2 Corinthians 12
Sincerity is a difficult thing to judge. The commitment that people have to a cause can only be determined over time. One test might be: do they persevere through hardships and challenges? In this regard, Paul is without equal. If the cause of Jesus were a fleeting interest or a halfhearted pursuit, then he would have given up after his first beating. But Paul’s compassion for those who did not know the beauty of the gospel was stubborn and unyielding. This persecutor-turned-emissary always had his critics. But who could call him insincere?
Paul is speaking of himself in verses 2-5 in an odd, third-person way. He writes cryptically for a purpose: to distract from the fact that, at least for the moment, he is boasting of something other than weakness. In heavenly journeys, Paul has seen amazing sights and heard amazing sounds—sights and sounds no human can or should ever speak of.
But God adds something to keep Paul from being carried away by such ecstasies: He gives His emissary “a thorn in the flesh.” Perhaps it is a chronic physical or emotional illness he suffers. Perhaps it is the steady stream of opponents who follow Paul wherever he goes. In God’s wisdom, Paul doesn’t say because his listeners would likely fixate on whatever problem he has in unhealthy ways. That’s what humans do. Still Paul believes that God sent this unwelcome messenger, so he pleads with God three times to remove it. Why just three times? Why doesn’t he bombard heaven daily with his pleas? Well, it may be because he knows Jesus prayed three times in the garden for the cup of suffering to be removed. Ultimately Jesus surrendered to the will of the Father, and Paul does too: “Grace is enough, Paul. Grace is enough.”
12 Boasting like this is necessary, but it’s unbecoming and probably unavailing. Since you won’t hear me any other way, let me tell you about visions and revelations I received of the Lord.
2 Fourteen years ago, there was this man I knew—a believer in the Anointed who was caught up to the third heaven. (Whether this was an in- or out-of-body experience I don’t know; only God knows.) 3-4 This man was caught up into paradise (let me say it again, whether this was an in- or out-of-body experience I don’t know; only God knows), and he heard inexpressible words—words a mortal man is forbidden to utter. 5 I could brag about such a man; but as for me, I have nothing to brag about outside my own shortcomings. 6 So if I want to boast, I won’t do so as a fool because I will be speaking the truth. But I will stop there, since I don’t want to be credited with anything except exactly what people see and hear from me. 7 To keep me grounded and stop me from becoming too high and mighty due to the extraordinary character of these revelations, I was given a thorn in the flesh—a nagging nuisance of Satan, a messenger to plague me! 8 I begged the Lord three times to liberate me from its anguish; 9 and finally He said to me, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” So ask me about my thorn, inquire about my weaknesses, and I will gladly go on and on—I would rather stake my claim in these and have the power of the Anointed One at home within me. 10 I am at peace and even take pleasure in any weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and afflictions for the sake of the Anointed because when I am at my weakest, He makes me strong.
11 I have become a fool, but you drove me to it. Why didn’t you stick up for me? I may not be much, but you could have shown me the same respect as you did the other so-called great emissaries.[a] I am not inferior to them in the least. 12 Miracles, wonders, and signs were all performed right before your eyes, proving I am who I say, a true emissary of Jesus. 13 With the exception of not asking you to shoulder the burden of my care, I have treated you no differently from any other churches. Forgive me for wronging you by not charging for my services!
14 Now listen, for the third time I am ready to travel to you, and once again I will not burden you because there’s nothing of yours that I want: the only thing I want is you. You see, it’s not right for children to have to save up for their parents because it’s the parents’ job to care for their children. 15 I would happily spend until I had nothing left if it was for you. But just because I love you more, should you love me less? 16 Because even though you didn’t have to lift a finger for me, lies abound that I deceived you by some clever act. 17 Did I cheat you somehow through one of the coworkers I sent your way? If any of them defrauded you, I’d like to see it. 18 I was the one who insisted Titus come to you with the brother I sent along. Did Titus take advantage of you in some way? Didn’t we work in the same spirit and follow the same direction?
19 I hope you don’t think that all this time we’ve been defending ourselves to you. We come as the voice of the Anointed; God will judge whether all our work has been useful in building you up, beloved. 20 And quite honestly, I am afraid that when I come, we may both be disappointed with what we find; in my fear, my thoughts go from bad to worse—into a drama of friction, rivalry, fevered tempers and fists, selfishness, slander, defamation, pride, and complete chaos. 21 I am worried that when I come to visit that my God will humble me somehow before you, that I will have to grieve over all those who have sinned before and then refused to turn away[b] from their addictions to impure practices, immoral sex, and reckless perversions.