, the stoning he received at Lystra, or any one of the numerous beatings he received from his tormentors; did you ever see a boxer’s eye after one 12-round bout? Paul survived several beatings. I wouldn’t be so quick to affix Paul’s thorn in the flesh to his eye problem without more scriptural evidence to support it.
Following the Rule of First Mention, we know the devil afflicted Job with a physical malady and the LORD God permitted it (Job 2:3-7; See also Luke 13:16). Therefore we have scriptural support for the idea that the thorn in the flesh Paul speaks of can be something physical. But we’d be joining the ranks of the opinionates if we tried to hang it on any one thing in particular. So, we do the right thing by leaving it where we found it and come to terms with Paul’s statement as to its purpose; it was a messenger of Satan (meant) to torment Paul – to keep him from exalting himself!
It’s important we understand God gave this thorn to Paul, and He directed Satan to send a messenger to torment (buffet) him. The term messenger, Aggelos in the Greek language, indicates a demonic agent or envoy. This word in both Hebrew and Greek can be translated “angel.” We know from Paul’s teachings Satan is the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4), he is able to masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and he uses his servants (false apostles) to accomplish his will in the world and within the church (2 Corinthians 11:15).
However, God uses Satan as an instrument of good (Job 2:6; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20). Here Satan is portrayed as God’s instrument in preparing Paul for effective service even though the good is defined as a negative. Whether Satan is aware of this or even admits to this is of no consequence. God is always in control.
The thorn was a constant torment for Paul. The Greek word for torment is Kolaphizo (kol-af-id’-zo), Verb, Strong’s Greek #2852, meaning: to strike with the fist; to maltreat, treat with violence (See 1 Corinthians 4:11). Paul’s not speaking of an isolated incident; the present tense speaks of frequent bouts of pain. It repeatedly troubled him.
Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And 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.
Concerning this – What the Corinthians and the false apostles are seeing is Paul’s encouraging assessment of his thorn in the flesh after fourteen years. But when he first received it he was so troubled by this messenger of Satan he implored the Lord three times that it might leave. Paul prayed three times. This may reflect the Hebrew practice of praying three times daily, simply praying on three separate occasions, or praying three times in succession as in Mark 14:32-42.
I implored the Lord that it might leave me – Paul’s request is to the Lord and not to the Father (Philippians 4:6). He specifically asks that this thorn be taken away, i.e. to leave me. It doesn’t surprise me Paul wanted nothing more to do with “it.” I’m sure he found it “frustrating” in addition to being a frequent torment.
When we Believers find ourselves struggling with an illness or an overwhelming problem, don’t we usually pray to the Father, in Jesus name, asking for it to be taken away? There’s nothing wrong with this. Paul instructs Believers to rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Even the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane prayed to the Father three times saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Please note Paul did not say God will answer your prayers the way you want them answered. He did say, rejoice always; pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. We know Paul’s prayer and Jesus Christ’s prayer were not answered the way they requested it. Paul’s thorn remained and the Lord’s cup was not removed.
While I’m on this principle, we also know you cannot say these two individuals did not have their prayers answered because they didn’t have enough faith. So much for the “faith healers” who typically try to convince their audience God wants them to be well through faith and most often through the giving of financial offerings combined with their faith. They say God will reward their faith by healing them through the power of Jesus.
God has the power to heal anyone at anytime; however, the question is whether or not He chooses to do this through these men and women who call themselves faith healers at another’s expense. This book says God uses problems, which may include sickness in people’s lives, for His purposes (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:5, 7; Philippians 3:10). Our needs become God’s special opportunities to reveal Himself and His will to us and through us. (See the life and ministry of our Apostle Paul).
And He has said to me, My grace is sufficient for you – First, God answered his prayer, but Paul didn’t get what he wanted. Second, there is a sense of finality about this expression. In other words, what God has said is not subject to change or revision. Meaning, more prayers from Paul aren’t going to change God’s mind or His plan. Instead, Paul was granted the grace to bear up under it. The Lord will continue to support him and their ministry; and this thorn in the flesh would not hinder its progress for it is sufficient to meet his every need. That’s the power of Grace.
Paul was burdened by many afflictions and trials, including the daily pressure of concern for all the churches before he received the thorn in the flesh. This was just one more problem added to the pile, so to speak, that had to be dealt with. Paul was desperate for relief. There are two ways of finding relief from a problem. No, running away isn’t one. It can come by removing the load or by strengthening the shoulders that bears that load. Instead of removing the thorn, God provided the grace to bear it. In a nutshell, the promise from God to Paul is that whenever the messenger of Satan afflicts him, he will be given sufficient strength to endure it.
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast (rejoice) about my weaknesses (his infirmities), so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. I doubt the Corinthians or the false apostles understood what Paul meant to say here because most people today fail to pick up on it. Remember what’s been said about Paul by these same false apostles and by some of the Corinthians. The false apostles claimed that God’s power is best seen through visions, the workings of signs, miracles, and wonders (2 Corinthians 12:1, 12). But here, Paul maintains God’s power is most effectively made known in and through the Believer’s weakness (1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2 Corinthians 12:9).
This is why Paul can say in verse 10: Therefore I am well content with weaknesses… and not I “delight in” as the NIV translates it. With insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. Paul gives another list (four examples) of the troubles he has endured for Christ’s sake. All four of these troubles Paul faced on the missionary road. We’ve looked at them before, so I don’t think we need to go over them again.
I would like to examine this phrase though: for when I am weak, then I am strong. This inconsistency is noted by all. How can Paul be weak and strong simultaneously? Some conclude whenever God’s faithful servants humble themselves, acknowledging their weaknesses, Christ’s power is then able to flow through them. But Paul’s point throughout has been Christ’s power is perfected in, not in spite of, weakness. Paul is saying the weaknesses themselves represent the effective working of Christ. God’s power operates by different criteria than mankinds. God receives the glory when the Believer is weak and is incapable of meeting his/her own needs. The more they are subjected to pressure and to trials, then God’s strength is imparted to them enabling them to bear up under those pressures and trials. In fact, the more trials they encounter the more they look to God for His divine grace, which brings us back to Paul’s statement, “for when I am weak, then I am strong – in Grace.
One biblical example is Samson who God endowed with great strength, but in the end his herculean strength brought about his ruin (Judges 16:18-30). He found his strength, one last time, in the LORD God which teaches us that: enduring strength lies in God alone.
Who isn’t familiar with the Christian painting called “Footprints in the Sand,” which serves to remind Believers that God’s all sufficient grace carries us through our times of trouble to joyous victory over our afflictions and trials each and every day?
(To be continued)
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