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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 13:1-10; Test Yourselves! Is Jesus In You?

03/21_2 Corinthians 13:1-10; Test Yourselves! Is Jesus In You?; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210321_2cor13_1-10.mp3

Sin is Serious

Paul is speaking very directly to the Corinthians as he closes this letter and prepares to visit them, addressing the issues he sees in the church, pleading with them to change. He says:

2 Corinthians 12:20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

Paul is coming soon to visit them, and he is afraid that neither he nor they are going to like it. He said to them all the way back in 1 Corinthians as he addressed their sins:

1 Corinthians 4:18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

Paul doesn’t want to come with a rod of discipline. He is urging them to repent of their sins and return to the simplicity of their relationship with Jesus.

2 Corinthians 13:1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 2 I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—

Paul is now coming to visit for the third time. Paul first came to Corinth around AD 50-51, and proclaimed the good news about Jesus Christ and him crucified, and a church was birthed. He spent a year and a half with them preaching and teaching and building them up. After leaving he wrote them a letter that was misunderstood (1Cor.5:9), then he wrote what we have as 1 Corinthians. Around AD 54 he paid them a second visit, which proved to be painful, and then wrote them a letter through his tears (2Cor.2:1-4). It is about a year later as he writes this letter from Macedonia, in preparation for his upcoming visit.

This will be his third visit, and he uses the language of Deuteronomy (19:15) to show them how serious this really is. It is as if he were calling the third witness necessary to convict them. He forewarned them before and he is forewarning again now those who sinned before. Paul believes there are some there who, in spite of his repeated confrontation of their sin, persist unrepentant. He warns not only them, but all the rest. If they persist in sin, he will not spare all of them. There were not-so-innocent bystanders who were putting up with sin in the church without putting out those who refused to turn from their sin after being lovingly confronted. The sin was not OK, and the church body tolerating and accepting the sin was not OK. In 1 Corinthians 5 he had reminded them of the principles laid down by Jesus on church discipline (Matt.18). If they fail to deal with their own issues, Paul will deal with all of them when he comes.

Seeking A Sign

2 Corinthians 13:3 since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

This church was not listening to Paul; they were looking for Paul to prove himself to them. They had been entertaining super-apostles preaching a false gospel of power and prosperity. They wanted a sign. Jesus said “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Mt.12:39;16:4); the sign of the crucifixion. Paul betrothed them to one husband, Christ; but they were being led astray from their single-hearted devotion by satanic deception. They are now putting Paul to the test.

These verses are rich, and I want to come back to them next week and savor them more slowly, but for now lets step back and get the sweep of Paul’s argument. They want proof from Paul. It is clear from his parody of foolish boasting in chapters 11 and 12 that they wanted victory stories, supernatural signs and wonders and visions to authenticate his ministry. He has told them that they need to evaluate him on the objective standards of his life and his teaching; he wants ‘no one’ to ‘think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me’ (2Cor.12:6). They want proof that Christ is speaking in him. They want to put him to the test.

Test Yourselves

He responds:

2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

You seek proof of my ministry; it is you that you should be proving. Yourselves is emphatic; yourselves examine; yourselves prove. And what they must prove is much more serious. They demand proof of Paul’s ministry; Paul demands proof of their salvation.

In chapter 5, he reminded them of the good news, that for our sake God the Father made the sinless Jesus to become sin for our sake, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And he implored the Corinthians ‘be reconciled to God’ (5:20-21). In chapter 6, he appeals to them not to receive God’s grace in a vain, worthless, empty manner. He says ‘Look! Now is the day of salvation!’ (6:1-2).

He wants them to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith, if they are really believing, depending on the real gospel. They have been listening to false apostles preaching another jesus and a different gospel. They need to turn their ever-critical eye back toward themselves.

Jesus In You

Do you not know this? Do you not understand this gospel truth about yourselves? That Jesus Christ is in you? Paul had told them back in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 …God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

2 Corinthians 6:16 …we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, …

We are the temple of the living God; God dwells in you. You are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in you. Here he says ‘do you not know that Jesus Christ is in you?’ Believer, do you not know that you are the temple of the living God; you are indwelt by the triune God; Father, Spirit and Son have taken up residence in you?

Jesus said:

John 14:20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. …23 …“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

Do you not know that Jesus Christ is in you? This is the Jesus who humbled himself, God who took on flesh and became one of us, so that he could become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. This is the Jesus, who embodies himself today with you; ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Gal.2:20). ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus’ (Phil.2:5). Do you not know that the crucified and risen Lord is in you?

Unless indeed you fail the test. Paul is not being examined; they are. Is there evidence that the one who laid down his life for others is now alive and at work among them? Is his sacrificial service for others being embodied in them?

Have We Failed?

2 Corinthians 13:6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.

It seems surprising that Paul turns from an admonition to put themselves to the test to them discovering that he has not failed the test. They were seeking proof in him, in something supernatural in him. He held up a mirror and said ‘examine yourselves’. If God the Son is living in you, transforming you to be more like him, isn’t that enough supernatural evidence for you? And if you pass that test, ‘You yourselves are our letter of recommendation’ (2Cor.3:2). ‘You are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord’ (1Cor.9:2). You want proof of my ministry? Look at yourselves. Have you been transformed by the gospel I proclaimed to you? Is Jesus Christ living in you? If you pass the test, I hope you can see that means that we have passed the test.

Paul’s Prayer

But Paul’s primary desire is not to be vindicated or to prove that he has passed the test. They want to make this about him, but he won’t let them. He prays for them.

2 Corinthians 13:7 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.

What is Paul praying for here? It may help us understand if we turn it around to see what Paul does not pray for. ‘I’ve loved you, I’ve served you, I’ve put my life on the line for you. But you won’t listen to me; you just keep on persisting in sin. And not only that, but you question my integrity! You have the audacity to demand that I prove myself to you. Well, guess what? You’ll get what you want and more. I’m praying that God strike you down hard, and I hope you keep on persisting in your sins, so that he shows you no mercy, and when I get to town I can see you crushed under his almighty arm.’

That might be the way we would feel if we were in his situation, but that’s not Paul’s heart. Paul prays that they not do wrong, that they do what is right. And not for appearance sake; not because when they do what is right, he looks good. If you are walking in the truth, I am not against you, I am for you. What we pray for is your restoration. I want you to do what is right even if that makes us look weak and you strong, even if we seem to have failed.

Paul has threatened that he will not spare them if they don’t repent. If they do repent of their sins, then he can do nothing against them. He will not come in power ready to punish them. Instead he will come again in the meekness and gentleness of Christ. To their requirement of an outward display of power he will again seem to fail. But he is glad if he is seen to be weak so that they can be strong. He is willing to be disapproved if that means that they pass the test, that they are in the faith, that they are in the truth, that Jesus Christ is in them. He has betrothed them to one husband, and he is willing to decrease if only they are restored to their single-hearted devotion to their Lord Jesus.

Weighty Letters

Paul began this section in chapter 10 by begging:

2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.

Paul was accused of being bold from a distance and humble in person. He begged that he would not have to show bold confidence against his detractors when he came again in person.

Remember, some were saying “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2Cor.10:10). Paul says ‘you’re right!’

He concludes this section by giving his purpose for writing what he wrote:

2 Corinthians 13:10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

He writes boldly in his letters so that he does not have to be bold and severe in person. It is actually his desire to be seen as weak, gentle and meek, among them. His letter kills, so that when he is present, he can minister life to them (2Cor.3:6). He urges them to do the painful work of tearing down; testing and examining themselves to see if they are in the faith, so he can use his authority when he is present with them to edify them. He has been speaking in the presence of God, in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved (12:19).

***

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

March 23, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle

02/28_2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210228_2cor12_11-13.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 12. In 2 Corinthians, Paul re-frames our thinking about ministry. He spends the first 7 chapters pointing us to the fact that authentic gospel ministry takes its shape from the gospel it proclaims; the good news of an awesome God who humbles himself, who stoops down to our level, who out of his great love for us takes our sin upon himself and suffers in our place for our eternal good. Authentic ministers carry this gospel treasure in fragile earthen containers, to put on display that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2Cor.4:7).

In chapters 8 and 9 he points to the practical outworking of this transformative good news, which so changes the hearts of believers that they joyfully overflow in practical generosity to others. He invites and exhorts the Corinthians to join him in an opportunity to serve the suffering saints.

In chapters 10-13 we discover that there is a sinister danger set to derail the church in Corinth; triumphalist leaders have infiltrated the church and have been building themselves up by tearing Paul down.

Foolish Boasting

Although no one ought to boast except in the Lord, and it is only the Lord’s approval that carries any weight (2Cor.10:17-18), Paul is forced to defend himself against false accusations. He is forced to boast in his own ministry over against that of the false apostles, whom he calls servants of Satan (2Cor.11:13-15).

He acknowledges that boasting in oneself is foolish. He asks them to bear with his foolishness, seeing that they all too readily bear with fools (11:1, 4, 19). He doesn’t want to be thought a fool, but since they already think so poorly of him, he asks them to indulge his foolish boasting and give him their ear (11:16-18). But he warns them that boasting in self is not according to the Lord but rather according to the flesh. As he beings his boast in 11:21, he interjects ‘I am speaking as a fool’. In verse 23 he says he is not only speaking foolishly; literally ‘without his mind’, but he is ‘out of his mind’ to boast like this.

He begins by boasting in his Jewish heritage (11:22), which he tells us in Philippians 3:3-8 that confidence in the flesh, in ethnicity and religious upbringing, is worthless, a liability not an asset, nothing but offensive filth and rubbish.

But he quickly switches gears (11:23-29) and begins to boast in his superior service to Christ, which looks like sufferings, trials, hardships, persecutions, constant and varied dangers, toils and snares.

When they would expect him to boast in his successes, in his accomplishments, he boasts that he is quite literally a basket case – having to flee for his life let down through the city wall in a grocery basket under cover of night.

When they anticipate accounts of visions and revelations (12:1-6), he switches to the third person, boasting not in himself as the great apostle, but in an ordinary ‘man in Christ’ who doesn’t know exactly what happened to him, other than that he was caught up into heaven and heard things he is not permitted to tell them about. But this surpassingly great revelation came with a thorn, a satanic emissary given by God to crush his pride and keep him humble. He prayed for deliverance, but God didn’t even answer his prayer, at least not in the way he had hoped. The answer he did receive from Jesus was that his grace is sufficient; because power finds its fulfillment in weakness.

In response to this, he is delighted to boast in his own weaknesses so that the power of Christ encamps on him.

What the Church Ought To Do

He concludes this foolish boasting by pointing to the fault of the church in pushing him to that extreme.

2 Corinthians 12:11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. 13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

The church did not do what it ought to have done, and this impelled Paul to make a fool of himself to rescue them from the diabolical danger they were embracing. When false teachers came promoting a false gospel, preaching another jesus, encouraging them to receive a different spirit, they ought to have smelled the wolf by their life and teaching and given them no quarter. When the servants of Satan began to undermine the one who preached the gospel to them, who served them at great personal cost, who showed them what it looks like to follow Jesus, they ought to have stood up and testified in Paul’s defense. Paul looks back over this list of his own sufferings in service to Christ, and says ‘this is the script you should have read in my defense.’

I ought to have been commended by you. As he said earlier in response to their desire for letters of recommendation ‘you yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts’ (2Cor.3:2-3). You are the authenticating evidence of our ministry, you who once were immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers; you have been transformed by the gospel we preached. You were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Cor.9:9-11). You who were sinners have been made saints though the gospel we brought to you.

It was not only the fault of the false apostles. It was the negligence of the church to stand firm in the message that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). They should have known better. They ought not to have stood silently by while the truth of the gospel and the character of the one who brought it to them was maligned and distorted. The church is called to be the pillar and buttress of the truth (1Tim.2:15). The foolish boasting of the apostle was made necessary by the church neglecting to do what it ought to have done.

Nothing and Still Not Inferior

Because, Paul says, ‘For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.’ Think this statement through for a minute. I am not deficient, I have no lack, I am not less than the super-apostles. Think of this in simple math terms. If he is not less than them, then he is saying that he is at least equal to, if not greater than them. And he considers himself exactly equal to zero. He is nothing. If he is not less than the super-apostles, then the super-apostles are equal to or less than zero.

But Paul, you don’t really consider yourself a zero, do you? This must be false humility at its best. I say ‘I’m a zero’ as a way to get you to affirm me and tell me how really great I am and how much I do contribute. I put myself down to get you to puff me up. Is that what Paul is doing here?

No, it’s not. Paul really and truly considered himself a zero, a nothing. He tells the Romans:

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…

He told the Galatians:

Galatians 6:3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Our problem is not low self esteem. The temptation we all face every day is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We think we are something, and really we are nothing.

In 1 Corinthians 3, the church was lining up each behind his favorite leader. Paul asks:

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

I am nothing. Apollos is nothing. Nothing but servants, doing what the Master assigned. We each did what we were told. God is the one who gave the growth. God is everything. I am nothing.

He goes on to warn them:

1 Corinthians 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

Again, our problem is not that we think too little of ourselves, but too much. Nobody struggles with the sin of humility. Paul writes in:

1 Corinthians 4:6 …that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

My flesh cries out ‘No!’ I’m not nothing! Look at my talents, my abilities, my accomplishments, my good looks, my charming, winsome personality. What do you have that you did not receive? The question is not whether or not you got it. The question is where’d you get it? Did you deserve it? Or is it a gift, freely given?

Here’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

I’m unworthy. I am what I am by God’s grace. Grace, remember is God’s undeserved favor extended freely to sinners. It’s the opposite of being worthy, it’s the opposite of getting something in return for being something or contributing something. Grace is given to zeroes.

Paul says ‘I worked harder than any of the other apostles, but that was not me. That was God’s grace at work in me.’ I am nothing.

Signs of A True Apostle

He says ‘you ought to have defended me, because the signs of a true apostle were performed among you.’ What does he mean by that? What are the signs of a true apostle? We could look at Jesus’ ministry. When he was asked if he was the long anticipated one, he answered:

Matthew 11:4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

Authenticating signs and wonders. Blind, lame, lepers, deaf, even dead people are raised. But listen carefully to what Jesus lists as the climactic sign authenticating his ministry; the poor have the good news preached to them. That’s the climactic conclusion of Jesus’ list of his own signs.

In Mark 1, after Jesus had healed many and cast out many demons so that everyone was looking for him,

Mark 1:38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Jesus performed authenticating signs, but that was not primary. Proclaiming the good news was primary. In fact, Jesus warned:

Mark 13:22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

Jesus even predicted (Matt.7:22-23) that many would prophesy, cast out demons, and do might works in his name, who did not even have a relationship with him. So what are the signs of a true apostle, if false prophets will perform signs and wonders to lead people astray? How can we know what is true if both the true and the false perform signs and wonders and mighty works?

It would serve us well to pay careful attention to what Paul says here, and what he does not say.

2 Corinthians 12:12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with both signs and wonders. With mighty works. He does not say that the signs of a true apostle are the signs and wonders and mighty works. He says the signs of a true apostle are accompanied by both signs and wonders and mighty works. Remember, Paul has just been talking about power, this same word for ‘mighty works’ here.

2 Corinthians 12:9 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.

It is Christ’s power, and it is power that finds its aim and end in our weaknesses. Paul has been boasting, but he is boasting in the things which show his weakness (11:30; 12:4). Throughout this passage, he has been pointing away from supernatural signs as confirmation of authentic ministry. He carefully avoids saying anything that would cause someone to ‘think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me’ (12:6). The book of Acts records some of the supernatural signs and wonders that happened at the hands of Paul. But Paul insists that the minister be evaluated on the basis of his life and his teaching, objective findings that are seen and heard, not subjective supernatural experiences that can lie or be counterfeited.

Jesus told those who were requesting a sign from him:

Matthew 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (cf. Matt.16:4)

Jesus pointed them to the greatest sign of his own death, burial and resurrection. The cross was the ultimate sign that demonstrated Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father. In John 2,

John 2:18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Jesus did many signs and wonders, and many believed because of them. But the sign without which no other sign mattered was the cross.

With Patient Endurance

The signs of a true apostle, Paul points out here, were performed in you or among you. This is in the passive voice. Paul doesn’t say ‘I performed (active voice) the signs.’ Rather, they ‘were performed’ – passive. God performed the authenticating signs in and through Paul.

And he says that these signs were performed ‘in all patient endurance’; with utmost patience. He uses this same word ‘patient endurance’ in 2 Corinthians 6, where he lists his apostolic credentials that commend him as a legitimate servant of God. There he said:

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

There he spells out for us what he believes authenticates ministry. It is the paradox of patiently enduring great sufferings in the cause of Christ. It looks like… Jesus.

He affirms the same thing in Romans 15. He says:

Romans 15:17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;

Any signs and wonders were not his, pointing to him; they were done through him by Christ, and pointed people to Christ Jesus. It was the power of the Spirit of God at work bringing people to Jesus. Paul’s purpose was always evangelistic; preaching the gospel of Christ; to bring the Gentiles to obedience. His holy ambition was to make Christ known, and he was willing to patiently endure suffering if that was necessary. In fact it was often through his suffering that Christ was made known.

***

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

March 4, 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