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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 12

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-5

Paul's Boast of His Weakness.

Supernatural revelations:

v. 1. It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

v. 2. 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.

v. 3. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)

v. 4. how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

v. 5. Of such an one will I glory; yet of myself I will not glory but in mine infirmities.

What a disagreeable task the apostle found this matter of glorying to which the attitude of the Corinthians had driven him is here again apparent: I must needs glory, though, indeed, it is not expedient. Not of his own free will, not because he delights in it, does he recount his sufferings and experiences in the work of the Lord, but because of the enmity of the false teachers and the gullibility of the disciples at Corinth. He is fully aware of the fact that there is no personal advantage for him in this boasting of the things he endured and the things which the Lord made known to him, but he now intends to mention some visions and revelations of the Lord which the Lord vouchsafed to him. See Acts 2:17; Acts 10:10; Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:1; Acts 9:3.

One vision, of which Paul now tells, stands out from the rest on account of its extraordinary character: I know a man in Christ fourteen years ago. He is sure of the facts which he here relates, since he himself was the Christian to whom the Lord vouchsafed this revelation, his humility not permitting him to name himself in connection with such a wonderful vision. The time had been impressed upon his memory so emphatically that he will not forget the date. It seems that he had the vision before entering upon his ministry proper, perhaps during his sojourn at Tarsus, Acts 9:30; Acts 11:25, the intention of the Lord being to give this new instrument of His mercy such evidence of His grace and power, by means of a foretaste of the bliss of heaven, that he would not despair in the midst of the manifold tribulations to which he was to be subjected. It was an extraordinary, miraculous experience; for Paul twice declares that he does not know whether he was in the body or out of the body; he was not able to say whether he was taken up into heaven bodily and saw all the glories with the eyes of his body, or whether only his spirit, temporarily freed from the confines of the mortal body, had seen the heavenly bliss. Many a time the apostle may have puzzled over the miraculous experience, but he was not able to come to a conclusion, and therefore left the matter to God.

The vision itself was unlike any other which he had had: That he was caught up to paradise and heard unspeakable words which no human lips can utter. The Bible often speaks of heaven in the plural, as in the Lord's Prayer (in the Greek text), but just what distinction and degrees are to be observed we cannot tell from the various passages. Paul was undoubtedly transported to the third heaven, to paradise, to the place where the redeemed souls were living in the most intimate communion with God, where they saw their Savior face to face. Paul had had a taste of that bliss and glory in this vision. And he had heard words which were unutterable for any mere human tongue, or which he that had heard them would forever retain as a blessed secret; the substance of the divine communication upon that memorable occasion had been so exalted that it would have been profaned by repetition in human language.

A mere glimpse of the bliss of heaven it had been, but Paul was undoubtedly justified in saying: On account of that person will I glory, but on my own behalf I will not boast except in my weaknesses. Only such incidents will the apostle mention in a vein of boasting in which his own person was not actively engaged, which were bestowed upon him by the mercy of God alone, when he was lifted out of his own individuality and could view himself almost as a third person. Of himself, in his normal state, he has only one testimony to give, namely, that of his weakness, of his sufferings. And even here the glory is, in the last analysis, only God's; for sufferings and tribulations can be subjects of boasting only inasmuch as they are borne with Christian fortitude given by God.

Verses 6-10

Unusual tribulations:

v. 6. 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.

v. 7. 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.

v. 8. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from me.

v. 9. 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.

v. 10. 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.

Paul implies that there are other matters, labors and experiences, which he might well make subjects of boasting: For if I should want to boast, I shall not be foolish, for the truth I should speak. Without becoming guilty of folly and madness, and with a full and proper regard for the truth, he could make statements which would well serve as a basis for boasting. Note: If occasion demand? that self-glory must be resorted to, then the folly is not his that asserts the truth, but his that rises against it. But for his own person Paul here forbears, lest any man should make an estimate of him above that which he sees him to be or hears from him. He wants the facts of his laborious and painful life in the service of the Gospel to speak for themselves. On the basis of what the Corinthians saw in him, of what they know of him and of his activity as the Lord's apostle, he wants to be judged and esteemed. A true servant of Christ does not seek honor for himself, does not want to base the reputation he enjoys upon his own statements, but upon that which every right-minded person sees in him and hears of him. His one effort is always, in word and deed, to prove himself a faithful servant of Christ.

The Lord Himself aided the apostle in his efforts toward humility: And on account of the unusual greatness of the revelations, in order that I should not be exalted above measure, there is given to me a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan, that he might buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. The construction of the sentence and the employment of a noun instead of an adjective, emphasizes the extraordinary nature of the special revelations which were vouchsafed to Paul. But he was a man, and as such he was subject to the temptations of the flesh; there was danger that he might haughtily and insolently exalt himself above others, since the Lord had distinguished him in this manner. Therefore there was given to him an infirmity, apparently a bodily infirmity of some kind, the exact nature of which has been a matter of much conjecture. It was in the nature of a thorn, not an impalement on a stake, as some would have it, but an acute, piercing agony, a vexatious irritation, which bore down upon some particular part of his body. It was not continuous in nature, but he was buffeted by it, it came upon him in blows. It was the messenger of Satan, who smote him as he did Job. Satan was permitted to send his messenger to trouble the body of God's servant, in order that both body and soul might remain the Lord's.

This tribulation was so fierce and agonizing that Paul sought relief: On account of this thing thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me. On three special occasions he had made this infirmity the object of a distinct petition, asking for its removal, and undoubtedly his pleading had been done in the right manner, in true faith, in firm confidence. An answer was finally given him, and though it was not that which his spirit longed for, it was sufficient to strengthen and console him in his affliction: And He said to me, Sufficient to thee My grace; for My strength in weakness is made perfect. It was an answer given at that time which retained its power to the present day. The apostle had, by faith, been given the grace of God in Jesus; that was his possession. He knew that God was his dear Father, whose every thought and action was in his interest. In the very midst of tribulation and affliction, therefore, he was taken care of in the best possible way; in his very weakness the power of the Lord had an opportunity to be effective. He must be brought to the point that he despairs of his own strength, abilities, and talents, then the Lord's almighty power can use him as a tool and instrument of mercy. "What do you imagine this to be, dear Paul? My strength cannot be effective but only in your weakness. You must be weak, you must suffer, sigh, be miserable and weak for your own good, in order that you may finally, with suffering and battling, gain the victory and become a great apostle. If you will not be weak, My power can do nothing in you. If I am to be your Christ and you, in turn, are to be My apostle, then you must harmonize your weakness with My strength, your foolishness with My wisdom, My life with your death. " Mark: God leads His children in a remarkable manner especially such as He intends for important positions in His Church. By various proofs of His mercy and grace He strengthens them for the struggles and sufferings which they must undergo for His name's sake. And yet he also sends them special trials and tribulations, in order that they do not become addicted to spiritual pride. As a true Father He thus educates and trains His children for the positions which they are to hold, always with the final aim that His name may be exalted.

And so Paul concludes this passage: Most gladly will I therefore rather glory in my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may rest on me, may spread its tent over me and live in me. Not a word of dissatisfaction and lamentation will the apostle utter in the midst of his sufferings, since he has the conviction of faith that the power of Christ is protecting him and helping him. He repeats: Wherefore I am fully satisfied in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions and distresses, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then am I strong. Those very experiences which another person would regard as evidences of the wrath of God, his own various weaknesses, the insults which he had to bear, the necessities in which he found himself, the persecutions and distresses which came upon him from both Jews and Gentiles, Paul knows to be proofs of God's fatherly devotion. The more he is conscious of his own weakness and inability in carrying out the work entrusted to him by the Lord, the more the strength of the Master can become effective in him. "St. Paul's words are more than a verbal paradox: they express the fact, to which history abundantly testifies, that the world's throne is the Cross."

Verses 11-16

What Paul Expects of the Corinthians.

Their love should have commended him in his love for them:

v. 11. 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.

v. 12. Truly, the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

v. 13. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong!

v. 14. 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.

v. 15. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.

v. 16. But be it so, I did not burden you; nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.

Paul here turns the fact of his boasting against the Corinthians, to their reproach, saying that his becoming foolish in that way, in a manner which he personally considers scandalous, was occasioned by their having omitted commendation of him: For I should have been commended, praised, of you; for in nothing do I fall behind those superfine, those very superior, apostles to whom you have yielded obedience so readily, that is, the Judaizing teachers, the false prophets who had disturbed the Corinthians. And this in spite of the fact that, in the low estimate which he places upon himself, he is nothing, just as he calls himself the least of the apostles, 1 Corinthians 15:9. He realized fully that he was nothing, that nothing depended upon his person, upon his ability, upon his talents, that he was not indispensable to the work, that he was merely an instrument of grace in the hands of his Lord, that Christ was all in all.

But so far as the false apostles are concerned, against whom the present passage is directed, he will not for one moment admit their superiority: The signs of an apostle indeed were wrought among you in all patience, by signs as well as by wonders and powers. The special indications of his apostolic authority, the signs which marked him at once as an apostle of the Lord, the miracles and powers which had been given to the Lord's servants as a seal of their calling, Mark 16:17-18, had been wrought in Corinth through his agency. What greater proof did they desire? Why did they withhold from him the proper acknowledgment?

Paul refers also to that moot question as to his supporting himself while preaching in Corinth: For what is it wherein you were inferior to the other congregations, except that I myself did not burden you? Had they reached such a point in their critical attitude that they felt insulted and set back because he had insisted upon earning his own means of subsistence, and had saved them the money which they really owed him? If this was really their attitude, then, as he ironically adds, they should forgive him that wrong; he humbly craves their pardon for having slighted them. But instead of changing his method, he expressly declares: Behold, this is the third time that I am ready to come to you, and I shall not be a burden. His first visit was that related in Acts 18:1-28; of his second we have no account, although he refers to it, chap. 13:1-2; 2:1. In carrying out his intention of visiting them, he has decided to abide by his practice and not to demand money for his support from them: For I seek not yours, but you. No one should be able to make the charge against him that he is seeking their money, their goods. His only motive is to gain them for Christ and keep them in fellowship with Christ. In support of this principle he quotes a proverbial saying: For the children are not bound to gather treasures for the parents, but the parents for the children. See Proverbs 29:14. He was their spiritual father, and as such he was concerned about gathering spiritual treasures for them, making them the heirs of the wonderful spiritual gifts which had been entrusted to him for their benefit.

In this spirit his attitude toward them is: But I very gladly will spend, and be wholly spent, for your souls. Such is the apostle's love for the Corinthians that not only was every thought of gain for himself excluded, but he was also ready, with a hearty good will, to give up all that he had in the world for them, yea, to sacrifice his life, if he could thereby promote their spiritual welfare. It is the same unselfish devotion which he exhibited also at other times, 1 Thessalonians 2:8; Php_2:17 ; 2 Timothy 2:10. But he is obliged to add, with melancholy sadness: If I loved you more abundantly, am I loved the less? or: Although the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. He was willing to go to the utmost in overcoming their prejudice and hostility, but he was not meeting with success in proportion, rather in inverse ratio, a fact which he felt very keenly. Yet his love is able to make even this sacrifice: But be it so! He at least has the satisfaction that he has not burdened them with his maintenance, and this the Corinthians must concede. Now, however, his opponents made another insinuation: But being crafty, I caught you with guile. They insinuated that he was keen enough to take care of his own advantage, that he did not accept any means of support directly, but that he was not above suspicion in the matter of the collection alleged to be for the poor in Judea. This matter he now takes up, in the last part of the chapter.

Verses 17-21

Paul hopes for an edifying repentance on the part of the Corinthians:

v. 17. Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you?

v. 18. 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?

v. 19. 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.

v. 20. For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not; lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults;

v. 21. 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.

Paul meets the suspicions of his enemies with direct questions; for just as he is sure of his own integrity, so he feels that he can vouch for his representatives, knowing that they did not give even the slightest occasion for drawing such conclusions as his enemies were trying to suggest to the Corinthians: Of those whom I sent to you, was there one through whom I took advantage of you? In his agitation the apostle does not regard the grammatical construction, so deeply does the matter affect him. His representatives had been under observation as long as they were in Corinth; let anyone in the congregation now step forward with definite charges. In case some of them might simulate ignorance as to what Paul referred to, lie says openly: I asked Titus to go on this mission, and with him I sent the brother (that accompanied him). They were his emissaries, they acted in his stead. Paul is referring to the mission from which Titus had just returned, bringing his report from the congregation at Corinth. Did Titus take advantage of you? Do we not walk in the same spirit, in the same steps? The same manner of dealing had been found in Titus which also animated Paul, the same Holy Spirit governed their actions and controlled their conduct. But now the Corinthians had recognized the single-mindedness and sincerity of Titus, chap. 7:13, and therefore Paul could construe their good opinion in his favor also, since Titus had carried out his instructions. Paul had nothing to hide, and all his acts and motives were above suspicion.

The apostle can therefore also state the aim of his boasting, namely, to edify them unto repentance. In doing so, he first of all rejects the idea as though he had been writing by way of apology: Are you thinking this long time that we are excusing ourselves to you? That would indeed have been unworthy of an apostle's dignity, if he had made his authority dependent upon their appreciation. And therefore he tells them that such an idea was far from his intention; on the contrary: In the sight of God we speak in Christ. He has his power and authority from Christ, he is doing the work of his ministry in accordance with instructions from above. For that reason also it is true: But all the things (which we speak and do), beloved, me do for your edifying. That idea wits always foremost in Paul's mind, how he might do more for their spiritual benefit, how he might advance them in their spiritual life.

But circumstances are tending to make him dubious as to their spiritual condition and welfare: For I fear lest, unfortunately, when I come, I shall find you not such as I would, and that I also shall be found to you such as you would not. He here expresses the affectionate solicitude of a father. He would find them not measuring up to the standard which he has set for them, and they, in turn, might not find him as pleasant as they had anticipated, but rather inclined to indignant severity because of their attitude and because of the unfulfilled promises of their spiritual condition. The meeting promised to be embarrassing and painful for both parties. He mentions eight kinds of evil fruit that usually flourished in such soil as they were preparing for themselves in Corinth and which he dreaded to find: strife, quarreling of every kind; jealousy, every one being full of distrust toward the other; ragings, vehement, passionate rage; party spirit and factions engendered by such spirit; back bitings, maledictions, and evil reports; whisperings, by which the good name of a neighbor was defamed; arrogance, both with regard to gifts and to knowledge; tumults, disorders which would seriously interfere with the work of the Gospel. These fruits could mature where the flesh and the devil still reigned, and indications pointed to the fact that their rule had not yet been broken in Corinth.

What effect that would have on the apostle he frankly tells them: Lest, when I come again, my God should humble me before you. It would truly be a humiliating experience for Paul to see such scanty fruit of his labor in the Gospel. Once before he had undergone this mortification, and he is not anxious to have the unpleasant experience repeated. For he would then be obliged to mourn for many that have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed. It seems that upon the occasion of his previous visit he had called attention to their proneness to sins of the flesh, and had warned them against every form of impurity, of immorality, and sensuality. If to his mourning over them and their refusal to repent there would be added this new grief of seeing other fruits of the flesh take hold in Corinth, the measure of his humility would surely be reached. It is always a matter of grievous, mournful concern to every faithful pastor if open offenders, flagrant sinners, persist in their impenitence, but he will not abandon hope until he has exhausted every means that might lead to their redemption.


In his boasting, Paul refers to special revelations, and particularly to one extraordinary vision which he had, as well as to the fact that the Lord is keeping him humble by a severe infirmity; he states that their love for him should have urged them to commend him, since his affection for them was genuine; he hopes for an edifying repentance on their part.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/2-corinthians-12.html. 1921-23.
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