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Scripture reading – 2 Corinthians 12

Our devotional study of Paul’s epistles to the believers in Corinth is nearing its end. I have been encouraged by the transparent nature of both 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and reminded the church has always faced challenges from within and without the congregation.

Of necessity, Paul’s first letter to Corinth was strong as he addressed sins and schisms in their midst, with some taking offense and verbally attacking the apostle. Some questioned his calling and authority as an apostle, and inferred he was a coward in person, but bold in his letters (10:1). Lest some be discouraged, Paul reminded believers they were in a spiritual battle, and one that must be waged with spiritual weapons (10:4-5).

Answering those who challenged his apostleship, Paul denounced them as “false apostles, deceitful workers,” for they pretended to come as “ministers of righteousness” (11:13-15). Because some had been led astray by those who pretended to be apostles, Paul was forced to declare his heritage (11:22), and all he had suffered for Christ (11:23-33).

1 Corinthians 12

The nature and practice of false prophets in Paul’s day was as it is in our day. There were some who bolstered their religious credentials, and claimed to have received some unique vision or revelation from God. (Unfortunately, the internet has afforded false prophets an opportunity to have a perpetual presence in our lives and homes. Tragically, shallow preaching and teaching, and an ignorance of truth, have exacerbated the void of spiritual discernment.) Though reluctant to say anything of himself, the attacks on Paul’s character and calling had made it necessary for him to prove his apostleship (12:1-10).

Paul’s Heavenly Revelation (12:1-6)

Paul did not name himself, but writing with humility in the third person, he described a heavenly vision of the Lord: “2I 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. 3And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)” (12:2-3). Paul could not write with certainty that his vision was in body or in spirit, but he was snatched or “caught up to the third heaven” (12:2). The first heaven being the sky above our heads; the second heaven the planets and stars; the third heaven was the place of the throne of God (12:2).

Paul recalled hearing words too wonderful to convey in human language (12:4). Yet, though he might have cause to boast of God’s special revelation, he did not want that experience to be the defining moment of his ministry in the churches (12:5). With characteristic humility, he desired to be judged by what others had seen and heard as they observed his response to his sufferings and infirmities (12:5).

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (12:6-10)

Paul was blessed with a vision of “the third heaven” (12:2), but the Lord in His infinite wisdom permitted “a thorn in the flesh” (12:7). The “thorn” was not identified (perhaps because believers of the time knew what it was), but the apostle did identify its effect in his life: “lest I should be exalted above measure” (12:7). In other words, lest he be given to pride and glorying (12:6), the “thorn in the flesh” served to humble Paul. (There have been a myriad of speculations concerning what the thorn was, and I need not add my own to them; yet, I suggest the thorn might have been a “messenger” or demon of Satan that troubled him, 12:7).

Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove the thorn, but the answer to his prayer was God promising His grace: “9And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (12:9a). The Lord would not remove the thorn, but promised His apostle grace (God’s favor and blessings) to endure it. Accepting the thorn was God’s plan, to the end Christ might be glorified in his life, Paul determined to be content, writing: “10Therefore 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” (12:10).

Closing thoughts – The key to Paul’s spiritual victory was faith, and an eternal perspective. He did not flee the thorn, or become embittered by it. He endured weakness, insults, distress, persecutions, and difficulties “for Christ’s sake” (12:10b). Knowing the Lord was accomplishing His purpose, in his weakness Paul found the promise of God’s strength (12:10c; Philippians 4:13).

I close today’s devotional, knowing there may be some going through a struggle with a “thorn,” trial or time of trouble. Remember–though you pray for deliverance, it may be God’s answer to your prayer is the grace to endure.

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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