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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 12

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

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Verses 1-21

Chapter 12

It is not expedient [necessary] for me doubtless to glory. [But] I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above [about] fourteen years ago ( 2 Corinthians 12:1-2 ),

Or over fourteen years ago.

(whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) [but] such a one [was] caught up to the third heaven ( 2 Corinthians 12:2 ).

Now, I've heard preachers talk about Paul's out of the body experience, and they said that he had one of these out of the body experiences. Well, that's interesting that they know that. Paul didn't know himself, and it happened to him. Paul said, "I really don't know if I was in the body or out of the body." Now if you go back fourteen years, you come back to Paul's stoning at Lystra, and it is possibly this very experience that Paul is talking about. You remember that they stoned Paul at Lystra, and they dragged him out of the city thinking that he was dead, and his friends stood around him weeping? They thought, "Oh, poor old Paul. He's had it, you know." His limp body lying there, and the guys had gone home who threw the stones. "Hey, we've killed him. We got rid of that guy now." And his friends are there crying. And suddenly Paul's eyes began to flutter, and he gets up and he says, "Hey, let's go back and preach." Paul, you got to be crazy.

Now it is possible that Paul actually was dead and that his spirit was taken up into heaven at that point. And it could be that he is referring . . . it was about fourteen years, a little over fourteen years that he had written. Before he had written this epistle that he says, "I knew this man in Christ just a little fourteen years ago, and whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don't know." Whether or not I was actually dead or alive is what he is declaring. "I may have been dead and actually had an out of body experience. My spirit, I know that my spirit went into heaven. I don't know if I was really dead or alive. I don't know that. But I know that my spirit went into heaven."

Now brings up an interesting point: the fact that Paul didn't know if he were dead or alive, but he did know that his spirit was in heaven, consciously there, hearing things that were so glorious it would be a crime to try to describe them, shows that the spirit immediately is there in the conscious state in heaven when you are dead. Paul said, "I don't know if I was dead or alive." If at death you went into a slumber state, then Paul said, "Well, I had a glorious vision. I couldn't have been dead because you know, I knew what was going on." But in reality he's saying, "I don't know if I was dead or alive. What I do know is I was caught up to the third heaven. Whether in the body or out of the body, I don't know. But I do know I was caught up."

And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise ( 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 ),

You remember Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in paradise" ( Luke 23:43 ).

and [I] heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter ( 2 Corinthians 12:4 ).

Or which is, more literally, "a crime to try to describe." There is no language; there are no words that can describe the experiences that I had.

I read once of a little girl who was blind, but the problem was not irreparable. And a great physician performed a series of operations on her eyes. And they were taking the bandages off slowly, a few at a time, to allow more light to penetrate to the optic nerves, until finally they took off the last bandages. And the little girl, sitting there on her mother's lap as the bandages were removed, looked around. For the first time could see her mother's face, the doctor's face, the room. She got off of her mother's lap, walked over to the window, looked outside. Saw the blue sky, the green grass, the flowers, the trees, the children playing. She burst into tears. Came running back to her mother. Fell under her arms sobbing. Her mother said, "What happened? What's wrong?" She said, "Oh, mommy, why didn't you tell me it was this beautiful?" She said, "Well, sweetheart, I tried but it's just hard to describe in words the colors, the clouds, the sky. I did my best."

When we get to heaven we'll go up to Paul and say, "Paul, you were here. Why didn't you tell us it was this beautiful?" "I told you, man. Be a crime to try and describe it." There are no words that can describe the glory, the beauty. You know, it's because of our misconception of heaven or a lack of faith that we grieve over the Christians who died. "Oh, what a shame. He had his whole life in front of him. He was so young. What a shame." Oh, what a blessing. He doesn't have to go through this cruddy world.

You know, if you really understood heaven, the glories, the . . . that we should weep over someone. God no, weep for yourself 'cause you're still around. But don't weep for them. That's foolishness. "Caught up into paradise. I heard these things, these words. It will be a crime to try and utter them."

And of such a one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities [my weaknesses]. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say [tell you] the truth: but now I forbear [I'm holding back], lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that [which] he heareth of me ( 2 Corinthians 12:5-6 ).

"I don't want you to think . . . I don't want, you know, to think that I'm some, something or somebody because God has done all of this for me that you know, I'm something special." Paul wasn't trying to elevate himself in their eyes. He was forced to just defend his place because the truth that he proclaimed was being challenged. And that's the only reason why he was declaring these things to them, because the truth was standing in jeopardy. But he said, "I'll tell you what I really glory in. I glory in my weaknesses."

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure ( 2 Corinthians 12:7 ).

So Paul here now makes reference to this thorn in the flesh. And the Greek word is actually a stake or a tent stake. Now, when those Bedouins set up their tents, which incidentally is the job of the woman, the men don't even know how to handle them; they don't know how to set a tent up. They could make good coffee, but they don't know anything about setting up a tent, that's woman's job. They have to . . . women have to take down the tent, carry the tents and set up the tents when the guy decides to, you know, move a bit.

Of course, he has to determine when it's time to move. That's his job. Not enough green grass here for our sheep, we better move along, you know. And he determines where they'll pitch the tent, but then it's the woman's job. But out there in the wilderness, I mean, they really get some good howling wind. So they take these tent stakes, about eighteen inches long or so, and they drive these tent stakes in to hold the tents against those desert winds.

Paul said there was this tent stake in my flesh. The spike, this stake really. Not a thorn, not a little irritant. This thing was really major. "There was given to me," interesting statement. Now I'm sure that as Paul was praying that it be removed, he didn't know that it was given to him. That's something he discovered in prayer. This thorn in his flesh, whatever it is. And God doesn't tell us what it is, and I think that that is deliberate that it wasn't told us what the thorn in the flesh was. There are hints; there are those that have made their guesses. Some believe it was an oriental eye disease that made Paul very repulsive to look at. Some believe that it was malaria fever, a special form that they have around Asia there that so incapacitated him and left him with constant migraine headaches. There have been all kinds of guesses, but we don't know. The scripture is silent and so it's only guesswork. And really, you're better off if the scripture is silent that you remain silent.

I believe that God deliberately didn't let us know what his thorn in the flesh was because any of us who have any thorn in the flesh can relate to Paul and relate to his experience. You see, if we knew exactly what it was, we'll say, "Oh well, that's Paul, mine's different. God could do it for Paul, but you know, mine is so different than Paul." The fact that we don't know, we can all relate to it. Because it was a bothersome thing; it was a painful thing. It was a weakness. He calls it an infirmity, and we have the word infirmary, infirmity, they are both the same root. An infirmary is a hospital, a place where the sick people are taken. And so Paul talks about this infirmity, a weakness, an ailment. Whatever it was.

There was this messenger of Satan buffeting him, but Paul discovered that "there was given unto me." In other words, he discovered that there was a divine purpose for it. It was something that God had allowed in his life.

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me ( 2 Corinthians 12:8 ).

"Now three times," Paul said, "I sought God that He would remove it." Asking God to take away that very thing that God had brought to him. "That it might depart from me."

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness ( 2 Corinthians 12:9 ).

So Paul came by the spirit to a totally new attitude towards this thorn in his flesh. Where at one time he was praying to be delivered, no longer was he praying to be delivered but now he speaks about, "I glory in it."

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities [this weakness] ( 2 Corinthians 12:9 ),

"Because God's strength is made perfect in my weakness, I will glory in the weakness."

that the power of Christ may rest upon me [that God's power might be manifested in my life] ( 2 Corinthians 12:9 ).

And then he says,

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities [this weakness], in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong ( 2 Corinthians 12:10 ).

Why? Because I am now experiencing God's strength. So the way that Paul dealt with the thorn in the flesh. You see, God didn't answer his prayer as he prayed it, because God is sovereign. God doesn't have to answer my prayers as I pray them. God is not a genie. He isn't there to fulfill three wishes. He isn't there to bow to my demands. I'm not running the universe. And if I have good sense, I won't even seek to run my own life. But I will commit the keeping of my life to Him. I will commit my destiny to Him. I will seek His guidance and His direction. A man is a fool who tries to direct God to condescend to his will, to his demand.

What do I know? What do I understand the things that are going on around me? I see such a minuscule part of the total picture. I have been so mistaken in my judgment on issues because I didn't know the whole truth. And when I knew the whole truth, I was so embarrassed by what I said. Oh, look what I did. Do you know what I did? Now I found out the whole truth, you know. I told that guy off. I told him how stupid he is. And he's the judge. I have to face him next week, you know. Man, if I'd only known, you know. And so here I am so limited in my understanding and knowledge and yet I say, "All right now God, this is what I want You to do and if You want me to keep serving You, You better do it, you know. Or I won't believe in You anymore. If you don't come through on this one, Lord, forget me." And here we're trying to twist God's arm and force God, and you know, cause God to bend to our wills.

Paul prayed; He got an answer. It wasn't the answer that he was praying for. Many times, this is true. God doesn't give us what we ask for because He has something better. And what God had for Paul was a greater revelation of Himself. "Paul, no matter what you're going through, my grace is sufficient for you. I'm going to see you through, Paul." "My grace is sufficient for you and my strength will be made perfect in your weakness."

Now you see, this new revelation gave Paul a totally new attitude towards the thorn. Rather than complaining and griping and saying, "Oh God, take it away. God, remove this thing," he says, "Oh, all right. I glory in that thorn, you know, because through it I've come to a deeper relationship with God where I know more of His power in my life than I've ever known before." "A messenger of Satan to buffet me." But God has turned it into an instrument of His to bring me into a greater experience of God's power working in my life. And so I take pleasure in this weakness. Because when I am weak, hey, then I'm really strong. The changed attitude that came to Paul through prayer.

And many times that's the greatest effect of prayer, and the greatest answer to prayer is not the taking us out of the circumstance, but God's all-sufficient grace taking us through the circumstance with great victory in our hearts. A far greater witness to the world. That if, in going through this trial, in going through it I maintain a happy, joyful spirit of victory in my heart, that's a far greater witness than if I forced God to, you know, come to my rescue and save me out of this dilemma. Paul said,

I am [have] become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me [but you've forced me to do it]: for I ought to have been commended of you [for really all the while you should be commending me] ( 2 Corinthians 12:11 ):

"Here I . . . you're forcing me to commend myself. But I should have been commended by you."

for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing ( 2 Corinthians 12:11 ).

Interesting, isn't it? "Hey, I'm not behind any of those chief apostles but I'm nothing." God help us to realize that. We are all nothing. And when you think you're something, then you've deceived yourself and you're in a dangerous position. When you really think, begin to think that you are something. God said, "My grace is sufficient for you, Paul."

Whatever God does for you, He does on the basis of His grace, not because you deserve it. But because He is so loving and kind, and thus, each of us can experience the all-sufficient grace of God 'cause none of us deserve it. Gives God the opportunity to work.

Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds ( 2 Corinthians 12:12 ).

Now Paul here declares that a mark of the apostle was really the gift of miracles. There were signs and wonders and mighty deeds. This is a part of the credentials, you might say, of an apostle in those days. That's one of the things that they look for in an apostle. That there have . . . that they have these mighty deeds wrought through their ministry.

For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong ( 2 Corinthians 12:13 ).

"The only thing that you were inferior to other churches is that you didn't give any money. I mean, you didn't support me. And so forgive me this wrong, but,"

Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you [I'm going to come to you the third time]; and I will not be burdensome to you [this time either]: for I seek not yours [for I do not seek what you have], but [I seek] you ( 2 Corinthians 12:14 ):

I love that. "I'm not here because I'm wanting to be enriched. I'm here because I love you. I don't want your possessions, I want you."

for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children ( 2 Corinthians 12:14 ).

You know, I shouldn't be inheriting from my kids. They should be inheriting from me. I should be laying up for them. I shouldn't go and say, "Hey, son, I really need some help this week. Can you help your old man out, you know?" They do, they follow this. They believe this scripture. They come and say, "Hey dad, can you help me out?" That's the way it should be and I love it.

And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you ( 2 Corinthians 12:15 );

I love that. Don't you? This attitude of Paul towards them. "Hey, I don't want what you've got. I want you. And I'm glad to spend and be spent for you. As a parent, I want to lay up for you. You don't need to lay up anything for me. I will very gladly spend and be spent for you."

though [it's interesting, there's a paradox] the more I love you, [the less it seems that you love me] the less I be loved. But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile. Did I [seek to] make gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus [take advantage of you] make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps? Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying ( 2 Corinthians 12:15-19 ).

"We are there, and our desire is to build you up; our whole purpose is to build you up." You know, there is a subtle philosophy of ministry that is extremely important. And many people don't catch it. You know, there are many people that come here from all over the world to discover the secret of Calvary Chapel. They want to find the secret and go back and do the same thing in their communities. And they sit for a couple services and they get hold of Romaine and say, "What's your secret?" And he says, "We don't have any." "Oh, come on, you can tell us." And there is a subtle thing here though. People don't usually catch it. But Paul mentions it here.

There are many ministries that exist for the purpose of being ministered to. There are many radio programs that exist for the purpose of being ministered to. "Now folks, we want you to write in this week. We need your help and we're going to be going off the air if you don't support this ministry." This ministry is supported by God's people. And they're always presenting their needs and they are seeking to get you to minister to their needs. And they exist to be ministered to by the people.

That was not Paul's ministry. Paul's whole purpose was to minister to the people. Not to take from them, but to give to them. And so that is the philosophy upon which we founded Calvary Chapel: to give to the people, to minister to the people, not to seek to be ministered to by the people. And that is why you are never asked to give. We give you the opportunity, if you so desire, to give. And we say, "The ushers will come forward and receive." But we don't say, "Now folks, we ask you not to give from the top of your purse but from the bottom of your heart," and you know, all these clichés and all, you know. We don't do that kind of stuff. It's there. If you can give cheerfully and hilariously, fine. If not, keep it, you know. And we're very open with this because we are not here to be ministered to. We're here to minister. We're not here to receive. We're here to give. And that's the basic philosophy behind the ministry, and it was borrowed from Paul. We seek to build you up.

For I fear, lest, when I come ( 2 Corinthians 12:20 ),

Paul says,

I shall not find you such as I would ( 2 Corinthians 12:20 ),

"I'm coming again this third time, and I'm afraid that I'm not going to find you like I would like to find you."

and [I'm afraid] that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not [you're going to find me not what you would like to see]: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed ( 2 Corinthians 12:20-21 ).

Paul is saying, "I am afraid that when I come, if things aren't straightened up, that I'm going to really be bewailing you because God's going to wipe some of you out." Actually what he's declaring, he's talking about some of them will actually be like Ananias and Sapphira. You remember how God struck them dead? And Paul is warning the Corinthians, "Unless you clean up your act, I'm afraid that I'm going to be standing at your funeral. That the power of God's Spirit working through my ministry and my life will really come down heavy and hard and some of you will die."

Several years ago, we were approached by our supervisor to take a pastorate out in the Chino area, which we were rather reluctant to do. It was a large church, but the pastor who had been there who had founded the church had gotten into some moral improprieties and had to leave. The people were shattered, and the supervisor wanted me to go out and to take that church and try to pull it together. And so we went out and we spoke at the church and other pastors went and spoke at the church, and the church was then to vote upon receiving a pastor. And I told the supervisor that I didn't think that I was interested, that I had a smaller church but I enjoyed being where I was and the ministry I had to those people. And yet, in my heart I sort of felt that God was asking me to go there. That was really God's will but I was trying to fight it, because I didn't necessary care for the area to live and I enjoyed living where I was at the time. And so, they were to have a church membership meeting and to vote. And the supervisor said, "Well, would it be all right with you if I left your name on the ballot as they vote for their pastor? Would it be all right with you if I left your name on the ballot?" I said, "Well, yes, as long as I don't have to go. You know, I still have the option of not going." He said, "Yeah, you . . . I won't force you to go, but I'd like to have your name on the ballot."

So I said to my wife, I said, "You know, we'll put a fleece out to the Lord, and if on the first ballot the church would vote unanimously to have me as their pastor, then we know it's God's will and I'll go." I figured I was, you know, covering my bases, and in sort of a cheating kind of a thing, but I didn't want really, want to go in my heart. But yet I felt, you know, that God was saying, "Go." So we received a phone call from the chairman of the board and he said, "Pastor Smith," he said, "the church voted tonight for their new pastor, and on the first ballot, they voted unanimously to ask you to come as their pastor." And I said, "Are you sure it was unanimous?" He said, "Yes." I said to Kay, "What do we do now?" She said, "Well, it looks like we better go." So we prepared to go out there.

Well, the Wednesday night before we were to start on the Sunday, there was a lady in the church who decided to get a group of people together to support the pastor who had to leave because of the moral improprieties and to try to block our coming. And so she had started this little undercurrent in the church. Started calling people, and started this undercurrent in the church against us. That Wednesday evening, prior to our going on Sunday, she was struck by a car and killed. A very interesting thing. Because I definitely believe it was a situation like with Paul. "I don't want to be grieving over you, you know, if I come and find you in these conditions, and I find myself really grieving over you." God will deal severely, if He has to, with His church and for His church. And on other occasions we have had things like this happen. No, not that I am of Paul, or that I'm anything, but it's God's work, and a person who dares to lay their hand against God's work is really putting himself in a very precarious position.

I wouldn't dare touch the work of God. I could relate other similar stories that we have seen. But a person who takes upon himself to touch the work of God is putting himself in a very precarious position and Paul is warning them of this.


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/2-corinthians-12.html. 2014.
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