Every Thought Captive to Messiah


10 Life Lessons from 2 Corinthians 12

"But [Jesus] said to me [Paul], 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Messiah may rest upon me. For the sake of Messiah, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." - 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul continues to “boast” about his weaknesses to show he is a true apostle, as opposed to the “super-apostles” who are actually false apostles. He opens up about a revelation of Jesus he received when he was caught up to the third heaven, his subsequent “thorn in the flesh,” and signs and wonders he performed while among the Corinthians. At the end of the chapter, he expresses real fear the Corinthians will be in a bad state when he arrives for his third visit. Here’s ten life lessons from this chapter for us today.

1. Visions and revelations of Jesus in heaven are possible (though rare)(vv. 1-4). We get no indication Paul was seeking an experience of Jesus in heaven. It was God who initiated it. Paul had at least six other similar visions or revelations (cf. Ga 2:2; Ac 9:3-19 = 22:6-10 = 26:12-18; 11:25-26; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 22:17-21). It is not wise for us to go looking for visions and revelations from God, especially now that the canon of Scripture is closed (Jud 3). At the same time, we should not rule out the possibility that visions and revelations can occur at places and times of God’s choosing. Many (including me) have had one or two instances in their life that seem to be a definite supernatural experience of God or Jesus. We must not base our Christian life on such experiences, but such experiences can be important milestones for us.

2. The third heaven, paradise, is where God dwells (v. 2). Most probably, the first heaven is the earth’s atmosphere, and the second heaven is outer space, all other space within the universe, the domain of galaxies, stars, and angels. The third heaven is something like a fourth dimension outside our space-time-matter universe. J. Vernon McGee said, “How ridiculous it was for the cosmonauts in the Russian sputnik to say they didn’t see God when they went to the moon. They didn’t go far enough, friend.”

3. We are not to boast except of our weaknesses (vv. 5-6). There is no place for arrogance in ministry or when we tell others about our spiritual experiences. When we do talk about our ministry or spiritual experiences, God is to get the attention and not ourselves. When we boast gladly of our weaknesses, we in a sense give permission for Jesus’ power to rest on us (v. 9).

4. To keep us from becoming conceited, we may be given a thorn in the flesh (v. 7). Thorns in the flesh come in many shapes and sizes. We should be ready for our own particular thorn. That thorn continually pricks us to remind us of our need for Jesus and to warn us from arrogance or self-sufficiency. Our thorn teaches us to “desperately depend” on Jesus.

5. We may sometimes pray directly to Jesus (v. 8). Normally, we are to pray to God the Father in Jesus’ name (Mt 6:9). However, there are three places in the New Testament where we see a believer praying directly to Jesus (Ac 1:24; 7;59). It is a great comfort to know we may cry out not only to our heavenly Father, but also to our risen Lord.

6. Jesus’ power is made perfect in our weakness (v. 9). Our weakness is the perfect opportunity for Jesus to exert his strength. We are to be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, because when we are weak, then we may be strong in the Lord Jesus (v. 10). The greater the degree we sense our weakness, the more we will be ready to experience God’s power (Eph 3:16; Php 4:13). “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.”

7. We are to seek people, not people’s money and possessions (v. 14). The world seeks money, sex, and power, but we seek people. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is the people, it is the people, it is the people (cf. Ge 14:21). As disciple makers, we are to support our disciples. We are obligated to save up for our spiritual children (v. 14). We are gladly to spend and be spent for the souls of others (v. 15). Like a candle, we are to be consumed to give light to others.

8. We are to speak in Jesus in the sight of God for the edification of others (v. 19). God is present always. He observes everything we say to our brothers and sisters. That’s why everything we say must be for spiritual strengthening, edification, and building up. Paul says some hard things to the Corinthians. Always his intent is to build them up.

9. There is to be no quarrelling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, or disorder among us (v. 20). These eight things often go together. They are local church killers. We absolutely must stop ourselves from these things. Paul has been blunt in this letter. He has used various arguments and rhetorical devices to get his points across to the Corinthians. But he is not quarrelling, nor is he jealous, angry, or hostile. He is not engaging in slander, gossip, or conceit. He is bringing order, not causing disorder. Like Paul, we must handle conflict competently without engaging in these eight killers.

10. We are to change our mindset about any impurity, sexuality immorality, and sensuality we have practiced (v. 21). Some Christians today believe there is nothing wrong with premarital sex, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, pornography, polyamory, gay and lesbian sex, or changing one’s gender. Tragically, they are in disagreement with God about these things. As believers, we are duty-bound to agree with God about what thoughts, words, and actions constitute sin and about the real sinfulness of sin. If we begin to think, “porn isn’t that bad,” we are choosing a dangerous path. We must be in lockstep with God about all forms of sin, and especially sexual sin. If we are weak and need help in overcoming sexual sin, Jesus’ strength is there to help (v. 9).

My biggest takeaway from this chapter is the concept of Jesus’ strength in our weakness. It is good for us to admit our weaknesses, especially to ourself, so that we do not depend on our own strength but upon Jesus’ strength in us. “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Co 1:9). The heartbeat of Western culture is autonomy, independence, and self-sufficiency. That’s why it takes every ounce of our being to be Jesus-dependent.

Father, like Paul, may we boast in our weaknesses, that Jesus’ real power may be shown in us. Amen.

- Jeff Coleman


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