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2Corinthians 12:1-13

Thursday Evening Bible Study

March 5, 2015


Do people see Jesus? Is the gospel preached? Does it address the person who is: Empty, lonely, guilty, or afraid to die?  Does it speak to the broken hearted? Does it build up the church? Milk – Meat – Manna Preach for a decision Is the church loved? Target 3300 words   Video = 75 wpm

Paul had spent nearly three years in Ephesus, during which he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians.

Paul’s stay in Ephesus ended abruptly when a riot broke out in the city because of how the Christian revival was affecting the business of those who made idols.

After the riot, Paul headed up north to Macedonia.

The year is AD 56, almost a year after Paul had written his first letter to the Corinthians.

The big thread through most of the letter has been Paul dealing with those who are questioning his authority.

12:1-6 Visions of Heaven

:1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:

:1 to boastkauchaomai – to glory (whether with reason or without); to glory on account of a thing; to glory in a thing

:1 profitablesumphero – to bear or bring together; to bear together or at the same time; to help, be profitable, be expedient

:1 visionsoptasia – the act of exhibiting one’s self to view; a sight, a vision, an appearance presented to one whether asleep or awake

:1 revelationsapokalupsis – laying bear, making naked; a disclosure of truth, instruction; concerning things before unknown

:1 I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord

I’m sure the false apostles who were accusing Paul were telling people all about the “visions” they had had.

Paul had visions too.

:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven.

:2 I know a man

I think that Paul is actually talking about himself.

It was a custom of Jewish rabbis to speak of themselves in the third person.
He speaks in the third person to keep from drawing too much attention to himself about this amazing incident.

Also, in verse 7, Paul lets the secret out that it was actually him:

(2 Corinthians 12:7 NKJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me…

:2 fourteen years ago

Some suggest this was in Tarsus.

If Paul is writing around AD 56, then this event took place around AD 42.
According to some timelines, Paul was living in Tarsus at the time, after having become a believer. (Acts 9:30; Gal. 1:21)
(Acts 9:30 NKJV) —30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.
(Galatians 1:21 NKJV) —21 Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
We don’t know much about this period in Paul’s life.  This was after he was a believer, but before Barnabas had sought him out to help him in Antioch of Syria. (Acts 121:25)
(Acts 11:25 NKJV) —25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul.

Others suggest this was what happened to Paul at Lystra.

When Paul and Barnabas first arrived in this Galatian city (Acts 14), they were treated like gods after God used Paul to heal a man who had been crippled since birth.
The people of Lystra were claiming that Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes.  They even brought flowers and were about to sacrifice oxen to worship them.
Paul and Barnabas were greatly upset that they were being treated this way.
They stopped the people from sacrificing.
They tore their clothes in grief and disgust.
They told the people that they were ordinary men, and that they represented the true God in heaven.
(Acts 14:19–20 NKJV) —19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
It seems Paul died.  And came back.
We’re going to see that Paul is going to be very careful to treat this whole heavenly vision with great humility.
I wonder if this isn’t because it came from a time when Paul was being hailed as a “god”.

:2 in the body … out of the body

Paul couldn’t tell whether he was still in his body or not when this happened.

:2 caught upharpadzo – to seize, carry off by force; to snatch out or away

This is the word Paul used to describe the Rapture.

(1 Thessalonians 4:17 NKJV) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

:2 third heaven

The Mormons, and the Gnostics, claimed that there were seven heavens.

The Scripture only talks about three.

The word “heaven” is used to describe three different places.

1) Where the birds fly
We call that the “atmosphere”
2) Where the stars are
We call that “space”
3) Where God dwells
This is where Paul found himself caught up to.

:3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—

:4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

:4 caught upharpadzo – to seize, carry off by force; to snatch out or away

:4 Paradiseparadeisos – among the Persians a grand enclosure or preserve; a garden, pleasure ground; heaven

The Garden of Eden before the fall was considered a “Paradise”.

The early church fathers said that this paradise still exists, but no longer on earth, yet somewhere between earth and heaven.

Before the resurrection of Jesus, the part of Hades where the righteous dead were was called “Paradise”, or “Abraham’s bosom”.  At the resurrection, Jesus led Paradise into heaven.

Paul here is talking about heaven, where God dwells.

:4 inexpressible words … not lawful

Don’t ask me what those words were because Paul didn’t feel he could tell us.

Don’t ask what Paul saw, because he didn’t describe it.

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

wordsrhema – that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken, word; subject matter of speech, thing spoken of

lawfulexesti – it is lawful

The word doesn’t actually use the word for “law” (nomos).
Other ways to translate this word are, “it is free”, “it is possible”, “it is able”
NASB:  which a man is not permitted to speak
ESV:  which a man may not utter

Some have used this to say that books like “Heaven is for real” must be fake, because nobody is able to describe heaven.

Just because Paul couldn’t describe what he saw doesn’t mean that others couldn’t.
Isaiah had a vision of heaven.
(Isaiah 6:1–3 NKJV) —1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”
Ezekiel and John had a similar visions of heaven (Eze. 1; Rev. 4)
(Revelation 4:6–8 NKJV) —6 Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”
This doesn’t mean that these modern accounts of people dying and supposedly going to heaven are real.
There was a recent book in which the kid claiming to have died said that he made it all up.
My point is that just because Paul didn’t feel he could describe it doesn’t mean that others aren’t allowed to try.

Paul’s point is that the things he saw and heard were beyond his ability to describe.

:5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities.

(2 Corinthians 12:5 NLT) That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses.

:6 For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.

:6 I might desirethelo – to will, have in mind, intend; to desire, to wish

:6 a foolaphron – without reason; senseless, foolish, stupid; without reflection or intelligence, acting rashly

:6 refrainpheidomai – to spare; to abstain

:6 lest anyone should think of me above

Paul’s reason for not saying any more than he’s already said is because he doesn’t want people to think more highly of him than they should.


Keep Mouth Shut

There are times when we should talk about ourselves.
Especially if people are asking about what has happened to us, and they want to hear what God has been doing.
There is a place for not talking about yourself.
When our whole purpose is to draw attention to ourselves and help people to “like” us more, it might be better to shut up.
If you are going to be praised, the praise is best coming from someone else.
(Proverbs 27:2 NKJV) Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.

12:7-10 Thorn in the Flesh

:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.

:7 abundancehuperbole – a throwing beyond; superiority, excellence, pre-eminence; beyond measure, exceedingly, preeminently

:7 revelationsapokalupsis – laying bear, making naked; a disclosure of truth, instruction; concerning things before unknown

:7 exalted above measurehuperairomai – to lift or raise up over some thing; to lift one’s self up, be exalted, be haughty

The same word is used twice in the passage.

:7 a thorn in the flesh

a thornskolops – a pointed piece of wood, a stake; a sharp stake, splinter

In classical Greek this word is often translated as “thorn”

What was Paul’s “thorn” in the flesh?

Most think it was some sort of physical ailment.
Theories include eye disease, malaria, epilepsy, insomnia, or migraines.
In a way it’s nice that Paul didn’t get specific, because whatever things we might struggle with, we can consider as our “thorns”.

:7 a messenger of Satan

messengeraggelos – a messenger, envoy, one who is sent; an angel

Paul is personalizing his trouble.

It might refer to a being (demon, a person), but more likely a thing (disease).

:7 to buffet mekolaphizo – to strike with the fist, give one a blow with the fist; to maltreat, treat with violence

This word was used to describe what happened to Jesus.

(Mark 14:65 NKJV) Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands.

:7 lest I be exalted above measure


Serious about humility

God is serious about His servants being characterized by humility, not pride.
Paul has learned this and this is why he’s refrained from boasting about the details of his heavenly experience.
God is serious about it enough that if one of His servants really wants to be used by God, then God will work to help them learn humility.
Not all of God’s “servants” are that serious in serving Him, and you will see it when the pride comes out.
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.
The problem with you getting all the credit for what God does through you is that people will come to trust in you, not in God.
And you really can’t help anybody.

People don’t need you in their lives, they need God.

Peter wrote,
(1 Peter 5:5b–6 NKJV) …be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time

:8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.

:8 pleadedparakaleo – to call to one’s side, call for, summon; to address, speak to, (call to, call upon), which may be done in the way of exhortation, entreaty, comfort, instruction, etc.; to beg, entreat, beseech

:8 departaphistemi – to make stand off, cause to withdraw, to remove

This is not the word used to describe the casting out of demons (exerchomai, ekballo, hupago)

:8 I pleaded with the Lord three times


Just ask

It’s okay if it seems like your problem is too much for you.
Paul didn’t want his thorn, initially.
He wanted it to end.
Don’t assume God wants you to have this thorn.

(James 4:2b NKJV) …Yet you do not have because you do not ask.


Limits to prayer

Time to keep praying
Sometimes we give up too quick in prayer.
The “word of faith” teachers tell us you should only ask God once for something if you really have “faith”.
Yet Paul prayed for this thing three times.
(Luke 18:1–8 NKJV) —1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ” 6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

The lesson Jesus was trying to give was that at times we shouldn’t give up praying for something.

Having “faith” can mean that you keep asking God until He does something.

Samuel said,

(1 Samuel 12:23 NKJV) Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.

Time to stop praying
It’s not that “three” is the magic number of how many times we ought to pray.

There are some things that require prayer every day for years.

I do believe there may be times when God simply wants us to stop asking, because it’s not going to change His mind, and He wants us to let it go.

This was certainly the case for Paul.

Just the opposite of Samuel, the prophet Jeremiah was told to stop praying for the people.

(Jeremiah 7:16 NKJV) “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you.

:9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

:10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

:9 is sufficientarkeo – to be possessed of unfailing strength; to be strong, to suffice, to be enough

:9 gracecharis – grace; good will, loving-kindness, favor

:9 strengthdunamis – strength, power, ability

This word is also translated “power” in this verse.

:9 weaknessastheneia – lack of strength, weakness, infirmity

This word is also translated “infirmities” in this verse.

:9 My strength is made perfect in weakness


Mature strength

made perfectteleioo – to make perfect, complete; add what is yet wanting in order to render a thing full
I often think of this word as speaking of “maturity”
James uses a form of this word:

(James 1:2–4 NKJV) —2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Back in the days of ancient combat, the maturity of a warrior was no measured in the size of his muscles, but in the kinds of scars he wore.
Muscles without scars tells me a fellow hasn’t faced battle.
If you want to find a strong prayer warrior to pray for you, don’t pick the person with fancy words, pick the person who has endured much difficulty.

:9 the power of Christ may rest upon me

may restepiskenoo – to fix a tent or habitation on; to take possession of and live in the houses

Paul was a tentmaker.  He knew about living in tents.
John used a form of this word to describe what we celebrate at Christmas, when God took on the “tent” of human flesh and lived among us.
(John 1:14 NKJV) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here, Paul is talking about God’s power “dwelling” in us through our weakness.

:9 I will rather boast in my infirmities

Much of the last chapter was about Paul boasting in his “infirmities”, the difficulties in his life, the trials that he was enduring.

:10 I take pleasureeudokeo – it seems good to one, is one’s good pleasure; to be well pleased with, take pleasure in, to be favorably inclined towards one

:10 infirmitiesastheneia – want of strength, weakness, infirmity

:10 reproacheshubris – insolence; a wrong springing from insolence, an injury, affront, insult

:10 in needsanagke – necessity, imposed either by the circumstances, or by law of duty regarding to one’s advantage, custom, argument; calamity, distress, straits

:10 persecutionsdiogmos – persecution

:10 distressesstenochoria – narrowness of place, a narrow place; metaph. dire calamity, extreme affliction

:10 I take pleasure in infirmities


Not so scary

I don’t consider myself a fan of things like “infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses”.
I tend to be more afraid of them.
Video:  Kitten and Scary Apples
Sometimes the things we’re afraid of are actually things that are necessary for our growth.

:10 when I am weak, then I am strong


Weak is ok

When I am weak, God has the opportunity to be strong in my life.
If I will let Him.
The problem is that sometimes I tend to focus so much on my pain or weakness, that I don’t yield to God and allow Him to work.
This is not a hard fast rule, but sometimes in my own life, it’s the times that I’m the weakest that I see God work the most.

12:11-13 Apostolic Signs

:11 I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing.

:11 you have compelledanagkazo – to necessitate, compel, drive to, constrain

This is the verb form of “needs” in vs. 10

:11 commendedsunistao – to stand with (or near)

“you should have stood with me”

:11 eminentlian – greatly, exceedingly, exceedingly beyond measure

:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.

:12 the signssemeion – a sign, mark, token

word used twice in verse

:12 were accomplishedkatergazomai – to perform, accomplish, achieve

:12 wondersteras – a prodigy, portent; miracle: performed by any one

:12 mighty deedsdunamis – strength, power, ability; power for performing miracles

:12 with all perseverance

It was expected in the early church that an “apostle” was one who performed miracles, but here’s one quality we often overlook.

perseverancehupomone (“under” + “remain”) – endurance; a patient enduring, sustaining


Keep going

Part of Paul’s apostolic qualifications was “perseverance”.
In Corinth, Paul had plenty of opposition from the Jews in the community. 
They blasphemed when he first preached in the synagogue (Acts 18:6)

(Acts 18:6 NKJV) —6 But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

They tried to take him to court, saying “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law” (Acts 18:13). 

(Acts 18:13 NKJV) —13 saying, “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”

But Jesus encouraged him...
(Acts 18:9–11 NKJV) —9 Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” 11 And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Video:  Derrick Coleman Duracell
Don’t give up because the going is tough.  Let Jesus encourage you!  Let Him strengthen you.

:13 For what is it in which you were inferior to other churches, except that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong!

:13 you were inferiorhettao – to make less, inferior, to overcome

:13 was not burdensomekatanarkao – to cause to grow numb; to be inactive, to be to the detriment of one; to weigh heavily upon, be burdensome to

:13 Forgivecharizomai – to do something pleasant or agreeable (to one), to do a favor to, gratify; to grant forgiveness, to pardon

:13 I myself was not burdensome

Again, Paul is being just a little sarcastic.

The only way in which Paul treated the Corinthian church differently than other churches was that he didn’t ask them for financial support.

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)

Back to …

:9 My grace is sufficient

Grace is whatever God freely gives to us.

We are saved by His grace because it was the gift of His Son on the cross that paid for our sins.

In this verse, Paul equated God’s “strength” or “power” with God’s “grace”.

The strength that God gives is “sufficient”, it’s enough.

Sometimes it’s not actual “strength” as much as it is simply His presence.


He is enough

The best gift of God’s grace is His presence in our lives.
Video: Jesus the Name lives on