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2 Corinthians 12-13

November 25th, 2012 by Vic

2 Corinthians 12-13

“Powerful in Weakness”

November 25, 2012


I don’t enjoy being criticized even though I know it is good for me.  Some of the severest criticism I ever received was from the graduate committee that was asking me to defend my thesis.  I knew they wanted what was best for me.  I knew their intentions were good, but it was not a lot of fun being criticized.  I learned a lot from my critics.


The reason Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians was to correct some unjust criticism he had received.  The Corinthian people were very superstitious.  The popular mystery religions focused on emotional frenzies.  Paul’s critics may have been arguing from that perspective.  They were saying he was not a real apostle.  He has not had any fantastic spiritual experiences, visions or revelations.  He is unaware of the deeper truths of the mystics.  He had a squeaky voice.  He was scarred and crippled.  He couldn’t heal himself.  He was bold in his letters, but timid in person.  He agreed that they were right on some points.  He really did not want to defend himself, but neither did he want to be an embarrassment to the church.  He was their founding father.


12:1  Ironically while he feels he must continue to boast, he knows there is nothing to be gained by it.  Boasting of one’s self is not useful for edifying the church.  Boasting of one’s self is not a sign of apostleship.

12:2-4  He refutes the criticism that he has had no visions or revelations.  To avoid seeming arrogant he talks about himself in third person.  He describes himself as a man “in Christ” who had an experience.  He remembers the time.  It was before his first visit to Corinth.  He remembers that he was caught up to the third heaven.  He also describes it as being caught up into paradise.  The word for ‘caught up’ is used in Rev 12:5 of the child that was caught up to God and His throne.  It means to take something forcefully as to capture in war.  It can also be translated ‘rapture’.  If he was in Christ and caught up, who did it?  The Spirit of God.  We hear of people in the hospital and being caught up.  Who caught them up?  If they didn’t receive a thorn to keep them humble, Paul writes that it was probably not the Spirit of God who caught them up.


For the Jews, the 1st heaven was our atmosphere.  The 2nd heaven was the stars and planets and space.  The 3rd heaven is where the throne of God is.  God took Paul to paradise and then gave him a thorn in the flesh (7).  The 2 events go together in Paul’s mind.


Paul does not say that this was one of the times he was exposed to death (11:23).  He does not describe it as following a light down a long tunnel.  He does not know if his body went with him or not.  He leaves that answer to God and not to speculation.  He says what he experienced is inexpressible and He was told not to ever write a book about it.


Be very cautious when you read a book about someone dying and coming back to life.  Ask if they also received the thorn in the flesh.  Listen closely for the words “in Christ”.  The Bible says, “It is appointed unto man once to die (Heb 9:27).”  I know God is all powerful and all knowing.  He likes to surprise us.  Just don’t be deceived.


12:5-6  Paul is forced to boast but he won’t boast in himself.  He wants all glory to go to God.  This vision shows that God works through this man, but his vision does not build up the church.  God’s power is best displayed against the backdrop of human weakness.  The diamond sparkles its brightest against the black velvet.  What makes a diamond?  Common carbon, heat, and pressure.


Visions are not the criteria we should use to judge Paul or our own maturity.  Measure him by his life style and his message.  Do the words of his mouth and the way he walks praise God in harmony?  Paul says don’t give him any credit for having some great vision or revelation.  Pay attention to his life.


12:7-10  Paul admits he could have become arrogant about this fantastic experience, but God gave him a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble.  This thorn was a messenger of satan that God allowed to buffet and batter him.  It was a very unpleasant reality that drew him closer to God.  The word ‘thorn’ literally means ‘what is pointed’.  It is used for a sliver in the eye, a tent peg, and sharp stakes in a pit to capture animals or enemies.  Satan is allowed to give Paul grief.  The thorn could have been a person, a demon working through a person, an eye problem, epilepsy or other health issue that flared up frequently.  It could have been his appearance that was distorted by scars, or maybe a temptation.  We really don’t know but we all can identify with Paul a little.  We all have at least one thorn in the flesh to keep us humble.


What did Paul do about his thorn?  He went to prayer and 3 times he asked God to remove the thorn.  Paul did not try to pull the thorn out on his own.  If God had removed the thorn or if Paul could have taken out the thorn in his own strength, what would that teach us?  It would suggest that every trouble we have could be taken care of if we prayed a little harder or worked a little harder.  But God did not remove the thorn.  He just told Paul that having God’s grace was enough.


Do you remember the story of Job in the OT?  God allowed satan to mess with Job’s life.  Job’s wife counseled him to curse God and die.  His friends counseled him to confess his sin.  Then God comes and blesses Job for being faithful and not listening to his wife or his friends.  Job did not know that his life was the battlefield between God and Satan.  God had a plan for his life.  God has a plan for our lives too.


I heard a sermon this week that listed 4 benefits from having a thorn.

1. Protects us from pride (7).  Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think (Rom 12:3).  Don’t think you have to humble other people.  The New Zealanders used to have a “tall poppy syndrome.”  They would not let anyone get his head too high above the others.  It was common in school for the more advanced kids to feel pressure to make sure they missed a few questions on the exam.  Paul is saying God does not need your help to humble you or someone else.

2. Prompts us to pray (8).  Hard times and thorns draw us to God.  When the disciples asked Jesus about fasting, He replied that there will be situations in their lives that will cause them to lose their appetites.  When God seems far away we will seek Him.  God wants us to ask for help.  God can see when we are in over our head.  God can see when the rock is too big for us to move.  Just like the father working with a 4 year old child in the back yard.  Sometimes we wait for the child to ask, “Daddy will you help me?”

3. Promotes the Power of God dwelling in us (9).  The grammar suggests that Paul is still hearing the words of God, “My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.”  He had quit praying for the thorn to be removed because God’s answer was a source of ever-present comfort.  Human weakness can be filled with divine strength.  God’s grace and power are not revealed in visions and ecstatic demonstrations, but in thorns and weakness.  Paul sees in the crucifixion God’s grace and power fulfilled in weakness.

4. Provides pleasure and gladness to the faithful (10).  Remember Job.  In his book “Surprised by Joy” C. S. Lewis said, “If there is no suffering you can’t experience love.”  Those at the gym understand that.  The athlete understands that.  God can bring joy through pain and suffering.  In tribulation we are drawn to God and experience His comfort and power.  When we look back we can see God in it.  It is not easy to learn to live with your thorn.  Paul has learned to be content, “When I am weak, then I am powerful.”


12:11-18 Paul feels kind of foolish because the church should have been commending him; instead he has to defend himself.  He was their spiritual father.  They were Christians because of his ministry.  What further proof was needed to validate his work?  The fault of the Corinthian church was mostly their apathy and gullibility.  Self-proclaimed apostles were criticizing Paul and they said nothing.  These false apostles were preaching a different Jesus and the church was silent.  Paul feared that his friends would go back into their old ways.  In frustration he says that he is not inferior to the false apostles or the super apostles even though he is nothing (11).


The marks of a true apostle were done among you in patience and persistence.  Signs, wonders and mighty works followed in the lives that were changed.  The NIV does not pick up the innuendo of the dative case of the Greek grammar.  The 3 fold description of miracles attended or followed along after the salvation of believers.  The people are the primary sign of the true apostle not miracles that could be done through trickery and deception (12).


Again Paul mentions the backlash of his refusal to accept financial aid from Corinth (13).  With a little false lilt in his tone he says, “Excuooose me.”  But he is not going to change his policy (14).  For the 3rd time he is getting ready to visit the church.  He is not coming to take an offering for his support.  He does not want to sponge off them.  He just wants to be with them.  He wants to build them up in the Lord.  He wants them to know the riches of God’s grace.  He is willing to give up everything for them and asks only for their love (15).  “If I love you more will you love me less?”


Paul says, “I was not a burden to you (16).  I did not trick you.  I did not catch you with bait.  I did not take advantage of you (17).  My friends did not take advantage of you.


12:19-21 Paul says everything that has happened in the church and everything he has said to the church in this letter is to build up the church.  God can use it for their good.  He has not been concerned about his own gain, but about the church.  He appeals to them to change so his next visit will not be as painful as the last one was.  He has neither written nor done anything unworthy of his calling.  God gave him authority to build the church at Corinth.  He has spoken with sincerity for their edification (19).


He fears that he may have to confront and correct some selfish behaviors that were reported to him.  He also fears that he may have to exercise parental discipline for some self indulgent behavior.  He may have to act in ways they have not seen him act before.  He does not want to do that.  What Paul lists in 12:20b are sins that describe a divided church that was in turmoil.  What Paul lists in 12:21b are sins that reflect a moral condition of sexual impropriety.


The church needs to take the responsibility for building themselves into an acceptable community for God.  Paul hopes that they will repent and come to their senses before he arrives.


13:1-10 Paul had told them on the last visit if they go into sin, he will correct them in the proper way with 2 or 3 witnesses.  They have no excuse for being apathetic toward sin in their fellowship.  Though Paul could be severe, his goal was the good of the people.


Christ has not been weak among you (3).  He has been powerful among you and you have not seen it.  Jesus took on the form of a servant, but that did not mean He was weak.  He is not just present as a miracle worker, but as a righteous judge.  You must repent to avoid punishment.

Jesus came as a baby.  He looks so gentle and weak.  He took on the form of a servant.  That sounds like weakness.  He was crucified on a cross.  It looks like He was weak.  But that was not the whole picture.  He rose from the dead with power.  He lives with all authority in heaven and earth.  Don’t mess with Jesus (4).


Examine yourselves.  Are you demonstrating the power of God by building up the church?  Are you in the faith?  Is Christ dwelling among you?  Are you in harmony (peace) with God and man?  Paul is suggesting that salvation could be lost through careless living and false hopes.  Test yourselves.  Are you still Christian?  Turn your critical eyes on yourselves.


Don’t do anything stupid (7).  Paul wishes them nothing but the best.  He would like to be accepted by them too, but he knows that the critics are not going to approve him.


“We rejoice when our weakness makes you strong (9).  Our prayer is for your restoration and continued growth in Christ Jesus.”  The word ‘perfection’ in the NIV is the word for putting a bone back in joint.  It is setting right what was wrong.  Repairing what is broken.  It means mending the net and restoring broken relationships.


“This is why I write…”  Paul’s purpose in writing was to restore his relationship with the church in Corinth before his coming visit in person (10).


“Finally brethren” The church is very dear to Paul’s heart.  The situation is not irreversible.  In closing he gives them 5 present imperatives in the middle voice, which means it is a continuing action that the subject does to himself.

1. ‘Good bye’ in the NIV is the word often translated rejoice, greeting, hail, be glad, or farewell.  It was a common greeting.

2. ‘Perfection’ is also translated fitted, restored, or mended together.  Paul is saying pull yourselves together.  Make an effort to continually restore broken relationships.

3. ‘Listen’ is better translated ‘mutually encourage one another’ which is what good listeners do.  It is the word for comfort and is used 18 times in this letter

4. ‘Be of one mind’ is the verb for think and is often translated ‘like-minded’.  Paul is not demanding artificial uniformity, but Christian unity.  Unity flows from agreement on the truth.

5. ‘Live in peace.’  The natural result of unity is harmony and health, shalom.


The blessing of God’s love and peace will follow your action.  If you draw near to God He will draw near to you.  God’s grace will give you the strength to examine yourselves and repent of your sin.  Do what you know you ought to do and the God of love and peace will be with you.  When your life becomes chaotic do what you know you ought to do and God can bless you.  When your thorn really hurts do what you ought to do so you can receive God’s grace, love, and peace.

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