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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Our Response to Trials

02/21_2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Our Response to Trials; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210221_2cor12_7-10.mp3

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

Paul shares his own experience in the third person, distancing himself from this amazing event and bringing it down to our level; it happened to a Christian; to a man in Christ.

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul reminds us that supernatural experiences don’t validate ministry. The life and teaching of the minister are what must be looked at to authenticate ministry. And gospel ministry, ministry in the footsteps of Jesus will be ministry that mirrors Jesus. It will be characterized by weaknesses, by sacrificial suffering for the good of others. Paul resolves to boast only in his weaknesses.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to pummel him. This was a gift; it was God’s good gift to him, to keep him from being lifted up with pride, because pride is deadly and dangerous, more dangerous to us than demons.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

Paul didn’t want the thorn, didn’t like the thorn. He didn’t ask for the thorn. In fact he asked for it to be removed. Three times he asked, just as Jesus asked three times of his Father that if there were any other way, for the cup of God’s almighty wrath toward my sins to pass from him (Mt.26:39,42,44).

Jesus is a sympathetic High Priest who understands our trials. He has experienced and endured the same kinds of trials, yet without sin (Heb.4:15). So Paul petitioned Jesus that the thorn, the satanic messenger be taken from him.

God always answers the prayers of his children, but not always the way we would expect or hope that he would. Jesus wanted to be spared from suffering as the sin-bearing Lamb. But more than he wanted to be spared from suffering, he wanted his Father’s will to be done, for his Father to be glorified.

Joyful Endurance?

So Jesus joyfully endured the cross for us. Hebrews tells us “For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb.12:2). How do you endure trials, suffering, adversity? Reluctantly? Avoid at all cost? Grudgingly? With grumbling and complaining? Paul’s authentication for ministry was not only that he endured trials for the sake of the Name, but how he endured those trials.

Jesus’ Answer

Listen to Jesus’ answer to Paul’s petition. This is the word of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” …

Sufficient Grace

Sufficient to you is my grace. It is adequate. My grace is enough. In John 6, Jesus tested Philip, asking him were they could buy bread to feed the crowd that numbered 5,000 men, plus women and children. Philip answered him (v.7), “Two hundred denarii (days wages) worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” No one would be satisfied. It would not suffice. There would just not be enough to go around. You know the story. Andrew found a young boy who had brought his lunch. Jesus gave thanks, and after everyone had eaten their fill, as much as they wanted, they gathered 12 baskets full of the leftovers. It didn’t look like it was enough, but in the hands of Jesus it proved to be more than enough. It was sufficient.

This word ‘sufficient’ comes first in the original for emphasis. Christ’s grace is fully sufficient, completely satisfying, abundantly enough.

Jesus says ‘you can be satisfied with my grace.’ You can be content with my grace. It is enough to carry you through adversity, through opposition, through trials. It is sufficient to allow you to withstand the onslaughts of hell. It won’t run out. It won’t come up short or leave you unsatisfied. Sufficient to you is my grace.

Grace. Grace is God’s unearned, undeserved favor and kindness. Grace is the opposite of wages. Wages are payment for services rendered (Rom.4:4-5). The wages we earned by our sin is death. We earned God’s just wrath. We deserve hell. But instead we are freely given a gift we didn’t earn, we don’t deserve. God smiles on us. God’s favor is extended to us (Eph.2:8-9). You may have heard the acronym for Grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Jesus paid the price in full, purchasing for us a gift we don’t deserve and could never pay for ourselves. Jesus says that his grace is enough.

Jesus says that his grace is sufficient, for power is made perfect in weakness. Jesus parallels power and grace, as if they are almost synonymous. Christ’s grace is powerful. Grace answers my ill desert. His power answers my weakness, my sickness, infirmity, disability. His grace is divine enablement to endure the pressure.

Power to Endure

Paul asked for the trial to be removed. But God answered by pointing Paul to his all sufficient divine enablement. Paul encouraged in 1 Corinthians 10:13

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God is faithful. He will provide a way of escape, but the way of escape may be that he gives the strength to bear up under it, to endure the pressure without collapsing. He may give the grace needed to see you through.

The Purpose of Power

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” His power is made perfect. It finds its fulfillment, it comes to its intended purpose or end, it is completed. Power is intended to answer weakness. Power is not meant to lie dormant; it is meant to be engaged. Power is expressed and finds fulfillment when it overcomes weakness. Our weakness is the playground where God’s power can show off.

So Paul says ‘bring it!’ If my weakness is the place where God’s power and grace is glorified, then I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.

With Great Pleasure

Do you hear how Paul responds to his own weaknesses?

2 Corinthians 12:9 …Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

He is not grudging or grumpy. He is glad. This word that he puts up front for emphasis is ‘with great pleasure’, from the adjective ‘sweetly’; its root is where we get our word hedonism, indulging in pleasure and sensual delight (Lk.8:14). With great pleasure therefore, I will to a greater degree boast in my weaknesses. Paul didn’t stoically endure the thorn; he came to take delight in it. Not in the thorn in and of itself; he wanted to be rid of it. But understanding that his weaknesses, his thorn, the satanic angel sent to crush his pride provided a platform to put the powerful grace of Jesus on display brought him great pleasure. It became sweet to him.

He took pleasure not only in its pride demolishing effect, but also in its God glorifying, grace exalting, power displaying purpose. If my weakness is the way God is most glorified in me, and if I understand that the ultimate all satisfying purpose for my existence is to glorify God, then I exult in my weaknesses, because Christ is seen to be powerful more through my weaknesses than through my strengths.

Christ’s Power Encamping

2 Corinthians 12:9 …Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Paul gladly boasts in his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon him. This word ‘rest upon’ carries a beautiful picture. The word is a compound of ‘upon’ and ‘to tent or encamp’. This connects us back to God’s tent, the tabernacle in the wilderness, where “I will dwell in their midst” (Ex.25:8-9). This connects to the Word in John 1, who was with God and who was God,

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He dwelt, he tabernacled, he pitched his tent among us. Paul is saying that it is in his weakness that the power of Christ encamps upon him, sets up his tent over him. He finds great pleasure in his weaknesses, because it is in his weaknesses that he enjoys intimacy with Jesus.

Well Pleased

2 Corinthians 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Here again Paul uses a pleasure word. He is content. This is the word the Father used of the Son at his baptism and again at the transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt.3:17; 17:5). Paul is well pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in calamities. Two of these words he used as credentials for authentic ministry back in 2 Corinthians 6:4;

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,

Paul now delights in those hardships and calamities for the sake of Christ, because they display the glory of Jesus more vividly.

Strength In Weakness

Paul concludes “When I am weak, then I am strong.” He does not say that trials and weakness produce strength (he says suffering produces endurance in Rom.5, also James 1). He does not say that strength comes after weakness. He says that the strength is actually in the weakness. He is at the same time weak and strong. When he is weak in himself, weak in his circumstances, it is at that time that he is more transparent and the power of Christ is more evident in him.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Our Response

How do you respond to trials, to oppression, to difficult circumstances? Do you grumble and complain? Do you become resentful and bitter? Or is it sweet to you because the presence of Christ dwells on you and the power of Christ is displayed through you? For the believer who has been justified as an undeserved gift by grace, every bitter thing can be made sweet.

Paul exults in Romans 8

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 27, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn

02/14_2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210214_2cor12_7.mp3

It’s valentines day, and providentially we’re in 2 Corinthians 12, the passage about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. So to make the connection I thought I’d use a corny cliché to title this message; every rose has its thorn.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul’s Parody of Boasting

Paul is engaged in foolish boasting to combat the dangerous servants of Satan that were promoting a kind of celebrity leadership based on alleged private (and hence unverifiable) spiritual experiences. God appeared to me, God told me, I had a dream, I experienced a vision, I’ve been entrusted with a word from the Lord; therefore you need to listen to what I have to say, you need to follow me, do what I say.

Private visions, private revelations may benefit the one who experienced them, but they do not establish spiritual authority. Paul does everything he does to be beneficial, useful, to build up the church. He says there is nothing to be gained from boasting in visions and revelations. No benefit to the church. It might sell a book or pack out a room, but it won’t build anyone up.

In this mock parody of the false apostles false boasting, he starts in 11:16-22 by boasting in his own heritage, but then he quickly moves to say that he is a greater servant of Christ, because he suffered more than others in his service to his Lord.

They expect divine supernatural authentication, so he brings up his Damascus experience, but instead of recounting his Damascus road vision of the risen Christ, he recounts his disgraceful and laughable escape from the city, being let down under cover of night through the wall in a basket.

In chapter 12 he lifts our expectations by saying that he will go on to visions and revelations. He gives us his experience, but in the third person; it’s not Paul the great apostle, but simply a man in Christ who was caught up to the third heaven, to paradise, who heard inexpressible words that he is not allowed to speak. He doesn’t give any description of what he saw, he can’t tell us what he heard. He doesn’t claim that in any way it authenticates his ministry; rather it is an experience that belongs ultimately to anyone who is in Christ.

Paul’s Fear

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul’s fear is that if he were to boast of his supernatural experience, someone might think more highly of him that is warranted. They might think of him as larger than life, more than an ordinary Christian, more than a man in Christ. Paul is afraid that someone might attribute to him some unattainable celebrity status, lift him up because of his exceptional experience as more spiritual than others who are in Christ. Paul insists the criteria of faithful ministry must not be unverifiable visions and revelations; ministry must be judged by the objective criteria of life and teaching. What do you hear taught? What do you see in my life?

Paul’s concern is that they evaluate ministry by the wrong standards and listen to the wrong kind of leaders, who, based on their life and teaching, he calls servants of Satan. He’s concerned, because of his own surpassing revelations, that they will listen to him for the wrong reasons.

Paul’s Danger

Paul is concerned for the church. But he is also aware of another threat. He himself is in grave danger.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul was in great danger. The surpassingly great revelations given to Paul created a great threat to Paul. What he saw, what he heard, was so far beyond, so great, so intimate, that he can’t help but conclude that he is special. No one else had this privileged vision. He was lifted up by the Lord to such incomparable heights that he was in danger of being lifted up with pride in his own heart. It would be all too easy for him to think too much of himself. You hear his concern, repeated both at the beginning and at the end of verse 7; ‘to keep me from being conceited.’ This was a real danger for the apostle, and he recognized it.

This word ‘conceited’ is a compound word ‘surpassingly lifted up’ that connects it with the ‘surpassing greatness’ of the revelations he was given.

The only other place this word ‘conceited’ or ‘surpassingly exalted’ appears in the New Testament is 2 Thessalonians 2:4, where:

2 Thessalonians 2:3 …the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

This is a real danger. Charles Spurgeon says of Paul,

“He had entered into the nearest communion with God, possible to a man while yet in this life. Should he not feel somewhat exalted? Surely exultation must fill that man’s bosom who has been brought within the veil to see his God, and to hear the unutterable harmonies! It was natural that he should be exalted, and it was not unnatural that he should stand in danger of being exalted above measure. Devout exaltation very rapidly degenerates into self-exaltation. When God lifts us up, there is only one step further— namely, our lifting up ourselves; and then we fall into serious mischief indeed. I wonder how many among us could bear to receive such revelations as Paul had? O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours! We have neither head nor heart to sustain so vast a load of blessing. Our little plant needs not a river to water its root: the gentle dew suffices— the flood might wash it away.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

Pride is the sin that damned the devil. It is dangerous. ‘O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours!’

God’s Good Gift

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

To prevent Paul from falling into this deadly devilish danger, he was given a gift. He doesn’t say who gave this gift, but it is clear from the context. This word ‘given’ speaks specifically of God’s favor bestowed; in Eph.3:8 and 4:7 it speaks of God’s grace given; in 1Tim.4:14 of God’s grace-gifts. God is the giver of every good gift, and if this gift prevents Paul from pride, it is a good gift.

Thorns

What might startle us is what God’s good gift is. Paul says he was given a thorn in the flesh. That doesn’t sound good, and it is certainly not pleasant. Have you had a thorn in your flesh? Inevitably, when pulling weeds, I’ll get a little tiny thorn in my hand. Some of these thorns are so small, so insignificant, I can’t even see them. I can’t see them, but I certainly can feel them! I might not notice it for a while, until I go to pick something up and it irritates the thorn and reminds me that it’s still there. I’ve used a needle or a blade to literally dig a hole in my finger where I think the invisible source of my torment is, trying to root it out.

Thorns aren’t very impressive either. If you ask for my help and I say I can’t help because I was on the battlefield and suffered a gunshot wound to my arm that hasn’t fully healed yet, you might be impressed. But if I say I have this little thorn in my hand, so it hurts me when I pick anything up, you might roll your eyes and come at me with tweezers. And if I tell you it’s no use, it is too small even to see, I’m sure you will be very impressed with my undaunted bravery.

Everyone wants to know what Paul’s thorn was. About every malady, physical or spiritual, every form of persecution or opposition has been suggested. The fact is he doesn’t tell us. We aren’t meant to know. Whatever it was, it was given in response to the heavenly rapture experience 14 years earlier, and it was meant to keep Paul humbly trusting. Spurgeon again has a helpful word:

“we have unveiled before us a portion of the secret life of Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. We may not only see his bed-chamber, but learn the apostle’s visions; we may not only see his private infirmities, but learn the cause of them. Let us not, however, be actuated by so low a motive as mere curiosity, while we gaze upon the open secret; let us remember that the apostle never intended to amuse the curious, when he penned these words, but he wrote them for a practical purpose. Let us read them with a desire to be instructed by them, and may the Holy Spirit teach us to profit. This record was not sent to us merely that we should know that this eminent servant of Christ had abundant revelations, or that he suffered a thorn in the flesh, but it was written for our profit.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

We learn from this that pride is more dangerous than thorns, and God may give us the good gift of a thorn to keep us trusting in him alone and not in ourselves or our past experiences.

Satan’s Angel

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul parallels his description of the thorn in the flesh with ‘an angel of Satan to harass him’. The word here is the same one used of our Lord in his treatment at the hands of the Jewish leaders.

Matthew 26:67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,

A demonic messenger was sent to strike him, to buffet him. This too is startling; that God’s good gift to him is Satan’s emissary. So who sent this Satanic thorn to pummel Paul? Was it Satan or God? Paul’s answer is ‘yes’. The thorn was sent by Satan, and it was a gift from God. We must remember that Satan is a created being, part of God’s creation, over whom God is omnipotent and sovereign.

We could think of the evil action of Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery,

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

The brothers intended evil, but God intended good. We could think of the first chapters of Job, when God instigated Satan to test him. We could even think of Judas; when Satan himself entered Judas, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas, under control of Satan, sold Jesus out to be executed. And we know from Colossians that Jesus death [canceled…]

Colossians 2:14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Satan incited Judas to betray Jesus to the cross, the very thing that secured our forgiveness and disarmed and conquered the powers of darkness. This is clearly a case, as Jesus predicted:

Matthew 12:26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

Satan, in seeking to destroy Jesus, brought about the even that set us free from his power and sealed his own fate.

The early church understood:

Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

This proved to be the case for Paul. Satan’s angel no doubt intending to discourage and destroy Paul, actually was a gift of God that crushed Paul’s pride and secured his utter weak dependence on the Lord alone. God wields circumstances, sufferings, even Satan himself to bring about his good ends. As Paul said in the beginning of this book, about his affliction in Asia,

2 Corinthians 1:8 …we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

The devil is a tool in the hand of the sovereign Lord to wean us away from our self sufficiency and trust him completely.

Our self-exaltation is more deadly even than demonic oppression.

Persistent Prayer for Deliverance

Don’t misunderstand; Paul didn’t look for this thorn; Paul wasn’t asking to be abused by a satanic emissary. Quite the contrary.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Here again the apostle demonstrates that authentic ministry is ministry shaped by the cross. Genuine ministry follows in the footsteps of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus, in dread of the cross, three times

Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Paul pleaded with the Lord Jesus three times about this that it should leave him. This is one of the few places we see prayer directed to Jesus rather than the Father, because Paul found in him a high priest who is able to sympathize with his weakness (Heb.4:15-16). He desired that the thorn, the satanic messenger be taken away. Like his Lord, he did not receive the answer he hoped for. Rather, like his Lord, he was strengthened to endure what was necessary for him to endure. Like his Lord Jesus, he would bring glory to God not by escaping the unwanted trial, but by persevering through it. He was promised sufficient grace to meet the trial.

Do we underestimate the danger of our own hearts, of our self-important thoughts? Do we rightly estimate the deadly disease of pride? Likely none of us have had the rapturous experience that Paul had, and yet we allow ourselves to be puffed up beyond measure. It is God’s grace that uses a thorn to deflate our self-obsession so that we embrace weakness as the way to glorify God.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 16, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:1-6; Visions and Revelations

02/07_2 Corinthians 12:1-6; Visions and Revelations; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210207_2cor12_1-6.mp3

Visions and Revelations

Paul had been in Corinth only a short time and God was blessing. Although he was opposed by those in the Jewish synagogue, he went to a house next door and continued to proclaim Jesus. The ruler of the synagogue and his household believed, and many Corinthians believed and were baptized. But in Acts 18:9 we read:

Acts 18:9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision [ὅραμα], “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Paul must have been afraid, intimidated, feeling alone. He must have been tempted to back off, to be quiet, to disengage, so the Lord Jesus encouraged him with a vision and a word.

Peter, in Acts 1, when:

Acts 2:3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared [ὀπτάνομαι] to them and rested on each one of them.

Peter proclaimed the good news of Jesus to the questioning crowd, and he said:

Acts 2:17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see [ὀπτάνομαι] visions [ὅρασις], and your old men shall dream dreams;

Visions, dreams, revelations. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 in confronting the false apostles is boasting (foolish boasting), and in chapter 12 he says:

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.

Paul is going to address visions and revelations of the Lord. Visions and revelations are big in some circles of the church today, as they were big in the church in Corinth. Apparently the false apostles would one-up each other with elaborate accounts of their visions and revelations.

Boasting and the Damascus Escape

Paul is meeting the false apostles on their own boastful turf, answering fools according to their folly, and bragging that he has more to boast of than they do. If you remember in 11:21-22 he began by boasting in his ethnic and religious pedigree, claiming the same credentials as anyone else. In verse 23 he takes it up a notch and claims to be a better servant of Christ, but he switches gears and begins to talk about his sufferings in service of Christ and the gospel. He says ‘if I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (11:30).

He brings up his Damascus experience, where everyone knows he had a vision of the risen Jesus who appeared to him and changed the entire direction of his life. But Paul doesn’t recount his life transforming vision here. Rather he recounts his humiliating escape from Damascus, where the persecutor of Christians escaped by night, weak, lowered in a basked through the city wall by the Christians whom he now calls brothers; the mighty persecutor had become the persecuted.

They would have expected him to recount his Damascus vision here, but instead he tells them about his humbling escape.

Nothing To Be Gained

Here it comes. In chapter 12, he says he will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. He’s stringing them along. Finally he’s going to get to the powerful, the supernatural, the good stuff. After all, a true apostle must have had some profound spiritual experiences.

But he prefaces what he is about to say by reminding them that he is boasting, which he has told them in 11:16-18 that he is boasting according to the flesh, he is not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.

And here he says, ‘there is nothing to be gained by it’. It is not beneficial. It is not profitable. It won’t build anyone up. In Acts 20, he reminded the elders of the church in Ephesus of his service ‘with all humility and with tears and with trials…’

Acts 20:20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,

Paul seeks to be useful, profitable, to do good to all. He said in

1 Corinthians 10:33 …not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

This is his criteria for his own ministry, and for the use of spiritual gifts in the church.

1 Corinthians 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

In 1 Corinthians 14 he uses a parallel idea – building up:

1 Corinthians 14:12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

And here in 2 Corinthians 10-13, he says it three times

2 Corinthians 10:8 …our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you…

2 Corinthians 12:19 …we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.

2 Corinthians 13:10 …the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

Paul seeks to build up, to be profitable, to seek the common good. But here he says that boasting in visions and revelations does not do that. There’s nothing to be gained by it. It will not benefit you. It will not build up the church. But here I go. I must go on boasting; you’ve driven me to it.

Not a Credential; A Man In Christ

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

What strikes us here is that Paul switches to the third person. He promises to boast of his own visions and revelations, but now he’s talking about some ‘man in Christ’. But when we look ahead to verses 6-10, he switches back to the first person ‘I, I, I, I, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, I, me, me, I, my, me, I, I, I.

What is Paul doing? Paul is boasting about his credentials for ministry, and here he moves on to boast about the category of visions and revelations, his own supernatural experience. He gives one specific example, but he distances himself from the narrative.

He doesn’t say ‘I, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, had this amazing experience, unlike anyone else’. Rather he says ‘I know an average ordinary believer, a man who belongs to Jesus, someone who is in Christ’. It could have been anybody. I had this experience, but not because of who I am, and the experience doesn’t establish my credentials or give me any authority.

So many false teachers, false prophets, false apostles throughout history have built their platform on a vision or a revelation. I had this experience. God appeared to me, God spoke to me, the Lord told me… Paul is careful not to paint a picture of himself in such a way as to make them think that visionary experiences give anyone any authority in the church of Jesus Christ.

Fourteen Years Ago

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven…

Fourteen years ago? Fourteen years ago, Paul, and you’re not selling books ‘my trip to the third heaven’. You’re not holding seminars ‘how to have your own personal rapture’? You’ve not been invited to speak at multiple large events? Fourteen years ago and you haven’t told anyone?

If Paul wrote 2 Corinthians around AD 54 or 55, that would put this experience around AD 40, shortly after his escape from Damascus between 37 and 39. We know almost nothing of the years between his departure from Damascus and Barnabas retrieving him from Tarsus around 44 or 45 (Acts 11:25-26), other than what he says in Galatians 1

Galatians 1:17 … I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. …21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

Paul has known the Corinthians for 5 years. He spent 18 months with them, he made another brief visit to them, this is his fourth letter to them. And only now, when he is forced to, does he bring up this monumental experience. Why?

Raptured (Passive)

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—

Twice in these verses Paul says he was caught up; the word is used of seizing. This is the word used of the evil birds in Jesus parable who snatch away what was sown in the heart (Mt.13:19), or of the wolf who snatches the sheep. Jesus reassures us that no one will snatch his sheep from his hand (Jn.10:12,28-29). This is the word used when the people wanted to take Jesus by force and make him king (Jn.6:15). Or in Acts 8:39 when the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away. This is the word that comes to us through the Latin as rapture.

Paul claims to have been raptured, caught up to the third heaven, to paradise. In Jewish thought the first heaven is the day sky or our atmosphere; the second heaven is the night sky or space, the moon, stars, galaxies; the third heaven is the presence of God himself. Paradise connects back to where God walked with the first man and woman in the garden.

Notice, this is something that happened to Paul. The verbs are in the passive voice, which means it is not something Paul did; it was something that was done to Paul by another. This was not an experience Paul was seeking or preparing himself for. It was not a state he worked himself into. Paul can take no credit. God did it. God snatched him, carried him off.

Notice also Paul’s ignorance of the details. He repeats twice his ignorance of his own physical state during this event. He doesn’t know if he was taken bodily or only spiritually. Ancient extra-biblical Jewish apocalyptic literature went into detail on about traveling through the heavens, and entering into the presence of God, and what they claim to have seen there. Paul doesn’t give us any of this. He doesn’t even know where his own body was. God knows.

God gave Paul a foretaste of heaven. And this is the hope of every believer, of all who are in Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

What happened to Paul was no doubt incredible. But it happened to ‘a man in Christ’. He brings his experience down and makes it ours. Every believer, all who are in Christ will be caught up to be with the Lord forever.

He Heard Unutterable Utterances

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—

Next comes the part where he tells us what he saw and heard. Actually he doesn’t tell us what he saw; he only tells us what he heard.

2 Corinthians 12:4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

Do you see how anticlimactic this is? How disappointing? Paul was given revelation, he heard words, but they are unutterable, inexpressible. This could mean that what was communicated to him went beyond the limits of human language. But in the next phrase he says that what he heard is not lawful or permitted for a man to speak. Whatever he heard he was not allowed to communicate. This revelation was for him alone. This is one reason he didn’t talk about what happened for 14 years. And he still doesn’t break the silence. Everybody wants to know what Paul heard, but doesn’t let us in on any of it. This is in stark contrast to the false apostles who are all too eager to use their experiences to manipulate people.

Weakness (Suffering in Service to Christ) Establishes Authenticity

Paul concludes

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul is persistent that if he must boast, it will be in his weakness. That is why he frames this whole visionary revelatory experience in the third person. It was a man in Christ. If he wanted to boast in this man’s experience, he wouldn’t be lying, because it was indeed his own experience. But he refuses to boast in it. He refused for 14 years, and he will continue to refuse to use it to leverage authority. It is his weaknesses that he wants to be written large over his life and ministry.

His reason for this is so counter-cultural. We are worried that people will think too little of us, or think of us too little. We love to filter our flaws and inflate our image. We want to be made much of. Paul doesn’t want anyone to think too highly of him. Even in the context of false teachers in the church undermining his authority and integrity, he doesn’t want anyone to think more of him than is warranted by the real verifiable evidence of his life and teaching.

Paul could have easily won a short term victory here by pulling his authority card and his supernatural experience card and leaving the opponents in the dust. But that would have left the door wide open for future generations to seize spiritual authority by unverifiable supernatural experiences.

He is teaching the Corinthians (and us) that supernatural experiences, although real, are not to be used to establish the credibility or authority of anyone as a minister. Those kind of personal experiences aren’t earned, they are given graciously by God. And they can’t be verified.

Paul wisely says no. Don’t think more of me than what you see in me or hear from me. Those are objective, verifiable standards. Judge me by my life, by my weaknesses, my my suffering service for the Savior. Judge me by the content my message, by the gospel I proclaim, by my open statement of the truth.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 12, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:30-33; Boasting in Weakness

01/31_2 Corinthians 11:30-33; Boasting in Weakness ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210131_2cor11_30-33.mp3

We are going to jump back in to our study of 2 Corinthians today. We have been away from this book for the holidays, so a quick overview to orient ourselves in this letter from the Apostle Paul to a troubled church.

Acts 18 recounts Paul’s first visit to Corinth (around AD 50 or 51), where he spent 18 months preaching the gospel and establishing the church. But shortly after leaving, he heard there were troubles in Corinth, so he wrote them a letter (AD 52) confronting some of the issues, a letter that was misunderstood. He again received visits from some in Corinth communicating that all was not well, so he wrote them again (AD 53; the letter we have as 1 Corinthians). About a year later (AD 54), he heard of more problems, so he traveled in person to Corinth, a visit that did not go well. He quickly retreated, and wrote them a letter through his tears. Having sent his co-worker Titus ahead to Corinth to try to patch things up, he was now traveling through Macedonia en route to visit them again, and he wrote this letter (AD 55) to prepare them for his visit.

Chapters 1-7 seek to re-orient their thinking about ministry. They had developed a distorted understanding of what ministry is all about; Paul argues that gospel ministry is ministry that is shaped by the gospel. The good news is that God humbled himself, became one of us, to seek and to save the lost, to lay down his life for us. Christian ministry is not all about paychecks and positions and privilege. Gospel ministry must be shaped by the gospel, by the cross. It must look like humility, like sacrificial service for others. It must pattern itself after Christ crucified. It must conform to the cross.

Paul says:

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. …7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

In chapters 8-9 he reminds us that this gospel grace that has been extended to us by God will so transform our hearts that we will overflow in practical generosity to others. Part of his purpose for this trip through Macedonia to Corinth is to take up a collection for the poor and persecuted believers in Jerusalem, so he extends them the opportunity to participate in this practical ministry.

In chapters 10-13 he confronts head on the false apostles who had gained a hearing in the church, who were proclaiming a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel.

Paul changes his tone in this section to biting irony. The false teachers are engaged in foolish boasting, so he answers fools according to their folly so that their folly will become evident to all. He warns the Corinthians are being led astray from a sincere devotion to Christ, and that the false apostles are taking them as slaves, devouring, taking advantage of, putting on airs, even striking them in the face (11:20).

2 Corinthians 11:21 …But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.

Paul possesses the credentials to meet them in their foolish boasting. In fact, he can go further than that.

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman…

But here he switches gears on them. He reminds them that a servant of Christ is just that, a servant.

2 Corinthians 11:23… —with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Res Gestae Divi Augusti

When we put this in historical context, we see Paul is making a parody of the typical self-praise of the powerful.

Augustus Caesar (who reigned 31 BC to 14 AD) had his lengthy autobiography inscribed on two columns in Rome. Here is a short excerpt:

“the achievements of the deified Augustus by which he placed the whole world under the sovereignty of the Roman people, and of the amounts which he expended upon the state and the Roman people”.

[4] Twice I triumphed with an ovation, thrice I celebrated curule triumphs, and was saluted as imperator twenty-one times. Although the Senate decreed me additional triumphs I set them aside. When I had performed the vows which I had undertaken in each war I deposited upon the Capitol the laurels which adorned my fasces. For successful operations on land and sea, conducted either by myself or by my lieutenants under my auspices, the Senate on fifty-five occasions decreed that thanks should be rendered to the immortal gods. The days on which such thanks were rendered by decree of the Senate numbered 890. In my triumphs there were led before my chariot nine kings or children of kings. At the time of writing these words I had been thirteen times consul, and was in the thirty-seventh year of my tribunician power.

It was common for the powerful to catalog their accomplishments. Paul meets the super-apostles in their boasting, but he takes it in a direction they wouldn’t anticipate. We expect boasting to be in accomplishments, in victories, in triumphs. But Paul boasts in his trials, in his brokenness, in his sufferings.

Divine Commission

We pick up on some of the credentials they were looking for from chapter 12, where Paul says ‘I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. …The signs of a true apostle were performed among you …with signs and wonders and mighty works’ (12:1,12). They expected the supernatural; visions, revelations, signs, wonders.

We could think of the divine commissioning of the Old Testament prophets, like Ezekiel, who said “the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” or Isaiah; “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” or Jeremiah; “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” or even the Apostle John “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book…”

We would expect Paul to share with us his commissioning by the risen Lord that we find in Acts 9:

Acts 9:1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (cf. Acts 22:6-11; 26:12-18)

No doubt this was well known to the Corinthian church, as Paul had referenced it in 1 Corinthians 9:1. But that’s not what he says here.

Glory To God Alone

Paul says

2 Corinthians 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Paul is answering a fool according to his folly, but he refuses to play their game on their terms. He will not answer a fool according to his folly. He changes the criteria. He says ‘You make it necessary for me to boast, but I’m going to boast about that which puts on display my weakness, so that God gets all the glory.’

2 Corinthians 11:31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.

God must get all the glory. God alone is blessed forever. God is related to Jesus as his God in his humanity, and he is the Father of our Lord Jesus in his eternal divine nature. Christian ministry is intimately linked to the Father through our Lord Jesus.

Paul takes an oath by the God who is Truth, that he is telling the truth. This heightens our expectation of what he is going to say next. He brings up his Damascus experience, but not in the way they expect.

Damascus Escape

2 Corinthians 11:32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me,

This account, by the way, is anchored in history. Aretas was a royal title. This was Aretas IV, a Nabatean vassal king who reigned in Petra from 9 BC to 39/40 AD; he was the father-in-law to Herod Antipas. Herod divorced his daughter to marry Herodias, the former wife of his brother Philip (Mat.14:3-4; Mk.6:17-18 Lk.3:19). This is the Herod whom John the Baptist rebuked, and was eventually executed by. Aretas avenged his daughter by attacking and defeating Herod Antipas in 36 AD.

2 Corinthians 11:32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands. (cf. Acts 9:20-25; Gal.1:17)

This is shocking. He turns boasting upside down. Paul was powerful, triumphant, marching in broad daylight to Damascus with authority to persecute and imprison followers of Jesus. This is the posture of the false apostles. But he didn’t know Jesus. Jesus knocked him from his high horse, lowered him to the dust, so that he could reveal himself to him.

And then he was helpless, blind, weak; he had to be led by the hand. He had to be prayed for by a reluctant disciple from Damascus that he was coming to persecute. Ananias laid his hands on him to restore his sight. He immediately began to proclaim Jesus, and this soon got him in trouble. The hunter became the hunted; the persecutor became the persecuted. The powerful became weak. The pursuer was pursued. The one who came to take lives had to flee for his life. In a humiliating turn, those he came to persecute helped him escape; he was lowered in a large basket under cover of night, a basket normally used for salted fish or produce.

Saul the persecutor came to know what it was to be persecuted for the name of Jesus. But he had met Jesus, and Jesus was worth the cost. Christian ministry is characterized by humility, willingly sacrificial for the good of others.

Corona Muralis

It was well known that one of the highest military honors for valor was the Corona Muralis or Wall Crown. It was awarded to the first Roman soldier to successfully scale the wall of an enemy city. Ironically, Paul boasts in his weakness. He didn’t scale the wall in victory; he was lowered down the wall and slunk away under cover of darkness.

The false apostles wanted credentials, they wanted evidence of divine commissioning. They wanted an account of a vision or evidence of divine favor. In bringing up Damascus, Paul alludes to his divine call and commissioning, but instead he recounts his shameful exit from the city.

Jericho and David

But Paul was not the only one to escape down a city wall. Under Joshua’s command, the two spies who entered Jericho were let down a scarlet cord through an opening in the wall by Rahab the prostitute (Josh.2:15). David escaped from King Saul when Michal let him down through the window, and he fled (1Sam.19:12). In each of these accounts, what seems like an ignominious and shameful escape turns out to lead to a display of God’s power.

This is exactly Paul’s point. God’s power is displayed most vividly through human weakness. So he is glad to boast in the things that display his weakness, so that God alone would get all the glory.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 2, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment