2 Corinthians 12:9
“ My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Every few years someone writes a book about how they died, went to heaven, and returned to tell about their experiences. The story usually includes something about radiant light, warm feelings, and the awareness of all their loved ones awaiting their arrival. The authors are heralded as experts on the subject of the after-life and their books often become best sellers. Two thousand years ago Paul had an experience where he was “caught up” into heaven. As he reluctantly relates his story, two things stand out to me.
2 Corinthians 12:4 “. . . how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
Rather than giving a detailed description of heaven, Paul explains that it would be unlawful to attempt to express even the sounds that he heard. Imagine your favorite song, let the sweetness of the singer’s voice enter your mind, then imagine what that song sounds like if we had church Karaoke night, and I was singing. You might say “he is murdering that song, that should be against the law.” Any attempt by Paul to relate heaven to earth would not do it justice.
Scarcely any of Heaven’s glories can be compared to earthly experiences. However, we do find a few. We read of streets of gold, gates of pearl, glorious thrones and a glassy sea. We are also told, heaven will be a place without sorrow, pain, death, sin, or the need of a sun, because the glory of God will be enough to illuminate the skies. Additionally, Scripture describes the inhabitants of heaven. The saints will be in their glorified bodies, and angelic beings, beyond any earthly comparison, will be there, and the central focus of eternity is a throne where God sits as King and Judge. It interests me, when people write of their supposed experiences of visiting heaven, they never seem to mention that God is sitting on a throne as judge. Perhaps what validates Paul’s vision more than anything else, is his unwillingness to talk about it.
2 Corinthians 12:7 “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”
When the revelation ended, Paul found he was afflicted with some sort of physical infirmity. What exactly it was he does not say. For two thousand years Bible students have been trying to piece together the puzzle and uncover to what he referred. While I do not pretend to know what he did not tell us, it is clear he is speaking of a physical infirmity that made life difficult for him. The suffering he experienced was so great he pleaded with the Lord to remove it, and he pleaded with persistence. Imagine the apostle on his knees crying out to the Lord to remove the infirmity which slowed down his progress in sharing the Gospel with a dying world. Then imagine as the silence of heaven is broken as God says,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Instead of receiving healing, Paul was given grace. He went on to describe how, in suffering, Jesus shows up to provide strength. For Paul, it became a common experience to be weaker than the task required, and to experience the grace of God, which would give him more than was necessary to accomplish what he was called to do. He uses two words that we do not usually associate with suffering. The first is boasting and the second is pleasure. It was not that Paul was a masochist who loved suffering, but he had found that in his weakness, he would experience God’s strength.
Perhaps it is not a vision of heaven that we need, but a realization that in our weakness God wants to show His strength.
Questions for 2 Corinthians 12
- In verse 1-4, Paul tells of a man who was caught up to heaven and who heard things there that were so wonderful that he could not explain them, and it wouldn’t even be right to try. Do you ever spend time imagining heaven? Do you have a dry, cliché’, “clouds and harps” view of heaven, or is your concept of it more like Paul says it is here?
- Although Paul was aware of a person who had gone through this spectacular experience, look at what he says at the end of verse 6. Where does he keep the focus?
- God worked in Paul’s life tremendously, and in verse 7 he indicates that there could be a temptation to think that he was special and better than others. God allowed Satan to beat Paul up a bit to keep him humble. Read Job 1. Read Romans 8:28. God can even use our enemies for good purposes in our lives. Thank God that He is in control!
- Even though God uses difficulties and trials in our lives, it is not always pleasant. Read verses 8-10. Paul seeks to get himself out from under the difficulty, but God tells him no. What things is God doing and trying to teach Paul according to these verses? Do these principles apply in our lives? Are you going through anything difficult that God is not letting you out from under? Are you learning the same things that God was teaching Paul?
- In verses 11-18 Paul is looking forward to a future time when he will see the Corinthians, and reminding them of how he has not been a financial burden to them. The principles seem to be illustrated most clearly in verse 14-15. Paul essentially says that he wants the best for them, as a parent does for his child and that as a parent he is happy to spend his life to care for them. It is God’s desire that we grow up and mature as Christians, and that we eventually become spiritual “parents”, helping others to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Read 2 Timothy 2:2. Are you doing this now? If not who might God want you to start with? If you feel totally incapable of discipling another, what do you have to do to grow today so that you later are capable?
- Look at verse 19. What is Paul’s end goal in all that he says and does for the Corinthians?
- Consider verse 20-21. When Paul saw sin in the lives of the Corinthians, how did he feel? Do you feel this way about sin in your own life? Are you grieved over sin in the life of others? Take time to pray for people you know who are walking in sin and are in need of repentance and trusting God.