2Corinthians 12-13

Sunday Evening Bible Study

August 6, 2000


Again, Paul continues his defense against those in Corinth who wanted to discredit Paul as an apostle.

:1  visions and revelations

visions (optasia) - an appearing, coming into view; a vision.  Seems to denote an actual act of seeing something. 

P.C. - The word used for “visions” means presentations perceived in a state which is neither sleeping nor waking, but which are regarded as objective.

revelations (apokalupseis) - an uncovering, laying bare; metaph., a revealing, revelation:  a disclosure of divine truth, or a manifestation from God.  Vines - an expression of the mind of God for the instruction of the church.

P.C. - “revelations” are the truths apprehended as a result of the visions.

:2  I knew a man in Christ

Who is this person?  Is it Paul, or somebody else?

Robertson - Paul singles out one incident of ecstasy in his own experience that he declines to describe.  He alludes to it in this indirect way as if it were some other personality.

P.C. - St. Paul speaks in this indirect way of himself.

Also, see verse 7, “because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself...”

Why would Paul receive a thorn in the flesh for somebody else’s revelations which were too much to talk about.

:2  fourteen years ago

Some have suggested that this might have happened when Paul was stoned at Lystra and left for dead (Acts 14).

But –

If this was Paul, and 2Corinthians was written in A.D.56 (Acts 20:1), then this incident happened to Paul while he was in Tarsus (Acts 9:30; 11:25), around A.D.42, a period we have no data on.

This also fits into our context with 2Cor.11:32-33, where Paul talks about his escape from Damascus.  After leaving Damascus, he went to Tarsus, where he spent ten years, and it was there that he received this vision.

:2  caught up

caught upharpazo – to seize, carry off by force; to snatch out or away

Same word used to describe rapture in 1Th.4:17.

:2  the third heaven

The Mormons have a unique doctrine about heaven.  They say there are different levels of heaven.  Bad people go to first heaven, good people to second heaven, and good Mormons go to the third heaven.

The Jewish Rabbis had various ideas about different grades of heaven, some thought there were two, some three, some seven.

What Paul is talking about here is the third heaven in contrast to the atmosphere where the birds fly (#1), and space where the stars are (#2).  The third heaven (#3) is where God is.

:4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

not lawfulexesti – it is lawful (with “not” in front of it)

unspeakablearrhetos – unsaid, unspoken; unspeakable (on account of its sacredness)

This is a figure of speech called an oxymoron, “Utterances incapable of utterance”.

Maybe similar to John’s experience in Revelation...

Revelation 10:1-4 And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow [was] upon his head, and his face [was] as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire:  And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and [his] left [foot] on the earth,  And cried with a loud voice, as [when] a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.  And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.

What is heaven like?  It is far too wonderful to even try to put words to it.  We would be foolish to even think we could do it justice in describing it.

Now look at 2Corinthians 4:16-18:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Isn’t that awesome to think that Paul was saying this, having actually caught a glimpse of heaven?

Are your light afflictions really that bad?

:5  but in mine infirmities.

:5  except in regard to my weaknesses

I like Paul’s attitude.  Usually when a person boasts, they boast about how great they are, about all their strengths.

Paul limited his boasting to his weaknesses, because in his weaknesses, Jesus was made stronger in his life.

:6 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.

(2 Cor 12:6 NLT)  I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it. I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message,

:7  thorn in the flesh

What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh?

(skolops) - anything pointed, in cl., a stake; a thorn.

Robertson - This old word is used for splinter, stake, thorn.  In the papyri and inscriptions examples occur both for splinter and thorn as the meaning.  In the LXX it is usually thorn.  What was it?  Certainly it was some physical malady that persisted.  All sorts of theories are held (malaria, eye-trouble, epilepsy, insomnia, migraine or sick-headache, etc.).  It is a blessing to the rest of us that we do not know the particular affliction that so beset Paul.  Each of us has some such splinter or thorn in the flesh, perhaps several at once.

:7  messenger of Satan

aggelos Satana - lit., “an angel (or sent one) from Satan”.  Could refer to a being or a thing sent by Satan.  The affliction is personified.

:7  to buffet me

kolaphidze - (from konduloi, the knuckles, the closed fist) to strike with the fist, to buffet.

Mark 14:65 And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands.

:7 lest I should be exalted above measure.

huperairomai - pres.mid.ind., to lift or raise over; mid., to uplift oneself.

Paul is saying that to keep me from getting full of pride, God keeps me humble with this thorn.

Pride is one of the deadliest things to your walk with Jesus.  Pride makes you think that you get all the credit for the things that happen around you.  Pride was the downfall of Lucifer.

If you want to stay useful to God according to His standards of usefulness, you will find “thorns” in your life.  God is using them to keep you trusting in Him and looking to Him.

James 4:10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

If you can’t stay humble when God starts to use you, then God may allow a thorn in your flesh to keep you humble.  God wants the glory going to Him, He wants people seeing His hand at work, not you.

:8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.


Limits to prayer

1.  Some teach that you lack faith if you ever ask more than once.
They say, “The Bible says, ‘whatever you ask of faith, you shall receive’, and if you really believe, you only need to ask once”.
Paul’s example here blows the one-shot theory right out of the water.
2.  Some teach that you shouldn’t bother God by asking more than three times (here).
Paul’s reason for not asking more than three times was because God had answered him, not because he reached some invisible “prayer limit”.
(Luke 18:1-8 NLT)  One day Jesus told his disciples a story to illustrate their need for constant prayer and to show them that they must never give up. {2} “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who was a godless man with great contempt for everyone. {3} A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, appealing for justice against someone who had harmed her. {4} The judge ignored her for a while, but eventually she wore him out. ‘I fear neither God nor man,’ he said to himself, {5} ‘but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’” {6} Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this evil judge. {7} Even he rendered a just decision in the end, so don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who plead with him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? {8} I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when I, the Son of Man, return, how many will I find who have faith?”

God is not like this bad judge, but the point of Jesus’ teaching was to show the value of continual prayer, asking over and over from the Lord.


It’s okay to ask God for the problem to be over with.

We know that God does not allow us more than we can handle.
I Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God [is] faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear [it].
But that doesn’t mean that there are times that to us seem more than we can bear.
It’s okay if it seems too much at times, cry out to God.

:9  My grace is sufficient for thee

God is telling Paul that what He gives Paul is enough to handle his problems.

sufficientarkeo – to be possessed of unfailing strength; to be strong, to suffice, to be enough; to defend, ward off; to be satisfied, to be contented

What God gives us is enough for us.

:9  my strength is made perfect in weakness

teleo - to finish.  It is linear in idea.  Power is continually increased as the weakness grows.  The human weakness opens the way for more of Christ’s power and grace.

The more the weakness, the more His strength.

When we are weak, that’s when God’s power is able to work in our lives.

When we are strong, we tend to want to do things ourselves.  We tend to go out to do things for God.  But God wants us weak so He can do things in and through us.

When we are weak, when we recognize that we are weak, that’s when we finally open our lives up to allow God’s power to work in us.

:9  that the power of Christ may rest upon me

restepiskenose - to tent upon, spread a tabernacle over; rest upon, cover.  As if the Shekinah glory of the Lord was overshadowing him, the power of the Lord Jesus.

When we are weak, God’s power is able to spread its tent over our lives.

When it happens, its not like we are one of these cartoon characters who suddenly grows muscles and a new costume, but God works around us, bringing glory to Himself, not to us.

:10 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.

pleasureeudokeo – it seems good to one, is one’s good pleasure; think it good, choose, determine, decide; to do willingly; to be ready to, to prefer, choose rather; to be well pleased with, take pleasure in, to be favourably inclined towards one

The things that seem to me to be weaknesses can turn out to be “pleasures” because they are opportunities for God to be at work through me.

:10  when I am weak, then am I strong

This sounds like a contradiction, but this is the secret to having power and victory in your Christian life, learning to let go of the reigns of your life, letting your own strengths be put aside, and letting God have control over you.

It’s not done by psyching yourself into being strong, it’s not by reading 20 chapters a day in the Bible, it’s by recognizing your weakness and calling upon the Lord for help.

:11 I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you:

Paul is referring to how he has been boasting in what the Lord has done for him in defending his apostleship.

:11 for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.

Probably referring to the false, Judaizing “apostles”, maybe referring to the original twelve.

Why was Paul not inferior to the other apostles?

He performed the same testifying signs as the others (vs.12).  He probably actually reached more of the world than anyone else in his day.

:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you

Chuck:  The signs of an apostle were: (1) he must have seen the risen Christ, and (2) he had to have the gift of the working of miracles.

Q.  What signs did Paul do in Corinth?

We don’t even have a record of them.

Isn’t it interesting that we place so much emphasis on signs, wonders, and miracles, yet Paul’s proof of his apostleship wasn’t even recorded in the Word for us.

:12  in all patience,

hupomone - a remaining behind, remaining under, patient enduring, endurance.  Sticking it out when the circumstances are tough.

In Corinth, Paul had his greatest opposition from the Jews in the community.  They blasphemed when he first preached in the synagogue (Acts 18:6), and they tried to take him to court, saying “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law” (Acts 18:12f).  They took the guy in charge of the synagogue and beat him because of his association with Paul.  It was tough in Corinth.

But Jesus encouraged him...

Acts 18:9-11 Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace:  For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.  And he continued [there] a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Don’t give up because the going is tough.  Let Jesus encourage you!  Let Him strengthen you.

:12  in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

signs (semsiois) miracles with emphasis on their significance; e.g., Jesus’ seven “signs” in John.

wonders  (terasin) unusual events that engender awe.

miracles (dunamesin) wonderworks resulting from supernatural power.

The signs, wonders, miracles were to testify that what God was saying through these men was true. (Heb.2:1-4)

:13  except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.

He didn’t accept financial support from the Corinthians.

When Paul was ministering in Corinth he was supported by:

1)  His own labor - making tents (Acts 18:3)

2)  Gifts from Macedonia (Acts 18:5; Phil.4:15)

:14  the third time

Had Paul already been to Corinth twice?  Or only once?

2Corinthians 1:15-17  And this confidence I intended at first to come to you, that you might twice receive a blessing; that is, to pass your way into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and by you to be helped on my journey to Judea.  Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I?  Or that which I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yes, yes and no, no at the same time?

Paul had planned to go a second time, then decided not to, he had been accused of a being a guy who couldn’t make up his mind.

He had only been to Corinth once, planned to go a second time, and this is now the third time he is planning to go to Corinth.

:14  I will not be burdensome to you

A mark of a true minister:  Feeding not fleecing.  (John 21:15-17; 1Pet.5:1-3)

Some people have gotten the idea that the congregation is there to help out the pastor - to pay his salary, to help him get people saved, to help him paint the church, etc...

John 21:15-17  So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs...
I Peter 5:1-3 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:  Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight [thereof], not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;  Neither as being lords over [God’s] heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

In the early church there was a problem with certain wandering “prophets” who would go from church to church, giving prophesies and expecting the church to support them.

So the early church devised a test for telling whether a man be a true prophet or not.  The test was that if a man came to your church and said, “Thus saith the Lord, you shall give me a loaf of bread”, then that man was a false prophet.

Be careful when you find yourself in a position where the “minister” is the one getting ministered to all the time by the people, not vice versa.

:15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.

(2 Cor 12:15 NLT)  I will gladly spend myself and all I have for your spiritual good, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me.

This is the heart of ministry.  To give yourself to others.

:16 But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.

Paul is possibly quoting his enemies here.  They may have said that Paul hadn’t been accepting support from the Corinthians because he was planning on keeping the “offering for Jerusalem” for himself.

:18 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?

Neither Paul, Titus, nor anyone else Paul had sent to Corinth had made a buck off the church.

:20 For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults:

Paul is hoping that the Corinthians will have straightened out all their problems before he arrives.

2Corinthians 13

:1 In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.

(Deu 17:6 KJV)  At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.

A good principle in looking for God’s leading – look for two or more witnesses.

:2 I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare:

He’s warning them that he won’t be going easy on those who haven’t repented.

:3 Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you.

(2 Cor 13:3 NLT)  I will give you all the proof you want that Christ speaks through me. Christ is not weak in his dealings with you; he is a mighty power among you.

I’m not so sure I would want to be asking this of the apostle Paul.  God worked powerfully through Paul –

(Acts 13:6-12 KJV)  And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: {7} Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. {8} But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. {9} Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, {10} And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? {11} And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. {12} Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.

:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

examinepeirazo – to try whether a thing can be done; to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quantity, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself

reprobatesadokimos – not standing the test, not approved; properly used of metals and coins; that which does not prove itself such as it ought; unfit for, unproved, spurious, reprobate

I think it’s a good thing for people to examine themselves.

There is a certain kind of person who calls themselves a “Christian”, but doesn’t really have a clue what they’re talking about.

Also – Paul is talking to people who have been giving him a hard time.  He’s asking them to check to be sure they really know the Lord.

:8 For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.

(2 Cor 13:8 NLT)  Our responsibility is never to oppose the truth, but to stand for the truth at all times.

Chuck:  Paul knew that the truth about himself would be revealed in time and the liars exposed. Unfortunately, damage is sometimes done before the truth is known.


:9 For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: and this also we wish, even your perfection.

(2 Cor 13:9 NLT)  We are glad to be weak, if you are really strong. What we pray for is your restoration to maturity.

A.T. Robertson:  “He is no Jonah who lamented when Ninevah repented.”

His goal is that the Corinthians grow up.  If it costs Paul his reputation, he doesn’t care.  Just as long as the Corinthians are growing in Jesus.

:10 Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.

sharpnessapotomos – abruptly, precipitously; sharply, severely, curtly

powerexousia – power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases; the power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege)

God gives us power, but His intentions are to use that power to build others up, not to tear them down.  But there may be times when “sharpness” is necessary.

:12 Greet one another with an holy kiss.

A.T.Robertson – In the Jewish synagogues where the sexes were separated,  men kissed men, the women,  women. This apparently was the Christian custom also. It is still observed in the Coptic and the Russian churches. It was dropped because of charges made against the Christians by the pagans. In England in 1250 Archbishop Walter of York introduced a "pax-board" which was first kissed by the clergy and then passed around. Think of the germ theory of disease and that kissing tablet!

:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

Notice the entire Trinity present.