Read 2 Corinthians 12
Paul’s Vision and His Thorn
1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul’s Concern for the Corinthians
11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.15 So 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? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery!17 Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?
19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. 20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.
The Corinthians put Paul under pressure to defend himself because of their affinity for and popularity of the “super apostles” (11:5). Paul willingly defended himself, not because he wanted them to like him or approve of him, but because he wanted them to love and surrender their lives to the Savior of the world, Jesus. Paul recognized that the Corinthians were immature, unspiritual, and vulnerable to believe popular opinions of famous false teachers. He loved them too much to let them believe lies.
Judging by the context, these popular false teachers may have captivated their audience with tales of supernatural experiences, so Paul writes about his personal experience of revelations and visions. However, instead of Paul’s outcome resulting in adoration and arrogance, he’s given a “thorn in the flesh” so that he will never become prideful or boastful regarding what he saw and experienced.
Scripture never reveals Paul’s affliction. His thorn in the flesh is never explained. What we do know is that three times Paul begged God to remove it. But, it remained. In the original language, the word for begged or pleaded is the word parakaleo. Para means alongside, kaleo means to call to or to beckon. When compounded together, the word pictures one who comes alongside someone else, as close as he can get, and then begins to passionately call out, plead, beckon, beg, and beseech that other person to do something on his behalf.
Paul is letting us know that he got as close as he could to God and passionately pleaded with the Maker of the universe to remove his affliction. God’s answer was different than what Paul asked.
That’s a hard pill to swallow. Yet, Paul surrendered to it. Because he trusted that God—whose wisdom and understanding we cannot begin to fathom—would deliver Paul in some way, but perhaps not Paul’s desired way.
And, God did deliver Paul. Paul’s weakness was the means for God’s power and strength to be on full display. God’s grace was a better solution than a cure. Maybe our healing and strength is more about Christ-sufficiency through affliction than it is about Christ-sufficiency around affliction.
Make no mistake, when God doesn’t answer your prayer the way you want, it doesn’t mean that God is mad at you, or that God has forgotten you. God isn’t punishing you. God’s power is being constantly perfected in our weakness and need. He is sufficient to give us what we need to walk through whatever lies before us. Sometimes He delivers us out. Sometimes He delivers us through. Either way, He is the Deliverer.
What about you? When affliction and pain are almost too much to bear do you draw as close as you can to God, walking alongside Him, passionately pleading with Him for help, or do you tend to withdraw from Him? What counsel would Paul give you?
Have you experienced a time when God’s grace was sufficient and His strength was made perfect in your weakness? Do you share that experience with others frequently? Why or why not?
Spend some time today remembering God…the ways He’s provided a way out and the times His sufficiency has carried you through.
Did You Know?
Some scholars believe that Paul’s “thorn in flesh” was people. Paul asked God to cause this thorn to “depart” from him. The word “depart” in the original language is almost always used to refer to people rather than things. The use of this word could imply that Paul was asking to be freed from the problem of people.