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
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
through the agency of subordinates (vs. 16-18).
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 - dei – it is necessary; binding or δὲ - de – now; then, the ironic
δὴ - dae – by 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” - optasias – views; apparitions -
means presentations perceived in a state which is neither sleeping nor waking, but
which are regarded as objective; - apokalupsis – revelations - are
the truths apprehended as a result of the visions. 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
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
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
(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.”
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
§ 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 - –
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
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
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.
strength of Christ may rest upon me.”
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.
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
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. - 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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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 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.
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
Glorying in Infirmities (v. 9)
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!”
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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:
as to be able to announce truth with authority (I Corinthians 2:10-13;
12:8, 29; 14:37).
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)
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;
16"But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you
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 – palin - again - but αpalai - 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
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.
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
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
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.
20 “For 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.”
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.”
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: