II  Corinthians 12

 

 

   The Revelation Given to Paul  (vs. 1-6)

 

 

Christ’s prophetic declaration to Ananias in Acts 9:16 has been fulfilled — “I will show

him how great things he must suffer for my Name’s sake.”  Furthermore, Paul had

proved that his own state of mind, the inward being of his soul, had corresponded with his

call to suffer. The flesh had been subdued. Years of growth had brought him to a stage of

experience that allowed him to speak of glorying in his infirmities. But he would now turn

to another branch of experiences, viz. “visions and revelations of the Lord.”  (v. 1) –

Glorious as these exaltations were, they would see that, while they were exceptional in

certain respects, yet they fell in with the providential discipline of his life, and opened

the way for a keener sense of his infirmities by “a thorn in the flesh” (v. 7).

All along Paul has been painfully aware that his enemies were using

these infirmities to his official disparagement. Painfully, we say, for it is obvious that

he was sensitive to the disadvantages under which he appeared before the public.

“Humble,” “rude in speech,” “bodily presence weak,” “speech contemptible,

were things that had some foundation in fact. Of course, his adversaries exaggerated

them, but the apostle could not escape instinctive feeling, and at times acute feeling,

touching this matter. This, however, was only one source of depression. A fuller

account of his sufferings, physical and mental, than he had ever given had just now

been presented, and the conclusion of it was that his bodily disadvantages as a speaker,

his low repute as a public teacher, his constant endurance of pain and solicitude, had

resulted in his realizing the fact that this very weakness was his strength. Could “visions

and revelations” be entrusted to him — such visions and revelations — and he not be

humbled by Divine direction? The more glorious the revelation, the greater the

necessity for him to be reminded, and most painfully reminded, that the treasure was

committed to an “earthen vessel.” Witness the following: a man in Christ

fourteen years ago (v. 2) — the memory of it still vividly present as a reality

of today — such a man, whether in the body or out of the body it was impossible to tell,

elevated to, the third heaven, and hearing “unspeakable words not lawful for a man

to utter.” (v. 4) - “Fourteen years ago” the fact now first divulged, and yet the fact

alone; the secret disclosures still a secret and personal to the man alone; and the sanctity

such that it would be profanation to make the contents of the communication known.

“Caught up to the third heaven”(v. 2) caught up into Paradise, face to face with the

Lord Jesus in His mediatorial glory; and there, the senses laid to rest and the body

forgotten and the spirit opened to receive instruction and inspiration, the man taught

what he was to be and what he was to do as the servant on earth of his Divine Master.

Of this man, as a man in Christ, he would boast; of himself in the flesh and subject to

its infirmities, he would not boast save of his weakness. Under grace, what a debtor was

he to these humiliations! Intellectual pride and vanity, spiritual pride and vanity, pride

and vanity as a Jew to whom the God of the fathers had manifested Himself — how

could these be kept down except by mortifications of the flesh? If, nevertheless, he

were to boast of these revelations, he should do it truthfully. Suppose, then, that he

should make this boast; who would be able to transfer himself into the proper attitude

of a listener? It would not be weakness, but power, the observer would see. “I

forbear,” (v. 6) and I shrink from it, lest the contrast between this power and my

visible weakness, this glory and my present humiliation, be too great for any man to

bear.

 

 

  • The revelations vouchsafed to him (vs. 1-6).
  • The counteracting “thorn in the flesh” (vs. 7-10).
  • One more apology for glorying (vs. 11-12).
  • His disinterestedness (vs. 13-15).
  • Indignant refutation of the charge that he had made gain of them

through the agency of subordinates (vs. 16-18).

  • Caution and warnings (vs. 19-21.

 

1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and

revelations of the Lord.” It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory.  This

rendering follows the best-attested reading; but it is at least doubtful whether,

instead of δεῖ - deiit is necessary; binding  or δὲ - denow; then, the ironic

δὴ - daeby all means of K, M, and the Greek Fathers is not the true

reading. In mere vowel variations, especially in passages where the

meaning does not lie on the surface, the diplomatic (external) evidence is

less important. If Paul wrote δὴ, it means, “of course it is not expedient

for me to boast.”  I will come; for I will come; if the reading of D is

correct. In that case it is hardly possible to define the counter currents of

feeling which caused the use of the conjunction. Visions and revelations.

The word used for “visions” - ὀπτασίαςoptasias views; apparitions -

means presentations perceived in a state which is neither sleeping nor waking, but

which are regarded as objective;  ἀποκαλύψεις -  apokalupsis revelations - are

the truths apprehended as a result of the visions. ὀπτασίας,  for “visions,” only occurs

elsewhere in Luke 1:22; 24:23; Acts 26:19 (comp. Galatians 2:2).  God has

relations to souls now as certainly as in past ages.  The vision is for individuals,

who are thus made agents in the communication to men of the DIVINE THOUGHT

and WILL!

 

Visioins and revelations are agencies which God has always used. They do not belong

to any one age. We have no right to say that they are limited to ancient times. There

have always been the true and the counterfeit; but the true should not be missed or

denied because the false have been found out. There are good gold coins, or men

would not trouble to make spurious ones. Fanaticism deludes its

victims into imaginary visions, but souls that are kin with God, and open to

him, can receive communications from him. Illustrate from all ages, e.g.

Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David,

Isaiah, Joseph (the husband of Mary), aged Simeon, Zacharias, etc. So in

the Christian age we find visions granted to Cornelius, Philip, Peter, and

John, as well as Paul, and traces of prophets, such as Agabus, and even of

prophetesses. St. Paul’s visions were probably of the nature of a trance; the

mind being absorbed in contemplation may be prepared to receive Divine

revealings. It is right to subject all claims to visions to careful scrutiny, and

the things communicated to men at such times must be tested by their

harmony with the written revelation; but we need not refuse to recognize

the truth that God has direct relations to souls now as certainly as in past

ages. Both truth and duty may still be directly revealed.

 

2 “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the

body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God

knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I knew such

a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)”

I knew; rather, I know. A man. Paul speaks in this indirect way of himself (see vs.

5, 7).   In Christ.   (I Corinthians 1:30)  To Paul, every true Christian was

a man whose personal life was lost in the life of Christ – To be “in Christ” now is to

be “with Christ” forever.  The man “in Christ” is embraced in the favor with which

God regards His beloved Son. He has redemption and reconciliation to God,

unsearchable riches, spiritual blessings in heavenly places, and continual freedom of

access to the Father in heaven.  “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.” 

(ch. 5:17)  And therefore he does what is right, not by a continual strain and effort

against nature, but spontaneously and naturally, because he has a clean heart and a

right spirit. To those who are in Him there is no condemnation now, and from Him

there shall be no separation hereafter.  The visions which Paul beheld, and the

declarations he heard when he was caught up into the third heaven, were to him, and

may be to us, an earnest and promise of immortal union. Therefore “Abide in Him.” 

It is an object to be desired and. worked for, that every believing man may be presented

perfect in Christ Jesus, (Jude 1:24; Colossians 1:22, 28; ch. 11:2;  i.e. ripe and mature,

not crude or ill-developed in the Christian character.  To be out of Christ is to be

without God, and so without hope.  (Ephesians 2:12)  Above fourteen years ago.

The note of time is very vague.  If we are at all able to identify the vision

alluded to, it must have been the vision in the temple, referred to in Acts 22:17, which

was, roughly speaking, “about fourteen years” before this time.  The vision on the road

to Damascus had occurred about twenty years earlier than the date of this Epistle.

(Whether in the body I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God

knoweth;)  A powerful description of the absorption of all conscious bodily modes

of apprehension. In their comments on these verses, many commentators enter into

speculations which seem to me to be so entirely arbitrary and futile that I shall not

even allude to them.  Paul’s bodily and mental state during this vision is

familiar to all who know the history of Oriental and mediaeval mysticism.

Caught up (Ezekiel 11:24; Acts 8:39; Revelation 4:1, 2). Into the third heaven.

It is most unlikely that Paul is here in any way referring to the Jewish hagadoth

about seven heavens. The expression is purely general, and even the rabbis did

not expect to be taken au pied de la lettre.(at the foot of the letter)

Hence all speculations about first, second, and third heavens are idle

and useless. Even as late as the Clementine writings in the middle of the

second century, an attempt is made, in reference to this passage, to

disparage Paul by sneering at visions as a medium of revelation, on the

ground that they may spring from self-deception; and this rapture of the

“bald hook-nosed Galilean” to the third heaven is also sneered at in the

Philopatris’ of the pseudo-Lucian. Yet how modest and simple is

Paul’s awestruck reference to this event, when compared, not only with the

lying details of Mohammed’s visit to heaven, but even with the visions of

St. Theresa or Swedenborg!

 

 

 A Man in Christ (v. 2)

 

When we consider what man is, and who Christ is, the conjunction seems

wonderful indeed. Yet, when apprehended, this union appears one fraught

with richest blessings for him who is the inferior and dependent member.

The thought was one familiar to the apostle; himself “a man in Christ,” he

spoke of others who were “in Christ before” himself, and he designated

Christian societies, “Churches in Christ Jesus.”

 

  • THE NATURE OF THE UNION THUS DESCRIBED.

 

Ø      The Christian is grafted “in Christ” as a graft in a tree, joined to Him as a

branch to a vine. The union is thus a vital union, and is to the Christian the

means and the occasion of spiritual life.

 

Ø      The Christian is accepted “in Christ,” i.e. in the Beloved. For Christ’s

sake the Christian is received into Divine favor. The Saviour is in this

capacity a Representative, a Mediator, an Advocate.

 

Ø      The Christian is incorporated “in Christ” as the member in the body, and

has a new function to discharge in consequence of this relationship.

 

Ø      The Christian is hidden “in Christ” as the traveler in the cleft of the

rock, as Noah in the ark, when “the Lord shut him in.”  (Genesis 7:16)

 

Ø      The Christian dwells “in Christ” as in a house, a home appointed for him

by Divine wisdom and goodness.

 

  • THE IMPORTANCE AND ADVANTAGES OF THIS UNION.

 

Ø      As is apparent from considering the position of those who are out of

Christ. For such, where is safety, where is a law of life, where is a prospect

for immortality? For to be out of Christ is to be without God, and so

without hope.  (Ephesians 2:12)

 

Ø      From considering what in this life they possess who have Christ and are

in Him. Whilst, so far as the bodily life is concerned, they are in the world,

they are in spirit in the Lord, and thus partake a higher nature and existence

than belong to earth and to time.

 

Ø      From considering the imperishable character of this union. To be “in

Christ” now is to be “with Christ” forever. To those who are in Him there is

no condemnation now, and from Him there shall be no separation hereafter.

The visions which Paul beheld, and the declarations he heard when he was

caught up into the third heaven, were to him, and may be to us, an earnest

and promise of IMMORTAL UNION!   Therefore “Abide in Him.”

 

4 “How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable

words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”  Into paradise.  Here again,

we encounter long speculations as to whether Paradise is the same as the third heaven;

whether Paul is referring to two visions or two parts of one vision.  Such questions are

clearly insoluble, and I leave them where I find them. We shall never understand this

passage otherwise than in the dim and vague outline in which Paul has purposely left

it. All that we can  know from the New Testament about Paradise must be learned

from this verse and Luke 23:43 and Revelation 2:7, and it is extremely little.  

Unspeakable words.   A figure of speech called an oxymoron. Utterances

(or “things”) incapable of utterance.  Not lawful for a man to utter.  How

futile, then, must be the attempt to guess what they were, or on what subject! 

We would do well to heed the speakable words” of Divine Revelation in

the Bible, which, when rightly received, will prepare us to hear by-and-by the

unspeakable words” of heaven!

 

The object of this experience was to encourage the apostle in his many labors and

sufferings. Christ took His disciples up into the mountain and was transfigured

before them; then He brought them down into the world of men to toil and to endure.

 

The experience was for us as well as for the apostle. From us its special features are

largely hidden; but it is revealed to us, and this knowledge may well encourage us

in the earthly service, quicken our faith, and hasten our footsteps towards the

glories beyond the veil.

 

A general lesson may be learned from the event that those who have special

trials and sorrows experience also special comforts and helps.

 

5  Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in

mine infirmities.”  Of such an one. - These are legitimate subjects of “boast,”

because they are heavenly privileges, not earthly grounds of superiority.

Except in mine infirmities.  (ch. 11:30)  There can be no doubt that the deepest

ground lay in Paul’s sympathy with his Divine Lord. The humiliation and obedience

unto death of the Lord Jesus in order to secure man’s salvation became a new

source of inspiration, in the direction both of human action and of human suffering,

and Paul was crucified with Christ unto the world. He bore about with him in the

body the marks of the Lord Jesus, (Galatians 6:17) and of this he justly boasted. 

Paul’s personal weakness was the occasion of the reception of new and spiritual

strength. For Christ made His own grace sufficient when His servant’s strength

was gone. And by a sublime paradox the apostle learned that when he was weak,

then was he strong. And thus the very infirmities which seemed to disqualify for

service became the occasion of the communication of such spiritual power and

aid as rendered the apostle more efficient and successful in the service of the Lord.

 

 

Apostolic Piety and Psychology (vs. 1-5)

 

“It is not expedient,” etc. These verses present two subjects of thought.

 

  • APOSTOLIC PSYCHOLOGY. The words reveal certain ideas which

Paul had concerning the human mind. He had the idea:

 

Ø      That whilst here it is capable of existing separate from the body.

“Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot

tell.” If he had been certain that the soul could not exist whilst here apart

from the body, would he have spoken thus? And who is not conscious of

the mind having experiences in which the body does not participate? Paul

speaks of himself as entering regions far away.

 

o        The third heaven.” The Bible speaks of three heavens.

 

§         The atmospheric. There the clouds travel and perform

their functions.

§         The starry. There the sun, moon, and stars appear.

§         The heavens that lie beyond the heavenly orbs;

where God and his holy angels are supposed to have

their special residence. Up to this “third heaven”

Paul was caught.

 

o        Paradise. “Caught up into Paradise.” The word here denotes some

place in the universe distinguished in beauty and fruitfulness. Paul

regarded it possible for the soul to go away into those distant regions

of supernal brightness and beauty. Who has not been conscious of

being borne far away from the body on the wing of thought?

 

Ø      That whilst here it is capable of receiving extraordinary revelations

apart from the body. “Heard unspeakable words.” Things of the soul may

be unutterable either from necessity or from impropriety. The deepest

things of the heart are unutterable in any language. Perhaps what Paul saw

and heard in the spirit was neither possible nor proper to communicate.

There are but few of us who have not received impressions of distant

things. We are often caught away to distant scenes, and see and hear

extraordinary things.

 

Ø      That whilst here it may exist apart from the body and the man not know

it. “Whether in the body, I cannot tell.” He was so charged with spiritual

things that he had lost all consciousness of matter and his relations to it.

The man whose soul is flooded with the higher elements of being does not

know for the time whether he is “in the body” or “out of the body.”

 

Ø      That wherever or however it exists it constitutes the man. “I knew a man

in Christ.” That which had these wonderful revelations he regarded as the

man. To the apostle the body was the costume of the man, which he put on

at birth and took off at death. In fact, he regarded the body as his not him,

the soul as himself.

 

  • APOSTOLIC PIETY. There are three things concerning piety here.

 

Ø      Humility. That the man of whom Paul here speaks is himself scarcely

admits of a doubt. Why should he speak of himself in the third person? It is

because of that modesty of nature which is ever the characteristic of a truly

great soul. Humility is an essential attribute of piety.

 

Ø      Christism. “A man in Christ.” To be in Christ is to live in His ideas,

character, spirit, as the atmosphere of being. He who lives in the spirit of

Christ becomes a man.

 

Ø      Transport. His soul was borne away in ecstasy. The time when the

revelation occurred is specified — fourteen years ago.” Strange that he

did not speak of it before. Piety has its hours of ravishments, ecstasies, and

transfigurations.

 

 

 

Glorying in Weaknesses (v. 5)

 

It is not to be wondered at that Paul boasted; the wonder is that, instead of

boasting of the extraordinary visions he had experienced, the extraordinary

commission he had received, the extraordinary success which had followed

his labors, he boasted of what other men would have concealed or have

lamented — his own infirmities, disadvantages, and troubles.

 

  • THE WEAKNESSES IN WHICH THE APOSTLE GLORIED.

 

Ø      His own bodily infirmity was especially present to his thoughts, when

using this language. Whatever this was, whether general ill health or some

special malady, as of the eyes, it was naturally distressing to himself, as it

prevented him from doing his work with the ease and pleasure which he

might have experienced had he possessed health and vigor of body.

 

Ø      The contempt he met with from some amongst whom he labored was

to Paul no cause of mortification, but cause of rejoicing. Let men despise

him; if he was able to serve and please his Master, that was enough.

 

Ø      The hardships and privations and persecutions he endured in the

fulfillment of his ministry were matter of glorying. In these he took

pleasure, contrary as such a fact was to ordinary human experience.

 

  • THE GROUND OF THE APOSTLE’S GLORYING IN HIS

WEAKNESSES.

 

Ø      There can be no doubt that the deepest ground lay in Paul’s sympathy

with his Divine Lord. The humiliation and obedience unto death of the

Lord Jesus in order to secure man’s salvation became a new source of

inspiration, in the direction both of human action and of human suffering,

and Paul was crucified with Christ unto the world. He bore about with him

in the body the marks of the Lord Jesus, and of this he justly boasted.

 

Ø      Personal weakness was the occasion of the reception of new and

spiritual strength. For Christ made His own grace sufficient when His

servant’s strength was gone. And by a sublime paradox the apostle learned

that when he was weak, THEN HE WAS STRONG!   And thus the very

infirmities which seemed to disqualify for service became the occasion of the

communication of such spiritual power and aid as rendered the apostle

more efficient and successful in the service of the Lord.

 

6 For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the

truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he

seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.” I forbear; literally, I spare; i.e. I refrain

from boasting. Should think of me; literally, that no man should estimate concerning

me beyond what he sees me (to be), or hears at all from my own lips.  If he were to

tell them more of his revelations, he might encourage them to think more of him

than he deserves or wishes.

 

7 "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the

revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan

to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure." And lest I should be exalted

above measure” - literally, that I may not be over exalted. It was necessary to show

Paul that he only held the treasure in an earthen vessel.  Pride is a great spiritual evil. 

There was given me.   Even God’s afflictions are meant for gifts!  A thorn - σκόλοψ

 skolops. The more usual meaning is, as Hesychius says, “a sharp stake” (‘Sudes,’ Tert.).

 Hence the word skolopizo, I impale or crucify. Paul’s agony was an impalement or

crucifixion of all sensual impulses and earthly ambitions. In the flesh.  There have

been endless conjectures as to the exact nature of this painful and most humbling

physical affliction. It is only by placing side by side a great many separate passages

that we are almost irresistibly led to the conclusion which is now most generally

adopted, namely, that it was acute and disfiguring ophthalmia, originating in

the blinding glare of the light which flashed round him at Damascus, and

accompanied, as that most humiliating disease usually is, by occasional cerebral

excitement. It would be impossible here to enter into the whole inquiry, for which

refer to my ‘Life of St. Paul,’ 1:214-226.  The messenger of Satan; rather, an angel

of Satan. By way of comment, see Matthew 25:41; Luke 13:16; Job 2:7; Revelation

12:7, 9.  To buffet me. The verb is derived from  κολαφίζῃ - kolaphizae - a slap on

 the face, and would be suitable to such a disfigurement as ophthalmia (ch. 10:10).

Lest I should be exalted above measure.

 

Whatever the thorn in the flesh was, it was very grievous to the apostle whatever

its precise nature.  Paul recognized Satan’s hand (see Job 2:7; Luke 13:16).

It was used of Satan to annoy, pain, depress, and harass Paul, and with the hope

that it would hinder his great work. Satanic malice rejoiced in the anticipation

that it might prove the last straw upon the camel’s back. Paul interfered much

with the devil’s kingdom; it is no wonder that the devil sought to interfere with

him. Satan can afford to leave some people alone; but if we faithfully attack his

kingdom and his rule we may expect reprisals. Yet Satan is but a fool after

all, and constantly overreaches himself. One has well said, “The devil drives

but a poor trade by the persecution of the saints — he tears the nest, but

the bird escapes; he cracks the shell, but loses the kernel.”

 

As it was allowed by God, His hand was in it as well. This is so

with all our tribulations; in one aspect they are messengers of Satan, in the

other messengers of God. All depends upon which message we listen to.

Paul’s thorn in the flesh was God’s teacher of humility. There was danger

that the extraordinary revelations made to the apostle might foster pride.

Human nature is intensely susceptible to this temptation. Those who enjoy

remarkable favors often experience remarkable affliction. The ship in the

high wind needs plenty of ballast. When we build high we must also build

low — the lofty building requires a deep foundation. It is well for us that

God is not merely indulgent. God will not allow us to become spoiled

children.

 

With this problem, Paul did not grumble, or make himself a nuisance, or find fault

with God, or sit down in despair. It was said of him once, “Behold, he prayeth

(Acts 9:11); it may be said of him again.  In his distress he betook himself to

the mercy seat.  Like Hezekiah, he spread the matter before the Lord. (II Kings

19:14; 20:1-3)  Affliction should drive us to, not from, God. And we should come

to pray, not to complain. The throne of grace is sometimes turned into a bar of

judgment, at which men arraign God. When some strange experience comes upon

us we should ask concerning it in the audience chamber.

 

  • He prayed to the Lord Jesus. This seems evident from ver. 9, “that the

strength of Christ may rest upon me.”

 

  • He prayed with importunity. There was no mistaking his earnestness. As

Christ in Gethsemane prayed “the third time,” so thrice did this Christ-like

apostle knock at heaven’s gate. He went on knocking until he got a

response. Many in prayer want nothing, ask nothing, get nothing. Some are

so polite that they dread lest they should disturb God, and knock so lightly

and daintily that it would require a microphone to make the sound audible.

Others ring and run away. The apostle stood at the gate till he was

answered. Such holy boldness delights God instead of affronting Him.

 

  • He prayed definitely.

 

Ø      For “this thing.” Some pray foreverything in general, and therefore get

nothing in particular.

 

Ø      That it might depart. Here, perhaps, he went too far. If our troubles

were sent away, our best friends might be sent away. The counterpart of

a thorn in the flesh” may be “grace in the spirit.” It is a good thing that

it does not rest with us to send away or to retain; we should often send

away the good and draw to ourselves the injurious and evil.

 

8 "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.”

For this thing. In reference to this or “to him,” the angel of Satan. The Lord.

That is, Christ (I Corinthians 1:3). Thrice (compare Matthew 26:44).

Affliction should drive us to the Lord, not from Him.  Paul came to pray, not to

complain.  When one is cast down, worldly wise friends can only bid him cheer up,

cast off dull care, etc.  But the resource of the Christian is to pray to the God of his life.

And prayer must be repeated.  The Savior prayed thrice before the angel from heaven

appeared to strengthen Him. Paul prayed thrice before the answer of grace and peace

fell upon his fainting soul.  Christ’s crown had many thorns, so the one thorn in

Paul’s flesh should not prove unfruitful. 

 

9 "And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength

is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my

infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." And He said unto me.

The original is much more forcible: “And He has said to me." Is sufficient for thee.

A similar phrase, though in a very different context, occurs in Deuteronomy 3:26.

My strength is made perfect in weakness (compare ch. 4:7; Philippians 4:13;

I Corinthians 2:3-5). The verse contains a paradox, which yet describes the best

history of the world. The paradox becomes more suggestive if, with א, A, B, D, F, G,

we omit “my.” May rest upon me; literally, may tabernacle over me. The compound

verb occurs here alone, but the simple verb and the substantive occur in similar

meanings in John 1:14; Revelation 7:15; 21:3 (compare ch. 5:1).

 

Paul was given a definite assurance. There was a basis for the faith demanded,

as there always is. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Christ engages to bear

him through; can he believe this? The Lord’s resources are boundless; they

are our resources when strong faith binds us to their possessor. My “grace”

may mean my “love,” which secures all things needful for my servants; or

the aid of the Holy Spirit, which will prove sufficient for every exigency.

The thorn in the flesh was the stem upon which the flower of the Divine glory was

to blossom.  The “messenger of Satan” would be made a herald proclaiming the

power of Christ. The apostle’s flesh was to be a battle field on which Christ would

triumph. 

 

A new thought has been given to Paul — Christ’s glory will be enhanced.

At once he begins to glory in this infirmity, “Most gladly,  or most sweetly;

 it became a delight of the highest kind. What he wanted to lose he now wants

to keep. With the thorn in the flesh he can become, as he could not without it,

the dwelling place of the power of Christ. It is enough if through his humiliation

Christ may be exalted, if through his suffering Christ may be glorified. Many are

more than content with being resigned under suffering; to submit they think is

a mark of highest grace. But the apostle is far beyond this. He can “take pleasure”

(v. 10) in troubles, because through his troubles the power of Christ is

more strikingly and impressively exhibited.

 

And He said unto me” - The original is much more forcible: “And He has said to me.

My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 

What matters the weight of the burden if the strength is equal to bear it with ease? 

The verse contains a paradox, which yet describes the best history of the world –

Perhaps there is no verse in Scripture which has brought more strength and comfort to

the hearts of Christ’s people than this. The explanation of its preciousness

and its power is to be sought first in the spiritual, the revealed truth which it

communicates, and secondly in the fact that it is the record of personal experience. 

The grace which was actually bestowed upon Paul does not seem inaccessible to the

feeble, the tempted, the overburdened Christian who cries to Heaven for help.  Men

feel their utter helplessness in the presence of the demands of life, and therefore they

call upon God. Much more keenly does the follower of the Lord Jesus realize his need

of a higher than human aid.  Conscious that only Divine grace has reconciled him to

God, he daily acknowledges his dependence upon the same grace for the maintenance

of his spiritual life and usefulness.  Paul tells us here, not only what Christ promised,

but what He performed. “Faithful is He that calleth you who also will do it”

(I Thessalonians 5:24)  “…being fully persuaded that, what He had promised,

He was able also to perform”(Romans 4:21) – Paul was perfectly satisfied with

the course he had taken. He did not find His own personal weakness and insufficiency

a barrier to his efficiency and usefulness. What he lacked, his Lord supplied.  ALL

who have trusted to the same Divine Source of all-sufficiency have been rewarded!  

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ

may rest upon me.”  Literally, may tabernacle over me. ἐπισκηνώσῃ - episkaenosae

should e tabernacling over.  The compound verb occurs here alone, but the simple

verb and the substantive occur in similar meanings in John 1:14; Revelation 7:15;

21:3 (comp. ch. 5:1).  “Most gladly” or most sweetly; it became a delight of the highest

kind. What he wanted to lose he now wants to keep. With the thorn in the flesh he can

become, as he could not without it, the dwelling place of the power of Christ. It is

enough if through his humiliation Christ may be exalted, if through his suffering

Christ may be glorified. Many are more than content with being resigned under

suffering; to submit they think is a mark of highest grace.  But the apostle is far

beyond this. He can “take pleasure” (v.10) in troubles, because through his

troubles the power of Christ is more strikingly and impressively exhibited.

 

 

Sufficient Grace (v. 9)

 

Perhaps there is no verse in Scripture which has brought more strength and

comfort to the hearts of Christ’s people than this. The explanation of its

preciousness and its power is to be sought first in the spiritual, the revealed

truth which it communicates, and secondly in the fact that it is the record of

personal experience. There is an instinctive persuasion in the human mind

that the experience which has been realized by one is possible to another.

The grace which was actually bestowed upon Paul does not seem

inaccessible to the feeble, the tempted, the overburdened Christian who

cries to Heaven for help.

 

  • THE NEED FOR THIS SUFFICIENCY.

 

Ø      The manifold duties, the severe temptations, the varied sorrows and

troubles, incidental to the Christian life. There are difficulties and trials

common to the Christian with all men, but there are others peculiar to him,

arising from the higher view he takes of life, both as a personal discipline

and as an opportunity for serving and glorifying God.

 

Ø      The conscious insufficiency of human resources. This, indeed, accounts

for the universal practice of prayer, frequent or occasional, deliberate or

spontaneous. Men feel their utter helplessness in the presence of the

demands of life, and therefore they call upon God. Much more keenly does

the follower of the Lord Jesus realize his need of a higher than human aid.

Conscious that only Divine grace has reconciled him to God, he daily

acknowledges his dependence upon the same grace for the maintenance of

his spiritual life and usefulness.

 

  • THE GROUND OF THIS SUFFICIENCY.

 

Ø      The divinity of the Saviour. Can we imagine any other than Christ using

this language, “My grace is sufficient”? It is becoming, it is possible, only

to Him who possesses Divine resources, who is spiritually present with all

His people.

 

Ø      Christ’s mediatorial position. This involves the possession and the

disposal of whatsoever is necessary for the spiritual welfare of those whom

the Lord Jesus saves. Accepted as our Representative, He has received gifts

for men; and it is in the fulfillment of His mediatorial office that He imparts

to each individual disciple and friend the specially needed grace.

 

Ø      The spiritual dispensation over which the Lord Jesus presides. He is

Head over all things unto His Church. (Ephesians 1:22)  He distributes

to every man severally as He will. (I Corinthians 12:11)  His Spirit is the

Spirit of truth, of holiness, of power.

 

  • THE EVIDENCE OF THIS SUFFICIENCY.

 

Ø      The personal experience of Paul as recorded in this passage. He tells us

here, not only what Christ promised, but what He performed. He was

perfectly satisfied with the course he had taken. He did not find His own

personal weakness and insufficiency a barrier to his efficiency and

usefulness. What he lacked, his Lord supplied.

 

Ø      The recorded experience of all who have trusted to the same Divine

Source of all-sufficiency. There is no discordant note in the song of

grateful, affectionate adoration which fills the Church of the Redeemer.

All His people have known their own demerits, their own powerlessness,

and all have known the sufficiency of their Lord. And every Christian has

reason to acknowledge:

 

“And when my all of strength shall fail,

I shall with the God Man prevail.”

 

 

                                   

                                                Sufficient Grace (v. 9)

 

God “strengthens with strength in the soul.”  (Psalm 138:2)  To him body and

circumstance are secondary things; souls are of the first importance, and

bodies and circumstances gain their importance by their influence on souls.

Inward strength to bear is a far higher provision than any mere mastery of

the ills and troubles of the life. A man is never lost until he has lost heart.

But if God supplies inward strength we never shall lose heart, and so we

never shall be lost. Outwardly a man may be tossed about, worn, wearied,

lost, wounded, almost broken, and yet inwardly he may be kept in perfect

peace; his mind may be stayed on God; he may be “strong in the Lord, and

in the power of His might.”  (Ephesians 6:10)  We may say of this “sufficient

grace that it is:

  • ADAPTED. We are to conceive of the grace of God, not as a great

mass, a quantity of which is duly measured out to meet our need, but rather

as a treasury of various kinds and various colors, from which may be

obtained just those threads that will match our circumstances and repair the

disasters into which we have fallen.

 

  • TIMELY. Here we require to distinguish between what we think to be

timely and what God thinks to be timely, remembering that God never

delays, but is never hurried. He waits for the moment of extremity. “When

the tale of bricks is doubled, then comes Moses.” And it should also be

shown that we may not look for some particular grace and help today,

which God knows will only be required tomorrow. The very charm of

sufficient grace” is that it is precisely the thing “for the occasion.” Those

who are looking for kinds of grace for which they have no immediate and

pressing needs will be in danger of missing the gracious provisions which

their Lord is ever making for them. The way between earth and heaven is a

ladder — Jacob saw it — and the angels came up and down it. We cannot

reach the top by looking up; only by putting our feet up one rung after

another. And God is willing to be ever close beside us, holding us with His

hand and strengthening us for each uplifted step.

 

  • ABUNDANT. That is assured in the fact that it is the grace of God,

who is able to do exceedingly abundantly for us above all that we ask or

think. (Ephesians 3:20-21) The man with “sufficient grace” is efficient to

all work, whether it be bearing or doing. He is nowhere alone; grace is with

him.

 

 

                                    Glorying in Infirmities (v. 9)

 

 

  • Our infirmities nourishes our dependence upon God!   “When I am weak,

then am I strong.” This is the Christian paradox. Such dependence is not

easy; it is one of the things to which experience of failure and frailty alone can

bring us. He is fitted for life and for heaven who from his deep heart says,

“I cannot, but GOD CAN!”

 

  • Our infirmities cultivates character.  We know that physical weakness

bears directly and continuously upon temper, disposition, and virtue.

Afflictions never test us, never bear upon the whole culture of character, as

does continuous pain or frailty. “As the outward man perishes, the inward

man is renewed day by day.”  (ch. 4:16)

 

  • They keep a man open to God.  By its constant reminder of the

need of God. The frail man proves the preciousness of prayer. F.W.

Robertson most forcibly says of prayer, “The true value of prayer is not

this — to bend the eternal will to ours, but this — to bend our wills to it.”

Frail, ever-suffering Paul labored “more abundantly than they all”

(I Corinthians 15:10), and astonishing still is the soul-work that can

be gotten out of feeble men and women — with God’s grace.

 

10 "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities,

in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak,

then am I strong."  I take pleasure in; I am content to bear them cheerfully

(ch. 7:4; Romans 5:3). Strong; rather, powerful, mighty. The resemblance to Philo

(‘Vit. Mos.,’ Opp., 1:613, “Your weakness is might”) is probably accidental

(see I Corinthians 15:54; Colossians 3:4).

 

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities” – I am content to bear them cheerfully –

in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for

when I am weak, then am I strong.”  Against your own felt weakness set Christ’s

strength; and against all malice of Satan and his messengers set Christ’s sufficient

grace.  The grace given is grace helping him in the circumstances. To God, body and

circumstances are secondary things; souls are of first importance, and bodies and

circumstances gain their importance by their influence on souls.  We are to conceive

of the grace of God, not as a great mass, a quantity of which is duly measured out to

meet our need, but rather as a treasury of various kinds and various colors, from

which may be obtained just those threads that will match our circumstances and repair

the disasters into which we have fallen.  God never delays His help but is never

hurried.  The very charm of “sufficient grace” is that it is precisely the thing for

the occasion!  Outwardly a man may be tossed about, worn, wearied, lost, wounded,

almost broken, and yet inwardly he may be kept in perfect peace; his mind may be

stayed on God!  (Isaiah 26:3; he may be “strong in the Lord and in the power of

His might” -  (Ephesians 6:10)  God’s promise from olden times is “As thy days, so shall

thy strength be”(Deuteronomy 33:25)  The grace of God is able to do exceedingly

 abundantly for us above all that we ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20)  The man with

“sufficient grace” is efficient to all work, whether it be bearing or doing. He is

nowhere alone; God’s grace is with him.

 

 

 

Soul Schooling (vs. 6-10)

 

These verses teach us several things concerning soul discipline.

 

  • THAT THE EXERCISE OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE IS

EXPEDIENT FOR THE BEST OF MEN. Paul required it. He says,

“Lest I should be exalted above measure.”

 

Ø      Pride is a great spiritual evil. This is implied in the discipline with which

the apostle was now visited. “To be exalted above measure [or,

overmuch’] is, of course, to be proud, and to be proud is to be in a

position inimical (tending to destruct or harm) to soul progress.

 

Ø      Good men have sometimes great temptations to pride. Paul’s temptation

seems to have arisen from the “abundance of the revelation” of which he

speaks.

 

  • THAT THE MODE OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE IS SOMETIMES

VERY PAINFUL. Paul was visited with a “thorn in the flesh.” What the

thorn was is a question for speculation; our object is practical. Two things

deserve notice here.

 

Ø      That suffering stands connected with Satan. This painful dispensation

was a “messenger from Satan.” The great original sinner is THE

FATHER OF SUFFERING!

 

Ø      Both suffering and Satan are under the direction of God. He uses

them as His instruments for good. Satan himself is the servant of

the Holy One.

 

  • THAT THE MEANS OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE ARE

SOMETIMES MISUNDERSTOOD. Paul prays to be delivered from that

thorn in the flesh” which was sent for his good, and he does so frequently

“thrice.” Notice:

 

Ø      The ignorance which sometimes marks our prayers. We often pray

against our own interests. There are some blessings which are positively

promised by God, such as pardon for sin, etc., for which we may pray

incessantly; and there are others which we may esteem desirable, but which

are not promised. These we must seek in submission to His will.

 

Ø      The kindness of God in not always answering our prayers. He knows

what is best. The great Father may refuse the cry of His children for toys

here, but He will give them estates in the great hereafter.

 

  • THAT THE SUPPORTS UNDER SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE ARE

ALWAYS ABUNDANT. “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength

is made perfect in weakness.” Observe:

 

Ø      The nature of the support. “Strength.” What matters the weight of the

burden it the strength is equal to bear it with ease?

 

Ø      The principle of the support. “Grace.” It comes, not from merit, but

from grace free and unbounded.

 

Ø      The influence of the support. “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory

in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” “Rest upon

me.” Spread over me like a tent to screen me from the scorching sun. “I

glory in my infirmities.” The cup may be bitter, but it has curative virtues.

Tempests may toss, but those storms will purify the atmosphere round the

heart and bear us away from scenes on which our hearts are set. All prayer

is answered when the mind of the suppliant is brought into cordial

submission to THE DIVINE WILL!

 

 

 

The Thorn in the Flesh – (vs. 7-10)

 

New endowments must have new tests. New and larger grace must be immediately put

off probation, since there are many probations in this one probation that have eternal issues.

“Lest I”  (v. 7) — this man in Christ, who fourteen years ago was prepared by special

revelation for the toil and trial of his Gentile apostleship — “lest I should be exalted

above measure;” and what was the danger? “The abundance of the revelations.”

(Ibid.)  Against that danger he must be fortified. If new endowments and new graces are

instantly put on trial, and the conditions of life’s general probation changed, then, indeed,

a new check to guard against abuse of increased gifts must not be lacking. The man is

not precisely the same man as before, nor is he in the same world that he previously

occupied.  Accessions of outward advantages, such as wealth and social position, are

full of risks, but accessions of inward power are far more perilous. To preserve

Paul from self-glorification, there was given him “a thorn in the flesh.”

(Ibid.) - First of all, the revelations were as to the fact itself to be kept a secret, and

this was a means of humility, but the thorn in the flesh was added. What it was we

know not, but it was a bodily infirmity that caused him much suffering. “This is

significant. It is of the very nature of thorns to be felt rather than seen, and to appear

trifling evils to all but those directly stung by them”. This thorn was used of Satan to

annoy, pain, depress, and harass Paul, and with the hope that it would hinder his great

work. Satanic malice rejoiced in the anticipation that it might prove the last straw

upon the camel’s back. Paul interfered much with the devil’s kingdom; it is no

wonder that the devil sought to interfere with him. Satan can afford to leave some

people alone; but if we faithfully attack his kingdom and his rule we may expect reprisals.

Yet Satan is but a fool after all, and constantly overreaches himself. One

has well said, “The devil drives but a poor trade by the persecution of the saints —

he tears the nest, but the bird escapes; he cracks the shell, but loses the kernel.”

It was “a  messenger of Satan,” though this does not imply that it was not under

God s direction. The idea is that this “angel of Satan” was an impaling stake that

produced severe and continued pain, and the reason therefore is twice stated, “lest

I should be exalted above measure.” (Ibid)  A big devil always comes against

a big Christian those who have special trials and sorrows experience also special

comforts and helps.  So, then, it was not as an apostle, but as the apostle to the

Gentiles, that he was especially afflicted. Pain is instinctively resisted as an enemy

to the activity, comfort, and pleasure of life. Naturally, therefore, Paul felt that it

would interfere with his energy and happiness, and, of course, the Satanic side

of the torture would be uppermost in his thought.  The evil in pain is what we see

first. If this were not realized, it could not be an affliction. Hence he prayed thrice

to the Lord that it might depart from him.  But his prayer was denied. At the same

time, the promise was given — a promise worth far more than the removal of the pain

- “My grace is sufficient for thee:  for my strength is made perfect in  weakness.” 

(v. 9) - The thorn was to continue — a lifelong suffering in addition to his other infirmities

was to be fastened upon him, a special and grievous suffering.  Yet, while it had to remain

a sad memorial, not of his exaltation, but of human frailty in connection with great

endowments, there was an assurance direct and specific of sustaining grace. Along

with that a most important truth was taught him, namely, that the perfection of strength

is attained through the consciousness of our utter weakness. First, then, the evil of

pain; next, the good of pain under the agency of God’s grace; — this is the method of

providence and grace, for the two are one in the Divine purpose.  Alas! had the prayer

of those sensitive nerves of his been literally answered, what a loser would he and we

have been! How much of his power would have vanished with the pain! How many

thoughts and emotions that have cheered the afflicted and inspired the weak to be

heroic, would have been unknown! Such Epistles as the apostle wrote (to say nothing

of his other services to the world) could never have been written under the ordinary

experience of the ills of life. All men have thorns in the flesh, for there is no perfect

health, no human body free from ailments. (see Solomon’s prayer – I Kings 8:38-39)

But in Paul’s case the thorn was a super-addition to existing infirmities. Nor is it

difficult for us to see how this particular infirmity, sanctified by the Spirit, was

especially adapted to guard him at a most exposed point. Inasmuch as he was the

object of a peculiar and violent opposition, he was singularly liable to the temptation

of over asserting himself and his merits, the more so as his enemies took delight in

taunting him with his personal defects as to manner and appearance. The safeguard

was provided where it was most wanted.  Such, in fact, was his own view of the

matter: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the

power of Christ may rest upon me.”  (v. 9)  “My infirmities,” he argues, “instead

of being the hindrance they would be if left to themselves, are helpers, since they are

the occasions of grace, and this grace rests upon me, i.e. abides continually. The

thought is precious; it must be repeated. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities,”

- (v. 10) for the power of Christ had been imparted to him with such fullness as to

transform pain into pleasure so far as his spiritual nature was concerned. The body

continued to suffer, the humiliations were increased, but his soul was filled with

Christ as the Christ of his pains and sorrows, and thus he had the victory, not only

over physical misery, but over all pride and vanity that might have sprung up

“through the abundance of the revelations.” Glorious words are these: “When I

am weak, then am I strong.” (Ibid.)  Notice the clear view Paul has of the Divine

hand in his thorn in the flesh. If he is perfectly assured of the abundance of the

revelations, if he can locate the scene in Paradise, if he realizes the sanctity of these

disclosures in the “unspeakable words,” he is just as certain that the thorn “was

given him.  He knew it was a “thorn,” and he knew whence it came. He acknowledged

God in it, and, in this feeling, prayed thrice for its removal. Christians often fail at this

point. They doubt at times whether their afflictions come from God. Some Christians

cannot be induced to believe that their sufferings are sent from above, and they see in

them nothing more than evil casualties.  But if they fail to recognize God in the sorrow,

they will not find Him in the joy of His blessed promise, “My grace is sufficient for

thee.” It was not merely the “them” that Paul had to endure. This was a source of pain,

and it aggravated, doubtless, his other physical infirmities, and, in turn, was augmented

by them. But we must not forget the state of mind such an affliction naturally produced

the surprise that it should follow such wonderful signs of God’s favor as had been

vouchsafed in the “abundance of the revelations,” the temptation to a rebellious spirit

and the occasion for unbelief it would furnish. A literal answer to his prayer was

refused; a spiritual answer was granted. The “grace” bestowed was “sufficient,”

not only to bear the pain as a peculiar addition to his “infirmities” already existing,

but to enable him to “glory” in it; and the providence of it was specially manifested

in the power it had given him to be patient, forbearing, humble, in the late trouble

with the Corinthians. O Christians, who are called to a lifelong discipline in the school

of suffering, think of the measure implied in the sufficient grace! Sufficient for what?

Sufficient, not only to glory in pain and infirmity, but to glory “most gladly.”

 

11 "I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have

been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles,

though I be nothing." A fool (see ch.11:16). For I ought. The “I” is

emphatic. You compelled me to become senseless in boasting of myself to

you, whereas I ought to have been commended by you. To have been

commended. The verb gives one more side allusion, not without

bitterness, to the commendatory epistles of which his adversaries boasted

(ch. 3:1; 5:12; 10:12-18). The very chiefest apostles. The same strange

compound, “out and out apostles,” is used as in ch. 11:5; compare Galatians 2:6.

 

Paul claimed to be on a perfect equality with the leading apostles. Unwillingly he

referred to this matter, which might look like self-glorification; but when the

occasion came, his utterance was full and unmistakable. There is nothing

derogatory in magnifying our office, the evil lies in magnifying ourselves in

it. It is not conceitedness but righteousness to assert for ourselves what

God has already asserted for us. Paul felt that he must not lightly esteem,

or allow others to lightly esteem, a high office conferred upon him by God,

and an office in which God had signally witnessed to his efforts. Paul

speaks about “the signs” of an apostle; the interesting question arises —

What were these signs? We may note the following:

 

  • Knowledge of the gospel derived by immediate revelation from Christ

(Galatians 1:12).

  • Being specially under the influence and teaching of the Divine Spirit, so

as to be able to announce truth with authority (I Corinthians 2:10-13;

12:8, 29; 14:37).

  • External manifestations of Divine favor sanctioning claim to the

apostleship.

  • Continued faithfulness to the gospel (Galatians 1:8-9).
  • Success in preaching the gospel (I Corinthians 9:2).
  • Power of communicating the Holy Ghost by imposition of hands

(Acts 8:18).

  • Power of working miracles (v. 12; Romans 15:18-19).
  • Holiness of life (ch. 6:4).

 

12 "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in

all patience, in signs, (showing authority) and wonders (intended to awaken

the interest, inquiry and the amazement of all beholders), and mighty deeds.”

(pointing to the Divine source from which they can be traced).   Paul always

claimed to have attested his mission by spiritual and miraculous gifts (Romans

15:19; Acts 15:12).

 

Paul has at the same time the clearest view of the Divine power and glory, and of

his own insignificance and impotence. He does not take to himself for a

moment what was not of himself. Note in ver. 12 he says, not “I wrought,”

but “were wrought” — he distinguishes between God and Paul! We have a

beautiful insight into the apostle’s mind. He has risen too high to deck

himself in plumes stolen from his Lord. Though divinely endowed,

strikingly witnessed to in his labors, beyond question the pre-eminent

apostle, he says, “I am nothing.” We wonder not that God used such a

man. We magnify God’s grace in him. Truly the promise had been amply

fulfilled, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (v. 9). Our pride is our folly —

it drives God out and lets the devil in. We cannot be great because we will

be so great. The bag is full of wind, so that it cannot be filled.

(Spurgeon said, It remains to be seen what God can do with a man who

will not touch the glory! – CY – 2018)

 

  • LEARN:

 

Ø      Humility becomes us. It became Paul. If he had so lowly an estimate of

himself, how little should we think of ourselves! Even if we are “great

men,” we are very small men compared with him.

Ø      Humility is reasonable. It is not fiction, but fact, to say that we are

nothing. Pride is based on a lie.

Ø      Humility is generally associated with large usefulness.

 

13 "For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be

that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.”  There

is an exquisite dignity and pathos mixed with the irony of this remark.

 

14 "Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be

burdensome to you: for I seek not your’s but you:  for the children ought

not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children." 

The third time I am ready to come to you. He had been ready twice before,

though the second time his actual visit had been prevented by the scandals in

their Church. That the visit which he now contemplates is a third visit, and that

there was an unrecorded second visit, is a needless and improbable inference from

this passage. Be burdensome (see v. 13). Not yours, but you (I Thessalonians 2:8).

 

15 "And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more

abundantly I love you, the  less I be loved.”  Spend and be spent; rather, spend

and be outspent, or spent to the uttermost (Philippians 2:17). When one is willing

to give up himself for another, one cannot help but be convinced of  the sincerity

involved.   It was by such self-expenditure as that of Paul’s that early Christianity

won its triumphs; it is for such self-expenditure that later Christianity pathetically

calls.  God is always thoroughly in earnest, but men are not. When men become

so then “the arm of the Lord is revealed.  (John 12:38)

 

Paul is a great illustration of Christian service.  The apostle is carried beyond the

thought of giving some time, or strength, or property, for his beloved Corinthians;

he expresses his perfect willingness to give himself. He will not count it a grief,

but a gladness, to expend himself for them. While many find great difficulty in

giving a little for others, the apostle seems to find none in giving all. Here we have:

A striking imitation of Christ. Paul has caught his Master’s spirit. His

Lord laid down His life for him; he will now lay down his life for his Lord.

Christ “gave Himself.” The Lord’s servant is most fitted to do his Lord’s

work WHEN HE IS MOST LIKE HIS LORD!  When we labor for Christ in

such a spirit as this we are certain to prosper. Failure is the child of half-heartedness

and selfishness. Christ honors an entire consecration to His service.

                                                                                                                       

The apostle was willing to spend himself for the souls of the Corinthians — “and be

spent for your souls” (New Version). In this labor he was seeking at the same time

the highest glory of God and Christ, and the truest welfare of men. These objects

unite in Christian service, which aims pre-eminently to do good to the souls of men.

The saving and perfecting of souls redounds supremely to THE GLORY OF THE

DIVINE BEING whilst it secures the highest good for humanity. So

dominated was the apostle by the desire to do good to the souls of men,

that what is usually a very strong motive for action, viz. the love of others

for us, was quite swept away. He declares that he will expend himself for

the Corinthians, though this strongest indication of his love to them should

produce a decreasing love for him on their part. The disinterested character

of true Christian service is here very strikingly displayed. It was by such

self-expenditure as that of Paul’s that early Christianity won its triumphs; it

is for such self-expenditure that later Christianity pathetically calls. GOD

IS ALWAYS THOROUGHLY IN EARNEST, BUT MEN ARE NOT!

When men become so then “the arm of the Lord is revealed.”  (Isaiah 53:1;

John 121:38)

 

16"But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you

with guile."

 But be it so, I did not burden you” - It is shocking to think that, even after Paul

has so triumphantly cleared himself from the disgraceful charge of trying to make

gain out of the Corinthians, he should still be obliged to meet the slanderous

innuendo that, even if he had not personally tried to get anything out of them, still

he had done so indirectly through the agency of Titus -  “nevertheless, being crafty,

I caught you with guile.”  He is here quoting the sneer of his enemies (see what he

has already said in ch. 1:12; 7:2). The word used for “being” means “being by my

very nature.”Sincerity and simplicity are first virtues in Christian workers; both

the man and his labors must be such as can be searched through and through. Guile,

as the world understands the term, must not be once known among us, as becometh

saints.  (Are the masses to be caught with the guile of the trumpet, and drum, and

dress, and excited meetings?  Contemporary Christianity should beware!  CY –

2010 - Anything approaching to an advertising of the gospel or the preachers of the

gospel grieves the sensitive feeling of all who know that the gospel needs no such

introductions, but is itself God’s power unto salvation to every one that

believes. (Romans 1:16)  Our “yea” had better be simple “yea;” with no blast of

trumpet or roll of drum let us tell men of the life there is for all in Christ our living

Savior; and let our only guile be sincerity and simplicity. 

 

17 "Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you?" 

Did I make a gain of you, etc.? The same verb as in ch. 2:11. It means

“to overreach,” “to take unfair advantages.”

 

18 “I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a

gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the

same steps?” I desired Titus” – This refers to the first visit of Titus.  He was

now on the eve of a second visit with two others (ch. 8:6,18,22).  A

brother; rather, the brother. Who it was is entirely unknown. Perhaps

Tychicus (Titus 3:12). In the same Spirit; namely, in the Spirit of God.

 

19 “Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in

Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.” The best reading

is not Πάλιν palin - again - but Πάλαι - palai - long ago. This word with the

present is an elegant classical idiom, and means, “You have, perhaps, been imagining

all this time that I am pleading with you by way of self-defense.  Do not think it! You

are no judges of mine. My only object is to speak before God in Christ, not to defend

myself since I need no defense so far as you are concerned — but to help in building

you up, by removing the falsehoods that alienate you from me.”  Paul’s one great

aim was not a game of “one ups-manship” but to edify those to whom his epistle

was addressed.

 

 

Edification (v. 19)

 

The strain in which this portion of the Epistle is written may, the writer is

conscious, mislead some readers. It displays a good deal of personal

feeling; it reproaches those who have not shown themselves amenable to

rightful influence and authority; it reveals a wounded heart. Some readers

may misinterpret these signs and infer that the apostle regards himself as on

his defense, as excusing and vindicating himself, as asking that the best

construction possible may be forbearing]y put upon his conduct. But all

this is erroneous. Paul’s one great aim is, not his own vindication, but, on

the contrary, the edification of those to whom his Epistle is addressed.

 

  • IN WHAT DOES EDIFICATION CONSIST?

 

Ø      It has respect to those who are already built upon the one Foundation —

Christ. The minister of Christ, like other workmen, must begin at the

beginning. When men receive the gospel, then, and only then, are they in a

position to be “edified.”

 

Ø      It consists in the building up of the Christian character in the case of

individuals. The resemblance to Christ is what is mainly to be sought.

 

Ø      And in the formation of solid and serviceable Christian societies, all of

which are parts of the holy temple which is being reared to the glory of

God.

 

  • BY WHAT MEANS IS EDIFICATION PROMOTED?

 

Ø      The means divinely appointed and approved are moral and spiritual. All

employment of mechanical or political agency to secure such an end is to

be condemned, as both inappropriate and useless.

 

Ø      Personal agency is that which the New Testament exemplifies and which

experience approves. Living spirits, full of love and sympathy, are divinely

qualified to engage in such a work as this.

 

Ø      Scriptural methods of edification are:

 

o        The presentation of truth,

o        the addressing of language of:

§         encouragement and promise,

§         admonition and rebuke.

 

Of all these abundant and very instructive examples may be found in this

very Epistle.

 

  • WHAT PURPOSES DOES EDIFICATION SUBSERVE?

 

Ø      The welfare, the highest spiritual development and happiness, of those

who are edified.

 

Ø      The impression thus made upon the world by the presence in the midst

of it of a Divine temple reared with human souls.

 

Ø      The honor and glory of the heavenly Architect Himself.

 

20For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that

I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings,

wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings,swellings, tumults: Such as ye would

not (see I Corinthians 4:21). Debates. “Discords,” “quarrels.” Strifes. “Party

intrigues,” “factious and emulous rivalries” (Romans 2:8). Backbiting. Detractions,

talkings against one another. Swellings. Inflated conceit pompous egotism

(I Corinthians 4:6, 18-19; Colossians 2:18). Tumults. Disorderly excitement

(ch.  6:5; I Corinthians 14:33; compare ibid. ch. 13:2, 10

 

21 And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you,

and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have

not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness

which they have committed.”  Humble me among you; rather, in my relation

to you. Many which have sinned already, and have not repented; rather, who have

sinned before and did not repent. Many had sinned (I Corinthians 6:12-20); some

only had repented.  There is no sadder phase of experience for Christian

ministers than the spiritual and moral failure of their converts, and of those

whom they have most fully trusted in Christian life and work. So often men

fall into temptation and are overcome in their middle life. When ministers

look for the ripest fruitage, then there is blight and death; wealth, pleasure,

vice, smite and kill the soul, and the pastor weeps over the toil of life that

seems to have been all in vain. Paul spoke of the Corinthians as “his glory and

joy  (ch. 1:14) and the things which he goes on to mention in this verse

put shame on his work, for the gospel call is “not unto uncleanness, but

unto holiness.” (I Thessalonians 4:7)  And ministers spend their strength

for naught if those who believe are not “careful to maintain good works.”

(Titus 3:8)

 

There is no sadder phase of experience for Christian ministers than the spiritual and

moral failure of their converts, and of those whom they have most fully trusted in

Christian life and work. So often men fall into temptation and are overcome in their

middle life. When ministers look for the ripest fruitage, then there is blight and death;

wealth, pleasure, vice, smite and kill the soul, and the pastor weeps over the toil of life

that seems to have been all in vain. Paul spoke of the Corinthians as “his

glory and joy;” and the things which he goes on to mention in this verse

put shame on his work, for the gospel call is “not unto uncleanness, but

unto holiness.” (I Thessalonians 4:7)  And ministers spend their strength for

naught if those who believe are not “careful to maintain good works.” 

(Titus 3:8)

 

What a dark list of vices and sins is spread out in these last two verses!

 

 

"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.

Materials are reproduced by permission."

 

This material can be found at:

http://www.adultbibleclass.com