Evening Bible Study
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
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 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:
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
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.
According to some timelines, Paul was living in Tarsus at the time, after
having become a believer. (Acts 9:30; Gal. 1:21)
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)
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
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.
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
:2 caught up – harpadzo –
to seize, carry off by force; to snatch out or away
This is the word Paul used to describe the Rapture.
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 Paradise – paradeisos –
among the Persians a grand enclosure or preserve; a garden, pleasure ground;
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
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
Don’t ask what Paul saw, because he didn’t describe it.
lawful – exesti – it is
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
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
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)
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
:5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my
(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 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
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 a thorn in the flesh
a thorn – skolops – 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
messenger – aggelos – 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
:7 to buffet me – kolaphizo –
to strike with the fist, give one a blow with the fist; to maltreat, treat with
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
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
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.
(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 I pleaded with the Lord three times
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.
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
“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
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
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
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
There are some things that require prayer every day for
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.
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
:9 My strength is made perfect in weakness
made perfect – teleioo – 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:
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 rest – episkenoo – 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
: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 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.
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.
:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all
perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.
: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.
perseverance – hupomone (“under”
+ “remain”) – endurance; a patient enduring, sustaining
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)
They tried to take him to
court, saying “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law” (Acts
But Jesus encouraged
(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.
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 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.
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.