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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 12

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-9

My grace is sufficient for thee

2 Corinthians 12:1-9

The apostle Paul continues in this chapter to vindicate himself and his ministry against the false preachers, taking notice of a very remarkable and unusual experience with which God favored him and of the method God used to keep him humble and to keep him from being exalted. Yet for all this, he chose rather to glory in his infirmities and hardships for the sake of the gospel.

2 Corinthians 12:1 . It is neither comely nor is there anything to be gained by our boasting in our works, our gifts, or our accomplishments (Jeremiah 9:23-24), nor would Paul do it except when it was necessary for the glory of God and the overall good of the church. Having spoken of his hardships and great sufferings for Christ, he comes to visions and revelations which God gave to him. His conversion was the result of what he called a ‘heavenly vision’ (Acts 26:19). At Troas a vision appeared to him, in which a man of Macedonia called him there to preach (Acts 16:9). The Lord spoke to him in a vision, revealing to him that he should remain in Corinth, for God had much people there (Acts 18:9-10). These visions were for his instruction, direction and encouragement in the ministry of the gospel. We have no need of special visions and voices from heaven, for we have the completed word of God. All that we need in order to know Christ and have eternal life is revealed by the Holy Spirit through the word of God (Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23).

2 Corinthians 12:2-3 . Paul speaks of himself in the third person instead of the first. The men whom God used to write the Scriptures often did this. 2 Corinthians 12:7 clearly indicates that he referred to himself. He says, ‘I knew a man in Christ,’ that all the glory and honour might be to Christ, for no heavenly blessing nor heavenly revelation can come to any man except in, by and for the glory of Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Paul was taken up to ‘the third heaven,’ the seat of divine majesty, the abode of holy angels, where the glorified Christ is and where departed believers go following death. In 2 Corinthians 12:4 he called it ‘paradise’ (Luke 23:43). Some say the third heaven is above the heaven where the birds fly and above the starry heaven which is adorned with stars and planets. Whether he was taken there in body and spirit, or in spirit only, he did not know - only God knows!

2 Corinthians 12:4 . Paul did not speak of what he saw there but only of what he heard, calling the language and words unspeakable (either impossible for a man to utter, or impossible for men in the flesh to comprehend, or both). Though they were spoken in the presence of a man, yet they could not be spoken by him! Not that it would be sinful for him to speak these heavenly words, but that it was impossible for him or for any earthly creature to understand, enter into, or participate in this heavenly state until they are changed to his likeness (1 Corinthians 15:50-51). This exposes as falsehood the testimonies of people today who claim to have died and who come back telling what they saw and heard. Heavenly glories are as impossible for the human mind to comprehend and express as music, art and science are above the understanding and communication of a dog. Only glorified people can speak of or understand the true glories of heaven.

2 Corinthians 12:5 . In this experience the Lord greatly exalted and honored Paul, and though he might and did lawfully glory and rejoice in the Lord who had so highly favored him, yet he knew that it was not owing to any merit or worthiness found in himself. He found all grace and mercy in Christ and only for the glory of Christ. If he gloried in anything of himself in his present state, it would be in his infirmities and weaknesses, those things which he had suffered for the glory of God. He had been faithful to the gospel even under the most difficult circumstances (2 Timothy 4:5-8).

2 Corinthians 12:6 . Again the humility of the apostle shines forth in this verse for he says, ‘Should I have a mind to boast or glory in this unusual experience, I would not be foolish braggart (as some might interpret it); for I would be telling nothing but the truth - a true account of what really happened. But I forbear, suppress any desire to relate all of the revelations and visions God has given me, lest anyone should take me to be more than I am a sinner saved by the grace of God’ ( Eph 3:7-8 ; 1 Timothy 1:15; Romans 7:24).

2 Corinthians 12:7 . God took care of any tendency in Paul to be proud or puffed up over the greatness of his gifts and revelations by giving him a thorn in the flesh. Pride is naturally in every man's heart and believers are not without it; therefore, to prevent this sin, which God hates (Proverbs 6:16-17; Proverbs 16:18), God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him. We know that God permitted this affliction; we know that it had to do with Paul's flesh (human nature). Whether it was sickness, weakness, temptation, lust, or appearance, we do not know, but we know that it was a messenger of Satan, or, as God was pleased to put Job in the hands of Satan, he was pleased to allow Paul to be tried sorely and afflicted by the angel of hell. The plain and evident purpose for this severe trial in the flesh was to keep Paul from becoming proud, puffed up and exalted above measure. Instead of being a hindrance, this thorn was a help to the apostle, as our infirmities, afflictions and trials are for our eternal good (Romans 8:28; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

2 Corinthians 12:8-9 . Three times in definite, dedicated and sincere prayer, Paul asked God to deliver him from this affliction, to remove it from him, but the Lord refused, telling Paul that his grace was sufficient to support him, strengthen him and uphold him under any trial or circumstance. Besides, God's strength and grace are never more glorified or appreciated than when we realize our own weakness and inability! Therefore, Paul said, ‘I will all the more rejoice in and accept my weaknesses and infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon and be revealed in me’ (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Verses 10-21

We seek not yours, but you

2 Corinthians 12:10-21

When Paul prayed three times for God to remove the thorn in his flesh, the answer God gave him was wonderfully satisfactory to him. ‘My grace is sufficient for you,’ to strengthen, comfort and bear you up under and through whatever trial or affliction it is my purpose for you to experience (Philippians 4:11-13). The Lord's strength and grace are more manifest, are more glorified and are more appreciated in the light of our weaknesses (Luke 7:47). Paul considered himself to be a weak, feeble, sinful creature and the power and grace of Christ to be his refuge, his salvation, his shield and his strength.

2 Corinthians 12:10 . ‘Therefore,’ he said, ‘I take pleasure in the infirmities of the flesh, in reproaches from Satan and men, in the common necessities of life (such as hunger, thirst and nakedness), in persecutions from the enemies of the gospel (whether in the church or out), in distresses of mind and heart and for all things that I am called upon to suffer for Christ's sake; for when I am weak in myself and aware of my inability and the arm of flesh provides no help, then my Lord strengths me, meets my need and reveals his grace, and this is my real strength.’ When we have nothing to say, to contribute, or to find comfort in, we will look to Christ and find that in him are all things! To live, we must die; to be full, we must be emptied; to be rich, we must become poor!

2 Corinthians 12:11-12 . Paul declared that in calling attention to his revelations, his office and his sufferings, he felt like a foolish person, for it was against the principle of grace, against his humble spirit and against the truth of divine providence for him to boast (1 Corinthians 4:7). But these people forced him to do it by listening to the false preachers and taking sides against Paul. They ought to have spoken in his defense, for he was the instrument of God in their conversion, and he was not one whit behind the greatest apostles in call, gifts, labors, or suffering, though in himself he knew that he was nothing (1 Corinthians 3:5-7; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10). Indeed, the signs and credentials of a genuine apostle were performed among them by Paul and revealed in wonders and mighty deeds (Romans 15:16-19; Hebrews 2:3-4).

2 Corinthians 12:13 . ‘You have not been neglected, not treated any differently than the churches where Peter or James or the other apostles ministered. You have heard the same gospel, witnessed the same miracles and been enriched in the same spiritual gifts. The only difference is that I took no financial support from you, but provided for my own support by laboring with my hands. If this offended you, I apologize’ (2 Corinthians 11:7-9).

2 Corinthians 12:14-15 . Paul planned to visit them again and lets them know that he was coming to them with the same resolutions, not to be a financial burden to them. His chief reason for this determination was to impress upon them the fact that his only concern was their salvation, their growth in grace and their fellowship in Christ, not material, nor physical, nor personal gain for himself. He looked upon them as his children and, though children ought to help parents who are in need, yet it is the duty of parents to provide for children. He declared that he loved them so exceedingly that he would spend all that he had and be willing to labour and even die for their spiritual welfare, though it seemed that the more he loved them, the less they loved him.

2 Corinthians 12:16-17 . ‘You must admit that I did not burden you at all, and the false accusers will admit it also, but they suggest that I was crafty and sly, making use of other persons to get your money, while I professed to preach the gospel freely.’ Paul desires them to name even one person of the many messengers he sent their way who had received anything from them for him. Enemies of the gospel seek their own and are not only cruel in their accusations, but usually have no regard for truthfulness.

2 Corinthians 12:18 . He urged Titus to visit them and sent a brother with him. He asked, ‘Did Titus take advantage of you in any way? Did he not act in the same spirit in which I acted and take the same steps, seeking your good and not his own?’ God's true ministers all are of the same spirit. They seek the glory of God and the good of the church, not their own gain, glory, or welfare (1 Timothy 3:1-7).

2 Corinthians 12:19 . Did Paul speak all these words about his ministry, his labors and his sufferings only to defend himself against false charges, to build himself up in their eyes, or to gain their favour? No! It was for their sake, for their edification, because he loved them, that they might be grounded on the true foundation, the Lord Jesus Christ, built up and established in the faith of the gospel. He spoke in all sincerity, without deceit, before God as one in Christ. He was fearful lest they be led astray by listening to the wrong voice. God speaks through men, but since there are so many false preachers; we must try them and their message (1 John 4:1-3; Revelation 2:2).

2 Corinthians 12:20-21 . Paul closes this chapter by expressing the fear that when he visited them again, he would find things in the church not honoring to Christ and contrary to holiness, such as quarrelling, envy, wrath, strife, selfishness, gossip, pride and disorder. ‘If I find you in these things, you will not find me to be so co-operative, but quite severe in my dealings with those who will not repent of their sins and walk in Godliness.’ This would cause the apostle great distress, grief and sorrow of heart to have his visit concerned with discipline instead of comfort. ‘Put away these things from among you and walk together in love and purity, that the name of Christ be not slandered’ (Ephesians 5:1-4).

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/2-corinthians-12.html. 2013.
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