Grace and Courage

Notes for May 6, 2018
2 Corinthians 12:1-10           

Biblical Background

  • Visions and Revelations from the Lord: Paul like many of the Old Testament prophets received special knowledge and revelation from God through visions – supernatural experiences in which God communicated intimately and clearly with Paul. While these visions and revelations are not everyday occurrences, even in the lives of the apostles and prophets, they were a powerful means of revelation from God. In our “enlightened” Western world and culture, the supernatural has been discredited, and yet in most parts of the world today, dreams, visions and supernatural experiences are considered to be a part of life. Paul’s revelations were special in that Jesus appeared to him and Paul was given insights to pass on to others through his writings that are now found in the New Testament.

  • Third person writing: Paul is describing his own experience of meeting Jesus and writes in the third person about his own experiences – a technique perhaps to draw attention away from himself and instead put the emphasis on the Lord.

  • Fourteen Years Ago: Paul is writing about his own experiences and thus he has been a follower of Jesus Christ for at least 14 years when writing this.

  • Third Heaven: In Jewish thought, the 1st heaven was the sky, the 2nd heaven space and the 3rd heaven would be in the realm of God – what we would call “heaven” or “paradise” in the presence of God.

  • I could say this, but I won’t: This was a common rhetorical device in Paul’s day. In this case, Paul is stating the fact that he could boast – having had amazing visions and revelations from God – yet he knows that would be foolish. He can only boast in the surpassing greatness of God!

  • Messenger of Satan – Paul believes that just as Job in the Old Testament was tested by Satan, and God allowed it, that he too was being tested. The enemy was trying to discourage and disrupt the ministry of Paul.

  • Thorn in the Flesh: In the Old Testament, (Num. 33:55; Judges 2:3) the Canaanites were referred to by God as “a thorn in Israel’s side”. Thus, it may be that Paul is using this idiom to refer to the attacks of the enemy on his ministry, persecution, hardships, that are seeking to keep him from accomplishing his mission – just as the Canaanites hindered the conquering of the Promised Land. Compromises with the Canaanites ended in Israel’s inability to obey God and fulfill their destiny. Some scholars had debated as to whether or not the “thorn in the flesh” was a physical ailment of Paul’s like bad eyesight, physical pain, or something else. However, in the context of the entire Scripture, it is probably best interpreted as the persecution of the world, the flesh and the devil that is constantly harassing Paul and trying to hinder his mission from the Lord.

  • Pleading with the Lord: Paul obviously does not enjoy the “thorn in the flesh” that is attacking him constantly. As a result, he pleads with God to take it away, which God has the power to do. However, in this case, God answers Paul’s prayer with a “No.” And Paul understands that the reason for this is so that Paul will not allow pride to overtake him which would be an even greater hindrance to his life and ministry. After all, pride is the root sin that caused Adam and Eve to sin – the desire to be like God and not humbly accept their role and place as the created beings of God.

  • My Grace is Sufficient: Paul is able to handle the difficult attacks of Satan, the world and the flesh through the grace of God. The grace of God gave Paul the strength of character to courageously fight the battle against evil and proclaim the kingdom of God.

  • For the sake of Christ: Paul is willing to suffer insults, hardships, persecution and pain because of his love and worship of Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions

  1. Prior to 1 Corinthians 12 – what has Paul been “boasting” about?

  2. Why does Paul talk about this “boasting” in a tongue and cheek manner?

  3. Who is the person that Paul is talking about that has entered the “third heaven” and had special revelations from God?

  4. Why would Paul write in the third person about himself?

  5. What kind of special relationship did Paul have with Jesus?

  6. Are visions and revelations a real thing, or just the stuff of fairy tales? Why or why not?

  7. What is the biblical perspective on supernatural occurrences and God’s revelation?

  8. Why could Paul boast? Why would the things he could boast about not be foolish?

  9. What things keep Paul from boasting about the special revelation that he has received?

  10. What is Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”?

  11. Have you had hardships, difficulties, things that have sought to hinder your relationship with God and your witness for the Gospel? If so, please share.

  12. Why does God allow a “messenger of Satan” to torment, and cause pain to Paul?

  13. Have you ever felt like you were under attack by Satan? How did that feel? What did you do about it?

  14. Why are character traits like humility more important than our achievements or successes?

  15. How is Paul able to handle hardship, persecution, and other difficulties that seek to hinder his Christian life and witness?

  16. What does he mean, “when I am weak, then I am strong”?

  17. What can we learn from Paul about the Christian life? How can we apply and receive God’s grace in our own lives to stand for Christ and handle the trials of the spiritual life?