A Current Bible Study:
II Corinthians 12
"Paul's Intimate Testimony"
        Well, we are back in Corinth again! And this time we are going to see the Apostle Paul stretched to his limits by the strain of trying to minister the Gospel of Christ to the Corinthians. In previous studies we have seen some of the problems at Corinth and in this chapter, if I'm interpreting correctly, we are told that just when Paul thought things were getting straightened out, word comes that they are r-e-a-l-l-y worse than he supposed. Really bad, beloved. Church-ending bad. Paul just couldn't accept this. He's going to start sharing things with them that he hadn't mentioned to other believers.
        Paul had already been kind of forced to tell them about his spiritual accomplishments and genuine Apostolic authority (see chapter 11). For some at Corinth had been questioning Paul's authority to teach and lead.
        The believers at Corinth became a real "special" project to Paul. (And through the Word of God, we are Paul's special concern as we also attempt to live a Christian life.) As we might say today, the Corinthians had gotten under his skin. But before we look at the amazing testimony they drew out of him in verses 1-9, let's skip ahead to the section that shows the shocking spiritual conditions that led Paul to share from a deep and secret part of his heart. Listen to the frustration in his voice:
Verses 12-15 - "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and in wonders, and mighty deeds. For what is it wherein you were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."
        The real issue in any Church is love, not money. At Corinth they liked to fight about money and Paul wasn't about to get tangled up in all that. When a Church gets like this they aren't ready to support a Pastor with love or money. Paul knew that they still needed a missionary, an independent Evangelist. Listen as he kind of commends himself for being clever in this way:
Verse 16 - "But be it so, I did not burden you; nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile."
    This is sort of a pun because there were wolves in sheep's clothing trying to be leaders at Corinth and some of them were receiving financial support under spiritually false pretenses (see chapter 11, verse 20).
        Next Paul assures them that his fellow ministers are also of pure intention:
Verse 17-19 - "Did I make a gain of you by any of them I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps? Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying."
Now look at that, Paul even mentioned you by name, beloved!
        But now the clouds really gather. And the next verses show the worst of all. It is so bad that even old Paul, who proved he wasn't really afraid of prison or beatings or even death, gets scared:
Verse 20-21-"For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found among you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed."
        Notice, beloved, that their hating is mentioned before their immorality. And we've seen this in previous studies. Remember what Paul had prescribed for them in I Corinthians 13:
Action or Lifestyle

But this is what was actually happening:
Action or Lifestyle
And hate led them, as it leads us, into immorality. Just as true Love takes us from it. O, but many out there today in the Church, who rightfully disdain sexual sin and crime, seem to feel totally free to hate as if it were a casual recreation. Paul mentioned hate first for a reason. Hate is the sin that so easily besets all of us. Paul now knew that some at Corinth were trying to redefine the Faith to include hate and lust. And at this point, I think something snapped inside of the Apostle. But it wasn't his temper. It was his heart breaking, and look with me now at what poured out:

Verse 1-4-"It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."
     Talk about speaking in tongues! Man, Paul went on up yonder and heard some stuff you can't even say down here. He wasn't even sure if he was in his body at the time! This is not the kind of thing you would tell easily. I suspect that all of us that have accepted Christ have had an unusual or mystical experience or two along the way, but most would not readily share it like this. Maybe confide it to a friend in private. But Paul is laying it out on the line here for them all to hear.
        Now if you get to know these Corinthian Christians even a little bit, you will realize that once they had recovered from the shock of it, they would have been very interested, very impressed by Paul's mystical achievement. That's what makes Paul's next statement to them so remarkable. Instead of piling on another tale of triumph, he goes in the complete opposite direction:

Verse 5-9-"Of such a one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
     This is true Christianity. Suffering is included. We aren't just gatherers of blessings for self. We aren't called to be mystics up on a mountain top. We follow the One Who suffered for us all. He didn't just get His hands dirty for us, those Holy hands were torn and bloody. Your suffering, too, friend, may bless others in a way that your blessings just can't. Let me give an example. I sometimes preach at the local prison. I always avoid the subject of bondage in my messages. Those men don't want to hear me talk about being locked up. They know that when that bell rings I'm going to walk on out of there. My understanding of losing your freedom in prison is limited because I have never suffered in that way. But one reason we go into the prison is to help raise up inmates who will be called to reach out to the others. And they WILL have full credibility with the others because they are also suffering the loss of their freedom. If God always delivered all believers from all suffering, His command to reach out to the poor and suffering and lost would never be fulfilled.
        Surely Jesus submitted to this principle, also. Isaiah 53:4 doesn't say that by His Holiness we are healed, or even by His Power we are healed. He could have had all that for Himself and just left us all behind. What does it say? By His STRIPES we are all healed. He was beaten. And when He was, I got set free, beloved. Free from my sin. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that being a Christian doesn't mean you always get what you want. There is a bigger picture and sometimes it involves suffering. Paul concludes this section with a final "boast:"
Verse 10-11-"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing."
        The Corinthian Church and our Church will fail unless we accept the humiliation of suffering. The Father loves us and we should ask Him to take away our problems. But if the answer is no, we can still rejoice in a future that is as bright as Christ's. And rejoice in the knowledge that even in apparent defeat we can be an instrument of blessing to others. If you're hurting today (for we all do, sooner or later) don't you feel a little closer to Paul now that you know he suffered too? He wasn't a plastic hero or a superman.
        The Devil tries to crush your faith and mine through suffering. Beloved, if we can maintain real love for God and man, even when we suffer, even when we are forced to see, like Old Paul, that we are "nothing," then we can glory. For then we are traveling on the narrow road toward Heaven.

May Jesus Christ richly bless you-JKD 9/29/04


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