Paul’s Visions and Revelations
1Although it may not accomplish a thing, I need to move on and boast about supernatural visions and revelations of the Lord. # 12:1 Or “from the Lord.” 2Someone I’m acquainted with, who is in union with Christ, was swept away fourteen years ago in an ecstatic experience. He was taken into the third heaven, # 12:2 Although there are Jewish traditions that present a cosmology of seven levels of heaven, most scholars conclude that the third heaven is the highest realm of the immediate presence of God. but I’m not sure if he was in his body or out of his body—only God knows. 3And I know that this man # 12:3 There are a number of compelling reasons to conclude that the “man” Paul refers to in vv. 2–4 is himself: (1) He knew the exact time this ecstatic experience took place. (2) He knew that what was overheard in the third heaven was “inexpressible” and not to be repeated. (3) He was not certain about what state he was in (embodied/disembodied). (4) In v. 7 he uses the first-person pronoun me (“a thorn in the flesh was given to me”) as a counterbalance to the high level of revelation that Paul had received. It was a common literary device, a rhetorical ploy, to avoid speaking of oneself directly in this fashion and by using the phrase “Someone I’m acquainted with” (v. 2) when he, in fact, was referring to himself. It is a sign of Paul’s humility and integrity that he did not “boast” of this event that took place fourteen years earlier. Many today who have experiences with God are quick to tell what happened. Paul veiled his heavenly encounters with God and waited to share them only when it was appropriate and faith-building for others. Not every experience we have is meant to be shared immediately. This is what got Joseph the dreamer thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers. (again, I’m not sure if he was still in his body or taken out of his body—God knows) 4was caught up in an ecstatic experience and brought into paradise, # 12:4 What Paul described as the third heaven in v. 3 is now called paradise. It is possible that Paul is recounting two different experiences, or possibly one experience in which he ascended into two levels or two realms of encounter (third heaven and then paradise/seventh heaven). The third possibility is that it was one and the same place, described with different terms. For more on the term paradise (Hb. pardes, Aramaic pardesa, Gr. paradeisos), see Gen. 2:9; Luke 23:43; Rev. 2:7. where he overheard many wondrous and inexpressible secrets # 12:4 Or “words” or “matters” or “things.” Paul was privileged to see and hear of mysteries that are beyond the reach of human language and unable to be spoken by human lips. that were so sacred that no mortal is permitted to repeat them. # 12:4 See also Rev. 10:4. 5I’m ready to boast of such an experience, but for my own good I refuse to boast unless it concerns my weaknesses. # 12:5 The Aramaic can be translated “afflictions.” 6However, if I were to boast, it wouldn’t be ridiculous at all, for I would be speaking the truth. Yet I will refrain, lest others think higher of me than what I demonstrate with my life and teaching.
7The extraordinary level of the revelations I’ve received is no reason for anyone to exalt me. # 12:7 The true character of spiritual revelations is that they exalt Christ, not people. It is a paradox that the greater our understanding of God, the less we truly know and the more humble we become. Paul refused to be exalted in the eyes of others. This is the nature of true apostolic ministry. For this is why a thorn in my flesh was given to me, the Adversary’s messenger sent to harass me, # 12:7 Or “to slap my face” or “to box my ears.” Paul did not have a demon, though it was possible that a demon followed him to harass and hinder. This is more likely a metaphor of the harassment he endured, the constant misunderstanding and persecution that came to him because of his faith in Jesus. There is no indication that this “thorn” was a sickness. In Paul’s list of hardships (2 Cor. 11:23–27) he does not mention a sickness or disease. keeping me from becoming arrogant. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to relieve me of this. 9But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, # 12:9 Or “My grace is continuously sufficient in you” (to ward it off). and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. # 12:9 Or “The power of Christ rests upon me like a tent or tabernacle” (providing me shelter). 10So I’m not defeated by my weakness, but delighted! For when I feel my weakness and endure mistreatment—when I’m surrounded with troubles on every side and face persecution because of my love for Christ—I am made yet stronger. For my weakness becomes a portal to God’s power.
The Signs of an Apostle
11I have become foolish to boast like this, but you have forced me to do it, when you should have boasted in me instead. For there is nothing I lack compared to these “super-apostles” of yours, even though I am nothing. 12The things that distinguish a true apostle were performed among you with great perseverance—supernatural signs, startling wonders, and awesome miracles.
13Furthermore, how were you treated worse than the other churches, except that I didn’t burden you financially—forgive me for depriving you! # 12:13 Paul appears to be addressing a complaint that he had treated the Corinthians differently than the other churches when, in fact, he had refused their financial support and was helped instead by the Philippians, who aided him financially while in Corinth, and for this he should have been commended by them. The five marks of Paul being a true apostle are (1) supernatural signs attesting to God’s presence and authority, (2) wonderful deeds that could be explained only by a supernatural God, (3) powerful miracles that point to Christ, (4) treating the churches with respect and not wanting to burden them if at all possible, and (5) becoming a true spiritual father to the churches (see v. 15). 14And now here I am, ready to come to you for the third time, # 12:14 It was during Paul’s third visit to Corinth that he wrote the letter to the Romans. and I still refuse to be a burden to you. For what I really want is your hearts, not your money. After all, children should not have to accumulate resources for their parents, but parents do this for their children. 15And as a spiritual father to you, I will gladly spend all that I have and all that I am for you! # 12:15 Or “for your souls.” If I love you more, will you respond by loving me less? # 12:15 Some manuscripts indicate that this is not a rhetorical clause but make it into a concessive clause subordinate to the first half of the verse, effectively changing the meaning to “I will gladly spend all that I am for you, even though you love me less for doing so.” Sacrificial love is always the key to opening the hearts of people we minister to and serve.
16Be that as it may, I haven’t been a burden to you at all, yet you say of me, “He’s a scoundrel and a trickster!” 17But let me ask you this. Did I somehow cheat or trick you through any of the men I sent your way? 18I was the one who insisted that Titus and our brother come and help you. Did Titus take advantage of you? Didn’t we all come to you in the same spirit, following in the ways of integrity?
19I hope that you don’t assume that all this time we have simply been justifying ourselves in your eyes? Beloved ones, we have been speaking to you in the sight of God as those joined to Christ, and everything we do is meant to build you up and make you stronger in your faith. 20Now I’m afraid that when I come to you I may find you different than I desire you to be, and you may find me different than you would like me to be. I don’t want to find you in disunity, with jealousy and angry outbursts, with selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance, and turmoil. 21I’m actually afraid that on my next visit my God will humble me in front of you as I shed tears over those who keep sinning without repenting of their impurity, sexual immorality, and perversion.