Paul’s Defense: His Boastings

Paul’s Vision (II Corinthians 12:1-6)

While Paul’s boastings are not the most efficient means of handling this problem, he will continue by telling of the visions and revelations he has had. Perhaps Paul expects retorts that a man who claims to be an apostle ought not to boast. However, the evidence of his apostleship includes what he has done.

Paul relates the story of a man he currently knows. It isn’t until II Corinthians 12:7 that we realize the man being discussed is Paul himself.

Class Discussion:

  1. Keeping in mind that Paul has been using humor, especially irony, to defend his apostleship, why didn’t he name himself directly?
  2. How would this contrast to the false teachers in Corinth?

Since the event happened fourteen years earlier, this would be about the time Paul was in Tarsus or with Barnabas in Antioch (Acts 9:29-30). It is not a reference to his conversion which occurred about twenty years prior. Some wonder if it is the same event mentioned in Acts 22:17.

Though the vision happened to him, he was unable to comment whether he physically went or only spiritually went. The vision was real enough that it seemed he was there, even if he might not have been. Repeating the statement is to emphasize it. Paul cannot answer questions about that and it isn’t material to his point anyway. What he does know is that he went to the third heaven. In the Bible, the word heaven is used in three different senses. There is the heaven where the birds fly; that is our atmosphere (Jeremiah 4:25). There is the heaven where the sun, moon, and stars reside; that is, outer space (Isaiah 13:10). And there is the heaven where God dwells, which is a spiritual realm (Hebrews 9:24).

The place was called “Paradise,” which is also mentioned in Luke 23:43 and Revelation 2:7. The same Greek word was used in the Septuagint translation to translate “garden.” What he heard things that either could not be described (translated) or ought not to be spoken of – the Greek allows either translation. Either way, Paul wasn’t permitted to repeat what he heard. Why he was a witness to something that he wasn’t permitted to say is not told to us. But it does reinforce what Paul said in I Corinthians 2:9 that there are greater things awaiting us in heaven than we can imagine.

Again Paul’s humor comes across. In such a person, he could glory, even if it is himself. But when speaking directly of himself, he will only boast about his weaknesses. People would expect someone who received such visions to boast about them, but Paul declines the opportunity. Boasting might be seen as foolish, but in this case, Paul is only mentioning what actually happened. But Paul is not going any further because people will think of him beyond what they see and hear – a poor speaker who is not much to look at (I Corinthians 2:1; II Corinthians 10:10). Paul declines to have others judge him by what they cannot verify, which serves as a strong counterpoint to how false teachers behave (John 5:44; 12:43).

Paul’s Lord (II Corinthians 12:7-10)

Paul shifts from speaking of himself in the third person when he mentions something marvelous that happened to him, but which cannot be verified, to the first person when speaking his weakness which could be verified.

To help Paul keep his pride in check Satan was allowed to plague Paul through “a thorn in the flesh.” What Paul was referring to is never mentioned. Though Paul did mention he had a physical infirmity (Galatians 4:13-14). The use of the words “thorn” and “buffet” (to strike with the hand) seems to indicate that it was painful. Paul had asked three times for the problem to be removed, but his request was denied. Paul’s prayer was answered, but Jesus’ response was that his grace was enough for Paul because the Lord’s strength shines brightly through weakness.

Thus Paul’s attitude toward his infirmity changed. What he once saw as a problem, he now sees as a way to bring glory to Christ. That attitude has spread to all areas of his life, realizing that his spiritual strength was greatest when he was physically weak (I Corinthians 2:3-4; II Corinthians 4:7; 13:4; Hebrews 11:34; I Peter 4:14).

Class Discussion:

  1. How does Paul’s thorn in the flesh match up with James’ statement in James 1:13?
  2. Would a false teacher take pride in his power or his weakness? What kind of priority or focus does that show?

Signs of an Apostle (II Corinthians 12:11-13)

Again, Paul teases that they forced him into boasting about his weaknesses, but he shouldn’t need to boast. The Corinthians should be commending Paul because Paul was equal to every apostle, though he doesn’t see himself as important (I Corinthians 3:7; 9:1; 15:9; Ephesians 3:8). Paul isn’t a second class apostle – there isn’t such a thing anyway (II Corinthians 11:5).

Miracles were done in Corinth proving his apostleship, not once or twice but continually (Romans 15:18-19; I Corinthians 14:18). Why do we not read more about the miracles Paul did in his letters? Perhaps it is because the miracles were not the important thing. Paul was focused on the message. The miracles only helped confirm the message. Yet, we should not forget that the miracles were there. The Corinthians enjoyed the full benefits of having an apostle among them.

In no way were the Corinthians treated less than any other church (I Corinthians 1:5-7). Paul didn’t have them support him simply to avoid being a burden (I Corinthians 9:12, 18; II Corinthians 11:8-9). It appears that some were miffed that Paul did not give them the privilege of supporting him and was likely one line of reasoning the false teachers were using to claim that Paul wasn’t a real apostle. If this concern of his was offensive to them, Paul asks them to forgive him.

Class Discussion:

  1. Was Paul admitting that he did wrong by not being supported by the Corinthians?
  2. Who typically initiated support? Did Paul demand support or did other churches offer support? So in reality whose fault is it that Corinth didn’t support Paul?
  3. So why is Paul asking for forgiveness from them?
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