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Numerous Visions and Revelations.
1. It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
Though Paul had nothing to gain personally by boasting of his experiences, he did so for the sake of the Corinthians; for persuading them that he was a true apostle would help to counteract the corrupting teachings of the false apostles. Having written of his trials and hard work, he now mentions some of the visions and revelations he had received from the Lord. On numerous occasions Christ appeared to Paul, or spoke with him (e.g. Acts 9:3-6 ; Acts 22:17-18 ; Acts 23:11 ; Acts 26:12-18). There must have been other occasions, for Paul insists that he received the Gospel from the risen Christ Himself, and not by any human agency (Gal. 1:11-12). Christ appeared to him as literally as he appeared to the eleven after His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5-8) and gave Paul a full understanding of the truth (Eph. 3:3-4).
2 - 4. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows-- was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.
It is generally accepted that Paul is referring to himself. Over 14 years previously (probably while in the Arabian desert (Gal. 1:15-17) Paul was caught up into heaven, as John was in the book of Revelation. He describes it as the "third heaven", for the first heaven is the sky, the second is space, and the third is the presence of God. Such was his experience that Paul could not be sure whether he was still in his body or had been lifted out of his body into the spirit; only God knew that. In heaven he heard (probably from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Himself) things which were impossible to pass on in merely human words. The glories of heaven surpass any language man is currently capable of. Yet Paul, like John, saw and heard all these things. He must have been filled with an inexpressible joy, for God's Word says that "in your presence is fullness of joy (Psa. 16:11). That joy sustained him through all his trials and eventual martyrdom.
5. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.
Again, it is believed that Paul is referring to himself. He will boast in Christ and His glory, but not of himself, except to draw attention to his own weakness that Christ alone might be glorified in him.
6. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me.
If he desired to go into more detail about the revelations he had received, Paul would even then not be like a fool (making it up); his experiences were entirely genuine. But he decided that he had already said enough, and did not want to elaborating further, lest others should form an inflated view of him. Paul feared this as much as he feared having an inflated view of himself. His desire was that Christ should have all the glory (Gal. 6:14).
The 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 (NKJVTM).
The reason that God allowed Paul to be afflicted was so that he might not become proud about the great revelations which he had received. God gave Paul the "thorn in the flesh" to counter his human tendency of self exaltation, that Christ might continue to have all the glory. It is not known what the "thorn" actually was. Paul described it as an "angel of Satan", a term which (even if it is not to be taken literally) at least denotes the severity of the problem and its effect on Paul's spirit. Paul may have felt cowed, a child of Christ allowed to be tormented by Satan, just as Job was. The word "buffet" means to thump; it is used in Job 2:7.
8. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me (NKJVTM).
Though Paul does not disclose the exact nature of the thorn, he does tell us what his initial reaction was. On three occasions he set aside a time to pray only about this thorn, that God might remove the problem.
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 (NKJVTM).
Finally, the Lord answered; but he did not remove the thorn. What he did instead was to remove Paul's anxiety about it and deliver him by means of changing his attitude. "My grace," that is, all that I am, which I give to you freely and liberally in order to satisfy your soul, "is all that you need". "My strength" should be "my miraculous and supernatural power"; and since it accomplishes its end out of nothing, it certainly does so in human weakness. The power of God is made more rather than less glorious when it is revealed through weak vessels.
Paul's response was one of gratitude; he could now rejoice in his affliction, not for its own sake, but because it kept him near to Christ so that His miraculous power would remain fully at work in him.
10. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Could this be an explanation of what the thorn was? Is this that in which Paul felt the enemy buffeting him daily? Weakness and illness, insult and injury, want and poverty, persecution and anguish; Paul suffered all of these as he spread the Gospel of Christ. Whilst Paul had once regarded these problems as his enemies, he now, through a miracle of Christ's indwelling power, was enabled to regard them as his friends. He took pleasure in their company! He thought well of them, in as much as they were meant ultimately for his good. It was in Paul's weakness that the Divine power was most clearly seen, making him an able messenger of the new covenant. The word "strong" means "capable". So we see that although Paul was distressed, persecuted, and weak, God mightily used Him to perform miracles and by Christ's power made him up to the task of founding churches everywhere (1 Cor. 1:27).
11. I have been a fool! You forced me to it. Indeed you should have been the ones commending me, for I am not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.
No doubt Paul's reference to humility is a reproof to the false apostles who were so full of self importance. I have been very rash to boast, says Paul, but you have forced me to do so by lifting up men and their personalities. By lifting them up, you lift up yourselves, not you not only put me down, but Christ as well.
The church should have commended the apostle who first brought them the Gospel of Christ, for he was in no way inferior to the greatest of apostles, even though he was nothing; for it was Christ who had wrought this ministry in him, and to slight Paul was to slight the ministry of Christ in him.
12. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, signs and wonders and mighty works.
The Corinthians would have to concede that the miracles of an apostle were fully worked among them, not as one off events, but consistently with signs, miracles, and great power.
13. How have you been worse off than the other churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!
How were you inferior to other churches, except that I took no money off you? Please forgive me!" Paul is being ironic. His purpose is to combat the usurped position of the false apostles by reminding the Corinthians what a true apostle is like.
14,15. Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. (NKJVTM)
When he comes for a third visit, Paul will not take from them or make a financial gain. He does what he does sincerely for their good, for he loves them, not their money. As a parent would save and go without in order to give all they could to their child, so Paul would spend all he had and expend his life for them that they might grow in their relationship with God.
Unfortunately, Paul realised that the more he did for the Corinthian church, the more he was taken for granted ("loved less"). Ingratitude is a common sin, and it resulted in Paul being slighted by the church which he had started.
Answering False Accusations.
16. Let it be assumed that I did not burden you. Nevertheless (you say) since I was crafty, I took you in by deceit.
Most commentators agree that this verse refers to accusations made by the false apostles against Paul. Though he would not accept money directly, they argued that he must be making something out of it. Perhaps he was sending others to collect money and then taking it for himself? Paul answers this charge in the following verses.
17,18. Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Titus did not take advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves with the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?
"Answer for yourself, Corinthians: is that allegation true?" When Titus and his companions came to Corinth, was it not the case (Paul knew it was) that they followed the same pattern of selfless giving as Paul had. They knew full well that Titus had not taken a penny from them.
19. Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up.
We are simply speaking the truth, says Paul, not to excuse our behaviour, but in the sight of God to lead you on His right path and build you up in the faith.
20. For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
Paul was not after money, but he did desire to see spiritual growth in the Corinthians; and was very much afraid that when he returned to Corinth, he would find no evidence of it. Instead of going o with the Lord, it appeared to Paul that the believers were still living carnally, allowing their old natures to have the uppermost. This was revealed in arguments, envying each other, wraths (breaking out of temper in hateful words and actions), contentions (especially in law courts), backbitings (speaking evil of one another and maligning another's character), whisperings (secretly sowing discord among friends), swellings, pride, conceit and tumults (disorder at church meetings, groups which make schisms dividing the church).
21. I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced.
When I come, says Paul, instead of being able to rejoice in my time with you and enjoy the fruit of my labours, I will be humbled by God in as much as I'll have to start from square one with you all; and with heavy heart I must deal with those who live wanton lives of sin, especially sexual sin, and have not repented. They continue to have one foot in the world and one foot in Christ. In the next chapter, Paul explains what he intends to do with these people.
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