About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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This Section - Chapters 12 and 13

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ch. 12:1-10    ch. 12:11-21

ch. 13:1-10   ch. 13:11-14

ch. 12:1-10    ch. 12:11-21

ch. 13:1-10   ch. 13:11-14


Paul’s Visions And His Thorn  (ch. 12 :1 - 10)  

In verse 1 we see Paul shifts gears in his boasting, although he says “that there is nothing to be gained” by such boasting.  Still he has this need to defend his ministry from the false apostles.  He now shifts his attention to visions and revelations that he has had from the Lord.  He says,, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up into the third heaven”. It is clear by what he says later that the man he speaking about is Paul himself, yet he has a hard time boasting of these things and therefore his wording is in the third person. 


F. F. Bruce, on page 134, of his book entitled, "Paul The Apostle Of The Heart Set Free" states that 2 Corinthians was probably written around 56 A. D. and so Paul had the visions he is speaking about around 42 or 43 A. D., in a time of his life that we know little about.      


In verse 2 Paul does not elaborate on just what he means by the term “third heaven”.  There has been speculation over the years concerning the third heaven, but suffice to say, it is a place where Jesus Himself is.  Later Paul calls this third heaven “paradise”.  The word "paradise" is used in more than one respect in the New Testament.  While on the cross, Jesus told the thief on another cross that he'd be with Him in paradise.  That paradise refers to Hades.  To be more specific, it refers to the good or righteous side of paradise where the righteous lost souls resided in Old Testament days.  It is commonly understood that when Jesus went to paradise after his death on the cross, he freed the lost righteous souls and they went to what we call heaven.  When Paul uses the word "paradise" here, it is in reference to heaven, or so I believe.     


Some might suggest that Jesus actually did go to heaven after He released the lost souls from the righteous side of Hades, and, maybe that is true, but I don't think so.  I believe that Jesus didn't go to heaven until He ascended into heaven in Acts 1.  There is just not a lot written in the Bible about what took place after Jesus died on the cross and when He rose from the dead.  So, it is hard to be dogmatic on some of these things. 


In verse 2 we see that this was quite an experience for Paul.  He says twice that he could not tell whether he was actually in his body or out of his body when experiencing the third heaven.  Was this a very strong mental vision, or was it a vision where he was actually there, in his human body, or maybe in a spiritual body.  Whatever the case, he could not really tell. 


 As seen in verse 4, while in paradise Paul heard “inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell”.  Obviously Paul does not tell us what he saw.  He is not permitted to do so.  What he heard and saw had to be very important.  


Off the top of my head, there are at least two other places in the Bible where God told someone not to tell  what they saw in a vision.  In Daniel 8:26, Daniel was told "to seal up" the vision he saw.  Some suggest that words "seal up" here means to simply lock up or close.  You could still repeat the vision to others.  Others suggest that there might be more of this vision that we don't know because Daniel "sealed it up" so no one could read or hear what was told him in the vision.


In Revelation 10:4, the voice of the seventh thunder told John to "seal up" what he saw.  Here, the text clearly states that John was not to tell what he saw in the vision.


So here, Paul is told not to state what he saw.  This might well have to do with end time prophecy.  I only say this because both Daniel and John were told something similar, and what they saw clearly was about the end of this age. 


We see in Galatians, chapter 1, where Paul speaks of revelations he received from the Lord.  What Paul is saying here might well be what he is talking about in Galatians 1.            


So Paul says that if he has to boast, he will boast about the man who saw these things and his weaknesses.  Once again, Paul does not say that this man is him.  He refrains from actually saying that he is the man that he is boasting about.  Paul really does not like boasting. He must have strongly felt the need to defend himself or else he wouldn’t have. 


In verse 6 Paul says that “even if I chose to speak, I would be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth”.  Boasting, in Paul’s mind is simply foolishness, even if it is boasting about the truth, which in Paul’s case was the truth.  Those who normally boast are insecure and feel the need to do so, and usually their boasting is an overstating of the truth.  This is not the case with Paul.


Paul is cautious in his boasting because he does not want “people to think more highly of them than they ought”.  You see the humility of Paul here.  You also see Paul’s strong sense of being factual and not overstating anything, even if it is for his own benefit.  I would strongly suggest that pastors, TV evangelists, and others today, really think about what Paul is saying here.   I think we have lots of boasters in today's world of Christian ministry. 


In verse 7 we clearly see that he is the man with the visions when he says, “to keep me from being conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of satan, to torment me”.  It is interesting that Paul views this thorn in the flesh as from satan.  Yet, when he says that this thorn was given to him, who actually gave him this thorn in the flesh. I believe that God gave Paul this thorn.  God often uses the devil as a tool for His purposes.  This is quite ironic.  Satan believes that he is acting on his own accord by “tormenting” Paul, but actually God is using him for his purpose. 


Note that this thorn was meant to torment Paul. As I have said earlier, concerning the abundant life that we are to find in the Lord, it is definitely not all material or physical blessings, at least not in Paul’s case.   I wouldn't think that being tormented could be equated with the abundant life


I am not sure that many other people in history have been given such a thorn since few have received such great revelations, as Paul did.  Therefore, any trials or illnesses that we may have might not necessarily be a thorn in our flesh.  I say this because over the years I've heard Christians say that they've been given a thorn in the flesh, but for the most part, I question that.  


Paul says that he prayed, actually "pleaded",  with the Lord 3 times for this thorn to be removed.  I ask, only 3 times?  Yet I imagine when Paul says that he prayed 3 times, these prayers were not some small passing prayers.  My guess is that these were times of great intercession.  Paul actually uses the word “pleaded” with the Lord .  On three different occasions Paul “pleaded” with Jesus to take this thorn away from him.  The only answer that came back was, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.  This is a Godly principle which we can also apply in our own lives.  Sometimes God does not heal us, or give us what we want, knowing that His power is made perfect in our  weaknesses.  Our own strength often gets in the way of doing God's work.  We get proud of who we are and what we can do, and that does not draw attention to Jesus.  It draws attention to us.  We should be like John the Baptist who said the "he must decrease, so Jesus could increase. 


Throughout Paul second letter to the Corinthians we've seen that any hardships and trials that he went through, which were numerous and severe, he gladly suffered for the sake of Christ.  We have no record of Paul asking God to take any of these things away.  This thorn in the flesh was the only thing that we know of that Paul wanted removed from his life.  This tells me that this thorn was one of the worst hardships that Paul suffered.  It had to have been or else he would not have asked the Lord to removed it from his life.    


The word "thorn" here is translated from the Greek word" skolops".  This was a sharp object, like a sphere, a pointed piece of wood, or a stake.   


There's been much debate over the years just what this thorn in the flesh was.  All sorts of things have been suggested to what this thorn was.  Whatever it was, it "tormented" Paul.  The Greek word "kalopizo" is translated as "torment" here.  It means "to strike, or hit, with the fist".  Paul uses this word in the continuous sense.  This thorn in the flesh is constantly bothering him.  It was not a one time thing.    


I tend to believe the thorn in Paul's flesh was an eye problem  You will note that in Galatians 4:13 to 16 that Paul speaks of an eye illness.  This illness, according to what Paul says in Galatians 4, was something that would have drove people away from him.  It was something very distasteful and would have really bothered people to see.  But, not so with the Galatians.  Paul said that they would have plucked out their own eyes to give to him, thus the reason for an eye illness.  Back in those days, there was an eye decease inflicting people called "Oriental Ophthelmai" that made people's eyes look real bad.  Christian tradition states that Paul's eyes protruded from his face.  Now we can't know this for sure, but if true, then an eye problem might well be Paul's thorn in the flesh that constantly bothered him. 


If you put the word "thorn" and the word "flesh" together, I believe you can safely say that this "pointed object" was constantly punching Paul in his flesh, as in his physical body.  Thus an eye illness could be Paul's problem.  


In verse 9 God says that His “grace was sufficient” for Paul.  There are 2 definitions for the word grace.  One is “God’s unmerited favour”, as seen in salvation.  Two is, God’s ability, or power, that He gives us to live as we should.  It is the second definition that is used in this passage.


Paul will boast about his weaknesses, because it is in these weaknesses that Christ can be seen.  Furthermore  Paul says that he delights in such things as hardships, persecutions and difficulties.  He knows that in these times of trouble Christ can prove himself to him and to the world around.


Paul presents us here with a Biblical principle , which is, "God works best in our lives through our weaknesses".  In today's church this is seldom seen.  We think that God can shine through those who look good, are rich, are well educated, are strong, are good speakers, have access to TV networks, and on it goes.  That's not what Paul is saying here. In short, this means that God can use any of us, no matter how weak or frail we are.  None of us have an excuse not to work and live for Jesus.       


Paul closes this section by saying,  “when I am weak, I am strong”.  When Paul is weak, Jesus can be strong through Paul.  When we are strong in our own self, we only get in the way.   Again, this is the Biblical principle Paul is setting forth.  


Paul’s Concern For The Corinthians  (ch. 12:11 - 21)


In verse 11 Paul refers once again in verse 11 to “those ”super-apostles”.  He says that “I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it”.  Paul is pretty much pointing the finger of blame towards these Corinthians for his boasting, which he considered foolish.  These Corinthians were being swayed away from Paul and his teachings.  They should have been commending Paul, not condemning him. 


Paul speaks here again of these super-apostles.  As I said earlier, it is clear to me that these super-apostles were the false Gnostic teachers, although there are a few who believe these super-apostles were Peter, John, James, and others.  It comes down to how you view the Greek text. That being said, I think the context clearly points to the super apostles as being the false teachers.     


Paul calls himself nothing in verse 11 because he considers himself and anything done in the flesh to be worth nothing.  On the other hand, he compares himself to these super-apostles.  He says that he is in no wise less than they, and he wasn't.  Paul was very well educated, came from a good background, and could easily win a debate with any top educator or teacher.  


In verse 12 Paul continues by telling the Corinthians “the things that mark an apostle”, that is, make an apostle a true apostle. They are, “signs, wonders and miracles”.   This may be interesting in light of the fact that many call themselves apostles even to this day yet have no signs, wonders, or miracles in their ministry.  Are they really apostles?


Paul says that these works of power were done by him in their midst “with great perseverance”.  It appears that even though he had great miracles in his ministry, the miracles alone did not make things easy for Paul, as you might expect.  You might think that if one did great miracles that everyone would flock to you, listen and hear what you had to say.  Obviously this was not the case.  It just tells you, miracles don't always bring people to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit must be dealing with the person in his heart, or nothing can bring him to Jesus. 


I find it interesting that Paul said many miracles were done through his ministry yet he seldom talks about them and you seldom see Paul being used in this way.  It is thus clear that he, unlike so-called miracle ministries today, didn't want to be seen as a miracle worker.   


We often think that all New Testament believers were used by the Lord in signs and wonders, that is, in miracles and healings, but that isn't so.  It is my thinking that most of the miracles performed were by the apostles.  I think the book of Acts shows this to be true.  Acts 2:43 states that great signs and wonders were done by the apostles that caused fear among the general Christian public.  In this case, the general Christian public, for the most part, did not perform the miracles.     


In verse 13 Paul asked if the Corinthians “were inferior  to other churches”.  The answer is no. One difference between them and other churches was he did not burden them by receiving any financial support.  When Paul says, “forgive me for this wrong”, I don't believe that he felt he was in any wrong.  This is the continuation of sarcasm that he is using to prove his point.    


To further back up this point you can see what Paul says in verse 14 when he tells his readers that “he will now come and visit them for the third time”, and still will not ask for financial support because he does not want “their possessions, but them”.  Once again, you see the underlying reason why Paul is writing this letter.  He wants to re-establish the good relationship he once had with these people.  He wants relationships, not money.  The false teachers, the professionals, wanted fame, glory and prominence, not relationships. 


In verse 14 Paul gives a practical illustration by saying that “children do not have to save up for their parents, but the parents for the children”.  Paul considered these people his children in the Lord, and therefore did not feel that he should burden them with asking for money, even though there wasn't anything really wrong with asking for financial help.  The point here is that Paul viewed these Corinthian believers as babies in the Lord.  You see that in his first letter to them.  In 1 Corinthians 3:2 Paul tells these people he has to fee them milk, not solid food.  Once they grew up in the Lord, then he would expect them to help the cause of Christ with financial giving.  Of course, Paul was not looking for a big income.  He just wanted money so he could further the work of the Lord.     


Verse 15 expresses Paul’s most inner feelings for these people by saying, “I will very gladly spend for you everything I have, and expend myself as well.  If I love you more, will you love me less?”  Paul feels like a father whose children have deserted him, so he asks, the question, “will you love me less”?  He says that he will give his life for these people, could they possibly give any affection or love in return?


This is the verse that every perspective pastor should have burned into his heart and mind.  He should have the attitude that he will expend all of himself for God's people.  He, like Jesus, will give himself away, to and for those the Lord has called him to care for.  This is a must for every pastor, but I'm not sure this is the way if is.  Being a pastor is seen as being a career choice, not a calling for many pastors.      


In verse 16 Paul calls himself “crafty”, and says that he caught “them by trickery”.  Was Paul really crafty?  Did he really use trickery to catch them up on certain things?  No he didn’t, but those who opposed him most likely said that this is what Paul was doing and they were beginning to believe it.  Paul is still using a type of  poetic license, sarcasm if you may, in order to prove his point. Of course he didn’t believe these things, but wrote this way for emphasis sake.


Paul also used the word "trickery" here because we know that the false apostles were crafty.  They used trickery to win the Corinthians over.  So, Paul is simply pointed out that he is not like the false apostles.  He is just using sarcasm to prove this point.  


In verse 17 Paul asked if he had exploited these believers in any way.  The answer would be "no", and everyone knew that.  Thus the reason why Paul asked the question.


In verse 18 Paul said that when he sent Titus to them, he did not exploit these believers either.  Nobody exploited them except for the false apostles. 


Paul asked, "did we not act in the same way …"   What he was saying here was that both Titus and him, and anyone else who went with Titus, were all on the same page.  None were exploitive. 


In verse 19 Paul says that everything they did was for their strengthening. Over and over again Paul drives this point home to his readers.  Everything he does is for them, not for himself.  He has put them first in all things, yet with little or nothing in return.  All that Paul wants is a good relationship with these people and to see them following Jesus as they should be doing.


On an earlier occasion Paul expressed a fear and here in verse 20 he does again.  He is afraid that when he comes they will not be as he hopes they will be.  Then in turn he will not be the way they hope him to be.  He will have to act boldly and correct them for the error of their ways, something that neither of them really want.  I just get the feeling that Paul absolutely hates when he has to correct people.  I don't think he feels comfortable at all in doing that, but if he had to, he surely would.  It was all part of the work of the Lord.


Note the fears Paul had.  He feared there would be jealousy, arrogance, factions, outbursts of anger, quarreling, slander, and other such things.  That does not present a very good picture of the body of believers in Corinth , but if you think about if, church life today is not really any different.  If Paul found these things in Corinth , he would be forced to address these issues.  He could not sweep them under the rug as we do today.  


Paul closes this chapter in verse 21.  He really wants to find a “repentant” heart and lifestyle among those “who had earlier sinned by indulging in sexual immorality”, most likely a partial reference to the man sleeping with his father’s wife.  Once again, we see the importance of repentance.  You just can't get away from that word, no matter how hard you try.



Final Warning (ch. 13:1 - 10)


In verse 1 Paul repeats himself by saying that he is now planning to come to visit them for the third time.  In the book of Acts we do not see Paul visiting Corinth three times.  It is clear that the book of Acts does not record all of Paul's journeys.  One thing I wish, and that is that there were a few more chapters beyond the last chapter of Acts.  I would like to know for sure if Paul ever made it to Spain .    


In verse 1 Paul says that when he arrives “every matter must be established by two or three witnesses”.  It therefore appears that when he comes to Corinth , he will sit down with those he needs to talk with in the presence of witnesses to discuss and bring to completion the things that need to be worked through.  Paul would sweep nothing under the carpet.  Everything would be brought into the light and come to a resolution.


In verse 2 Paul said that when he visited them the second time he gave them ”a warning”, and now in his letter he warns them again.  If he now comes to them this third time and finds no repentance he “will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others”.  Again, we see that Paul wants to get certain things resolved.  If there has been sin, sin must be repented of.  If there is factions, these factions must end.


According to verse 3 the Corinthians are demanding proof from Paul that Christ is speaking through him. This would obviously hurt Paul deep in his heart.  His children in the Lord now question that Jesus is using him to speak to them.  They prefer to hear the “super-apostles”, instead of their father in the Lord.


To prove that Christ is speaking through him, Paul will deal firmly and powerfully with the offenders, as verses 3 and 4 state.  Jesus is not weak when He deals with people, Paul says..  When it comes to Jesus, “He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by God’s power”.  Jesus now sits on the throne of the universe as Lord of all things an there is no hint of weakness in Him.  Yes, He died in weakness, but He now lives in strength.  That being said, it would have took one very strong individual to die as Jesus died. 


The point about being weak here is that weakness is a Godly principle as I've mentioned before.  God often does things that are opposite to the wisdom of men.  Jesus going to the grave to win a victory is not what man would view the way to win anything.  


Paul then tells the Corinthians that in one sense of the word he is weak, that is weak in himself.  Yet in Christ he is very strong, and will demonstrate this strength when he comes to see them.


At the end of verse 4 we see that the strength of the Lord will be evident in Paul's life when he comes to them.  God's strength will be clearly seen in the way Paul serves them.  After all the heart-ache Paul has gone through with these people, his goal is to still serve them.  Most would have given up long before this.  


In verse 5 Paul tells these people “to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith”.  Paul is getting to the core of things.  He is not telling them to examine themselves to see if they are living in sin or living for Jesus.  He is telling  them to take a serious look at themselves to see if “they are in the faith”.  I interpret these words to mean “examine themselves to see if they are really still trusting Jesus for their salvation”.  To me, and I know not to all, this suggests that it is possible to lose your salvation.


Paul says "test yourselves".  What kind of test might Paul be talking about?  First of all, it would be a serious introspection.  Who are they trusting for their salvation?  Have they really turned from their sin?  Are they living life every day for Jesus?  They would need to ask all the fundamental questions that would prove someone was actually saved.   


He continues by saying “do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless you fail the test”.  This is interesting.  Paul is suggesting that there might be a chance that some have failed this self examination, and as a result Christ has departed from them, and therefore are not Christians.  This tells us that by throwing away ones faith, or trust in Jesus, you lose your salvation.  Yet if they pass the self test, then Christ is in them.  They are true Christians, and therefore should act accordingly.


Some might suggest, and maybe with some validity, that if any fail the test, Christ was never in them in the first place, so, they had no salvation to lose.


In verse 6 Paul hopes that they “will discover that they (Paul and his companions) have not failed the test”.  Paul and his fellow workers are still followers of Jesus, even though some of them may think differently.  The same test Paul was advising these people to examine themselves with, it appears he was asking them to examine him with.  His hope was that they would see the he and those with him did not fail the test.


In verse 7 Paul encourages them to not only pass the test, but to do what is right.  This would be an allusion to the warning to repent and deal severely with those who still refuse not to repent. As far as Paul is concerned, he “cannot do anything against the truth”.  He will always pass the self examination, because he is committed to the truth.


In verse 7 it is apparent that Paul wasn't anxious that people see that he passes any test.  The main thing was that these Corinthians would do what is right.  Again, Paul is always thinking of others over himself. 


In verse 8 Paul simply affirms that they cannot do anything against what is truth.  It's just not in him.


In verse 9 Paul states that he is glad when he and those with him are weak, as long as his weakness makes them strong.  I can't overstate this, but Paul never thinks of himself.  He always has the people of God in the forefront of his thinking.  When God's people are doing good, so is he.  When they are not doing good, neither is he. 


In verse 9  Paul says that his prayer is for “their perfection”, their growth in the Lord into maturity, and if that takes hardship on his part that causes weakness, then that is fine.  They could be strong and he could be weak as long as they were on the road to perfection. Paul is demonstrating the heart of a real pastor.  He would gladly suffer if it meant helping them mature in the Lord  


We should view the word perfection here as maturity, not as being perfect.  We will never be perfect n this life, but we certainly can reach a measure of maturity in the Lord. 


Once again Paul says in verse 10 that he is writing these harsh words to them so that when he comes he will not have to be harsh “with the authority the Lord gave him”.  I believe deep down inside Paul is a gentle and gracious man, full of loving  emotion.  On the exterior he has learned to be harsh or tough when he needs to be, but really he would rather not be so harsh. 


We do see the validity of what is called apostolic authority here.  Paul introduced these people to Jesus.  Therefore, as an apostle, he does have a measure of authority, but this is not dictatorial authority.   It is authority based on being a servant.  He serves God's people in order to build them up.  His authority does not serve himself but the people God has called him to care for.  


Final Greetings (ch. 13:11 - 14)


In verse 11 Paul says “finally brothers, good-bye.  Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you”.  Paul is saying that if they want God to be in their collective midst, then they have to live in peace and be of one mind, things they weren’t presently doing.  The factions among them showed a lack of peace and a difference in their thinking on many things.   

A careful study of Romans 14 will show that Paul allows for differences in thinking concerning secondary issues.  He even goes as far to say that everyone should be convinced in their thinking on these secondary issues, even if they differ, but on the primary doctrines of the gospel, we all should be united, or “of one mind”.  The Corinthians were beginning to be of more than one mind on the core issues of the gospel.      


Paul says, "listen to my appeal".  The word "appeal" speaks to the very nature of this letter.  It is an appeal to the Corinthian believers to get back on track. Come back to the real Jesus and leave the false teachers behind.  


In verse 12 Paul tells his readers to greet each other with a holy kiss.  If they could honestly do this, that would tell Paul that there were no more factions among them.  Greeting people with a kiss was the culture of the day, and still is in parts of the world today.        


In verse 13 Paul closes his letter with an allusion to the Trinity by saying, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”.  Thus ends the second letter to the Corinthians that is found in the Canon of Scripture, a letter that shows Paul’s inner emotions and feelings more than any other letter that we have.  Such emotions expressed in this letter range from sorrow, fear, doubt, optimism, and joy.   At one point he even despaired of life, wishing he was dead.  Yet in all of these times of weakness, God’s power could be seen in his life, and when his children in the Lord failed to see this, he was greatly distressed.  Yet his feelings meant little to him.  He would rather see perfection and growth towards Christian maturity that he so desired to see in these people.  His love for Jesus was seen by his love for God's people.


If you are ever feeling depressed and down, this is a good book to read, study, and understand.  Here is one of the greatest Christians in history, as human as he was, he had both good times and bad times.  He felt great at times and he felt very depressed at times.  Let us thank Jesus for the life of Paul.  He is an inspiration to us. all



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