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Bible Commentaries

Brian Bell Commentary on the Bible

2 Corinthians 12

Verses 1-10

  1. Intro:
    1. The Apostle Paul gives one last credential to the Corinthian church & the false apostles who had wormed there way in causing dissension...visions & revelations!
      1. So, Paul adds a postscript to his resume w/a credential he has never shared before.
    2. Outline: 2 Tickets to Paradise! & A Thorn and a Rose!
    3. Remember the Eddie Money song, “I’ve got, 2 Tickets to Paradise.”? (His girlfriend's mother wanted her to marry a doctor or a lawyer, not a musician. Money wrote the song as plea to take her away)
      1. Paul obviously received 2 tickets to Paradise. Most of us get 1. He cashed in 1 here.
  2. 2 TICKETS TO PARADISE! (1-6)
    1. ​​​​​​​EXALTATION! (1-4)
    2. (1) Boasting - Necessary for man; not necessary for God.
      1. Man – Often a professor needs to let his students know right up front he knows what he’s talking about. Or during a job interview.
      2. God – vertical boasting is never necessary. It accomplishes nothing. God knows everything you’ve ever done & everything you’re capable of.
    3. (2) Most believe this is speaking of Paul even though he writes it in the 3rd person. (see vs.7)
      1. This was 14 years ago, which would place him down in Arabia, where he dwelt for 3 years right after he had received salvation(Gal.1).
    4. (3) Third heaven?
      1. 1st Heaven = Earth’s atmosphere. 2nd Heaven = Outer Space. 3rd Heaven = Gods Throne.
      2. 1 Kings 8:27 Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You.
    5. (4) Paradise – of Persian origin, it meant a walled enclosure (a royal enclosed park).
      1. “When a Persian king wished to confer a very special honor on someone specially dear to him, he made him a companion of the garden & gave him the right to walk in the royal gardens w/him in intimate companionship.” (William Barclay, pg.257.)
      2. Both the Hebrew & Greek borrowed this word.
        1. Hebrew – Eccl.2:5 I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. (paradesim)
        2. Greek – LXX of Gen.2:8 The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden.
    6. HUMILIATION! (5,6)
    7. Amazing what he doesn’t do w/this experience!
      1. He surely could have capitalized on this one! – “Speaking engagements, contracts for books & magazine articles. His own TV Reality show.”
      2. If you had an all expense paid trip to Heaven…What part would it play in your ministry? - How would it change things for you?
        1. Instead of exploiting his experience, he kept it quiet up to this point.
    8. Weakness – Paul is speaking of anything that makes him appear weak in the eyes of those to whom he ministers.
      1. When he appears weak in others eyes he is actually strongest.
    9. God will not go forth w/that man who marches in his own strength.
      1. ​​​​​​​Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, Says the LORD of hosts.
      2. God will have no strength used in His battles but the strength which He Himself imparts! (Spurg)
  3. THE THORN & THE ROSE! (7-10)
    1. God wanted to keep Paul humble after his exciting visit to heaven.
      1. To keep Paul from succumbing to pride, God gave him this constant reminder of his inadequacy.
      2. In the Jewish Haggada (“telling”, i.e. “tell your sons”(from Passover). Traditional Jewish literature which told them Who they were; Where they came from; What they stand for)the Jews said there were four Rabbis in the 2nd century that had the rare experience of entering Paradise.
        1. Ben Azai had seen the glory & had died.
        2. Ben Soma beheld it & went mad.
        3. Acher saw it & became a heretic.
        4. Akiba who alone ascended in peace & in peace came back unscathed.
          1. Paul did not return unscathed.
          2. How is it we have so many stories of people seeing heaven (out of body experiences) & they all come back unscathed?
    2. In the loving will of God, suffering has a purpose that can be fulfilled in no other way.
      1. Accept it, & it will become a heavenly blessing; Fight it, & it will become a heavy burden. Warren Wiersbe
    3. THE THORN! (7,8)
    4. ​​​​​​​Skolops – A stake used for impaling or torturing someone, a sharpened wooden staff, thorn, or splinter. (Linguistic Key to the Greek NT, pg.495.)
    5. We don’t really know exactly what this thorn was:
      1. Calvin thought spiritual temptations.
      2. Luther temptations & persecutions.
      3. Roman Catholics say sexual temptations.
      4. Some say disfigurement (like hunchback, epilepsy, malarial fevers, or severe headaches).
      5. Others speculate a speech impediment.
      6. And others Ophthalmia (inflammation of the eye) from Gal.6:11 See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!
        1. It was not what the thorn was that mattered, but what it did!
        2. I believe there is time when Paul experienced the Pain of all 3 of these!
          1. Splinter – “Lord, get me though this week!”
          2. Thorn – “Lord, get me though this day!”
          3. Stake - “Lord, get me though this hour!”
            1. Which are you experiencing right now?
    6. Thorn in the flesh(phys realm); messenger of Satan(sp/demonic realm); I pleaded w/the Lord(sp/God realm).
      1. I believe in every thorn (or list in vs.10) God & the devil are both equally concerned.
        1. If God gives it, Satan seeks to distort it; if Satan gives it, then the Lord seeks to sanctify it.
      2. It seems the very weapon which was used by the messenger of Satan to overthrow the Apostle, was seized out of his hands & turned into a weapon to overthrow him.
    7. Sounds like he gave up asking after #3. God forbid you keep pushing for your will to be done...because He might give it to you! :()
      1. Ps.106:15 He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul.
    8. (8) Unanswered prayers! – The Lord did not answer Paul’s prayer as he wanted Him to.
      1. Do you have one “If only” statement? “God, if only you heal me of this”; “God, if only you remove this 1 difficult person from my office”; “God, if only my husband was really sold out for You”; “God, if only my wife would be sensitive to my needs”.
      2. A cynic to an elderly believer who had endured great pain for 20 years said, “What do you think of your God now?” To which she replied, “I think of him more than ever!”
      3. See, God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer as he asked, but he did in fact meet the need & gave his servant the Grace he required.
    9. Some say God will answer any prayer if we only believe hard enough! (Did Paul lack faith? Did Paul have sin in his life?)
      1. No, vs.7 already explained why it came!
    10. Remember 2 things when you suffer:
      1. God does have a good purpose in view.
      2. When you are weak, expect God to show His power in & through you.
    11. THE ROSE! (9,10)
    12. (9) God’s Grace is illustrated & magnified in the poverty & trials of believers.
    13. Hold to these 3 truths saints:
      1. All things will work together for your good.
      2. Out of apparent evils a real blessing shall ultimately spring forth.
      3. God will either work a speedy deliverance, or support you in your trouble!
    14. Do you think God only accepts flawless gifts or flawless service from you?
      1. I remember when Mical was young she came in from the backyard with a handful of dandelions telling me to put them in water. As I went in the kitchen I realized she had pulled just the head of the flower with no stems. - Though it was an “imperfect gift” it was a wonderful gift! We don’t have to be perfect to be a blessing. God’s strength will be made perfect in our weaknesses…guaranteed!
      2. Wow, spiritual effectiveness doesn’t depend on our abilities.
      3. You don’t know how a tree is going to do when you plant it, until it goes through a winter. [silver dollar eucalyptus]
        1. So the storms of life blow against us to strengthen our roots so we’ll be able to stand.
    15. Remember: “The will of God will never lead you, where the grace of God cannot keep you.”
      1. We pray for lighter burdens when we ought to pray for stronger backs.
      2. We pray for an easier path when we ought to pray for tougher feet.
      3. We pray for fewer problems when we ought to pray for better solutions.
    16. Here’s a good example of when we are weak He is strong - A mother, wishing to encourage her young son's progress at the piano, bought tickets for a Paderewski (Pad-e-REV-ski) performance (He was a famous concert pianist & prime minister of Poland). When the night arrived, they found their seats near the front of the concert hall and eyed the majestic Steinway waiting on stage. Soon the mother found a friend to talk to, and the boy slipped away. When eight o'clock arrived, the spotlights came on, the audience quieted, and only then did they notice the boy up on the bench, innocently picking out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." His mother gasped, but before she could retrieve her son, the master appeared on the stage and quickly moved to the keyboard. "Don't quit--keep playing," he whispered to the boy. Leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running obbligato. Together, the old master and the young novice held the crowd mesmerized.
      1. In our lives, unpolished though we may be, it is the Master who surrounds us and whispers in our ear, time and again, "Don't quit--keep playing." And as we do, he augments and supplements until a work of amazing beauty is created.”
    17. “When I am weak then am I strong, Grace is my shield & Christ my song.” (Spurg)
      1. Don’t view suffering as an enemy, but learn to greet It as a friend!
      2. Instead of staring at the thorn we need to be able to see the rose, & smell its fragrance!
        1. The thorn will give you humility but the fragrance will give you hope!
    18. (10) For Christ’s sake (not mine!) - “Make sure it is God's trumpet you are blowing--if it is only yours, it won't wake the dead; it will simply disturb the neighbors.”
    19. God, the Great Teacher, never runs out of ways to instruct us in this classroom of life.
      1. With each lesson He perfects in us the image of Christ.
      2. One day we will graduate to eternity & His task will be finally finished.
        1. Rom.8:28,29 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.
        2. Or, as Phillips paraphrased it, “God chose us to bear the family likeness of his Son.” “Hey, you look like your father!”
      3. How does he? “By continually teaching, changing, & developing us. No day is ever wasted. No disappointment is outside His appointment. No test is ever superfluous. No surprise to us is ever a surprise to Him. He never gets off course, never forgets the game plan, never contradicts his overall purpose for us.” (Charles Swindoll, pg.68.)
    20. End: An unknown Confederate soldier wrote:

      I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
      I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

      I asked God for health that I might do greater things.
      I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

      I asked God for riches that I might be happy.
      I was given poverty that I might be wise.

      I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
      I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

      I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
      I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

      I got nothing that I asked for.
      But everything I had hoped for…

      Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.
      I am among all men most richly blessed.

Verses 11-21

  1. Intro:
    1. Remember the old EBS? "This is a test. For the next 30 seconds, this station will conduct a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test." - Beeeeeep - "If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would have been followed by official information, news or instructions." (ended 1997)
    2. Tests, Tests, Tests! – Test: a procedure intended to establish the quality, performance, or reliability of something, esp. before it is taken into widespread use.
      1. It seems like every day there’s a test for something.
      2. Medical tests (Biopsy’s, blood work, pregnancy tests); School Tests (From pop-quizzes to finals); Even our automobiles have diagnostic tests run on them. Psychological tests; Paternity tests; Stress tests.
        1. Well, spiritually there are some tests that ought to be run often.
    3. Outline: Paul gives 5 open book Tests: The Serving Survey; The Attitude Analysis; The Faith Final; The Authority Assessment; & then our very own Personal Fruit Inspection.
  2. SERVING SURVEY! (11-18)
    1. 5 good questions to ask regarding Serving!
      1. Am I too big for my britches? (11-13)
        1. I am nothing – Not false humility here. (True humility)
        2. “When you see yourself as nobody, then you don’t mind working with people who have taken advantage of you!”
        3. (Spurgeon) “He whose garments are the whitest will best perceive the spots upon them. He whose crown shines the brightest will know when he has lost a jewel. He who gives the most light to the world will always be able to discover his own darkness.” (Charles Spurgeon)
      2. Am I seeking their souls or their stuff? (14)
        1. I do not seek yours, but you – He’s not after what you got, but who you are!
        2. This lays down one of the supreme principles of Christian living!
      3. Am I a joyful servant? (15)
        1. I will very gladly spend & be spent – Mt.20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
    2. Am I taking advantage of anyone? (16-18a)
      1. Did I (or Titus) take advantage of you? – He refuses to use them.
    3. Am I modeling what I’m expecting of others? (18b)
      1. Did we not walk in the same steps – Paul models what he expects of others.
      2. Edgar Guest said, “I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.”
      3. Leonardo da Vinci had started work on a large canvas in his studio. For awhile he worked at it--choosing the subject, planning the perspective, sketching the outline, applying the colors, with his own inimitable genius. Then suddenly he ceased, the painting still unfinished, and, summoning one of his students, invited him to complete the work. The student protested that he was both unworthy and unable to complete the great painting which his master had begun. But da Vinci silenced him. "Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?"
  3. ATTITUDE ANALYSIS! (19-21)
    1. ​​​​​​​The bible is packed full of relationships…many were very turbulent!
      1. Cain & Abel; Jacob & Esau; Joseph & his brothers; Samuel & Saul, David & Saul, Saul & Saul; David & Absalom; Paul & Barnabas; Euodia & Syntyche(Phil.4:2).
    2. We speak before God in Christ – On one occasion Abraham Lincoln & his counselors had taken an important decision. One of the counselors said, “Well, Mr. President, I hope that God is on our side.” Lincoln answered, “What I am worried about is, not if God is on our side, but if we are on God’s side.”
    3. Paul reveals his motive(19b)…their building up not their tearing down!
    4. Slide#8 (20) Backbitings (slander) are loud-mouthed attacks. Someone speaking in public about you. Whisperings (Gossip) on the other hand are more sinister, lurking like a shadow behind someone’s back.
      1. Funny poster I saw: Sure, “Love your neighbor,” But you can say whatever you want about somebody...as long as you add... “Just sayin”.
      2. See whisperings are, “the slanderous story murmured in someone’s ear, the discreditable tale passed on as a spicy secret.” (Barclay)
      3. Both are aimed at character assassination, but at least w/a slanderer you can deal w/it because it is a frontal attack.
      4. With a whisper campaign, it is an underground movement which will not face you. Thus you are helpless to attack, because you do not know about it! (like fighting terrorists)
        1. But remember, "a tiger doesn't lose sleep over the opinion of sheep"
    5. (21) After Paul’s list of sins of the heart & tongue he deals with the sins of the body.
      1. Paul lists forms a downward spiral from: uncleanness (a general word describing any impurity); to fornication (includes fornication & adultery); to lewdness (filthiness that knows no restraint).
    6. Has the world squeezed you into its mold? Or, are you remolding the world?
    7. Are you living the lifestyle of the carnal Corinthians? Or, are you incarnating the character of Christ?
      1. If you are not salt infiltrating a decaying world, the decaying world is infiltrating you! (Charles Swindoll, pg.78.)
Copyright Statement
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". "Brian Bell Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbb/2-corinthians-12.html. 2017.