Paul’s Visions and His Thorn
12 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man 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 this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Concern for the Corinthian Church
I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!
Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. 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. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
2 Corinthians 12 Commentary
by Hank Workman
We do not know what Paul’s thorn was. Many have speculated from malaria to epilepsy to loss of eyesight. Whatever it was, it was debilitating to the point Paul pleaded with God to bring healing. He did not. Although Paul saw this as an extreme hindrance to his ministry, God had other thoughts concerning this affliction. What’s fascinating is the Greek word used for this is not a small thorn-like from a rose bush, which would be painful in its own right. The Greek word used here is more like that of a tent stake!
In self-sufficiency, this would have been very difficult for Paul to accept. As many levels of this thorn being allowed to stay, him never being free from it, made Paul humble and demanded he relies on God. This testimony alone of Paul’s spoke volumes to those who observed and saw he was being used regardless.
Although Paul felt weak and powerless he could have focused on what this problem was causing and truly sidelined a witness of God’s strength in the middle. Some could have looked at this issue and recommended he just maintain a positive attitude. “Just rely on your inner resources to make this pass”, they would state. Others could have recommended he meet with others who had the same affliction and draw strength from one another. But there were others who would simply say, “If you had more faith, you would be delivered and be healed.”
All lines of thought could have been given and even Paul could have embraced one or the other or all. But Paul would do none of these. He would rely and seek out the One who could heal and bring deliverance. And what he discovered was a resounding “No” from the Creator. He had a larger plan although it brought suffering to Paul and even disappointment, that God would use this weakness to bring glory to Him. He would work through this weakness but not relieve it. There was a ministry that dangled before if he would simply embrace the Father through it all.
Paul’s response is shocking as he will choose to boast in his weakness rather than cling to something that could come or should be. Did his desire to be relieved stop? I’m sure not. But He realized God could either remove the problem or could strengthen him under it. He would live in the strength to bear up under what the affliction was and rely on the Grace of God to stand strong.
I have no doubt this was ever present on Paul’s mind. But as he tore down strongholds of the enemy who would plant such thought of being free, made whole – he took these thoughts captive and decided to live that day for Christ regardless. If God had said no, which from Paul’s words He did. He would choose not to focus on continuing to pray for such deliverance but focus instead on ministry that was before despite. This is not resignation. Some would probably argue with this point, but it’s not. This is welcoming the affliction, Paul rejoicing that God was forcing him to rely on God’s grace and strength all the more.
To me, this is what’s most fascinating. This is the only time we read of this problem for Paul. He was not obsessed over this problem leaving, being healed or delivered – whatever the case would have been. He was obsessed with proclaiming Jesus in the middle of it. He never lost his drive for ministry; never lost his perspective of those who were lost and needed help. He could so easily have become driven instead by the grandness of how this debilitated him. He did not.
What current affliction do you have? How does it feel to be debilitating? There is nothing wrong with seeking God in the middle of it all for that deliverance. But where does God want to show His strength and grace despite the pain as you carry on the ministry He’s laid before you?
2 Corinthians 12 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
Paul’s patience is evident in this chapter. The super apostles of Corinth could not stop talking about themselves. It is likely they boasted about their dreams and visions which they used to add credibility to their résumé. Paul was tired of this “competition,” but for the sake of those reading his letter who needed to be protected from such false statements, he continued to write on his own experiences.
It is interesting to me the perspective Paul gives regarding dreams and visions. Paul was certainly qualified to speak on this topic. He could have used his visions of Christ as the backbone of his teaching. However, the story he tells about himself here in 2 Corinthians 12 is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture.
I know a man 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.2 Corinthians 12:2 ESV
Paul was taken to heaven, but he does not report the details as if he arrogantly knows all things. He leaves the details to God because he does not want to overstep. Furthermore, Paul knows that dreams and visions are subjective, prone to misunderstanding and human error. It is true God speaks through dreams and visions but it is also true that most times, those visions have a significant and unique message for the one receiving them. Paul’s description of this miraculous vision has a stark contrast to the people today who jump at every opportunity to over-spiritualize a situation!
“When we think of this, we realize how different Paul is than most of those who describe their so-called “visions” of heaven today. First, Paul waiting fourteen years to say anything about the incident and he only said anything about it reluctantly. He does everything he can in relating the story to take the focus off of himself (such as writing in the third person). And he doesn’t bother at all with breathless descriptions of what he actually experienced. Instead, he says nothing of what he saw, and says of what he heard only they were things not lawful for a man to utter. There is nothing self-glorying, self-aggrandizing, or foolish in his description of his experience.”David Guzik
The Lord allowed Paul to hear “unspeakable words” while in heaven. However, what came from that experience was the thorn in Paul’s flesh. Notice how the thorn is directly connected to the “greatness of the revelations.”
2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
“The interesting thing is that Paul kept quiet about this experience for fourteen years! During those years, he was buffeted by his “thorn in the flesh,” and perhaps people wondered why he had such a burdensome affliction. The Judaizers may have adopted the views of Job’s comforters and said, “This affliction is a punishment from God.” (Actually, it was a gift from God.) Some of Paul’s good friends may have tried to encourage him by saying, “Cheer up, Paul. One day you’ll be in heaven!” Paul could have replied, “That’s why I have this thorn – I went to heaven!””Warren Wiersbe
Paul was given the thorn in his flesh to protect him from pride! Again, this is such a contrast to followers today who boast of their dreams and visions and use them to justify their closeness with God. In fact, in America we have even developed a theology around pride that leads people to believe that suffering is always a symptom of weak faith. Paul had strong faith, yet, he suffered. He didn’t boast like he could have. He told his stories while placing the focus on Jesus. Oh, how the modern-day church could learn from Paul’s example.