Pulpit Commentary - 2 Corinthians 12:1 - 12:21

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Pulpit Commentary - 2 Corinthians 12:1 - 12:21

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


The revelations vouchsafed to him (2Co_12:1-6). The counteracting "thorn in the flesh" (2Co_12:7-10). One more apology for glorying (2Co_12:11, 2Co_12:12). His disinterestedness (2Co_12:13-15). Indignant refutation of the charge that he had made gain of them through the agency of subordinates (2Co_12:16-18). Caution and warnings (2Co_12:19-21.


It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory.
This rendering follows the best-attested reading; but it is at least doubtful whether, instead of δεῖ or δὲ , the ironic δὴ of Κ , Μ , and the Greek Fathers is not the true reading. In mere vowel variations, especially in passages where the meaning does not lie on the surface, the diplomatic (external) evidence is less important. If St. Paul wrote δὴ , it means, "of course it is not expedient for me to boast." I will come; for I will come; if the reading of D is correct. In that case it is hardly possible to define the counter currents of feeling which caused the use of the conjunction. Visions and revelations. The word used for "visions" means presentations perceived in a state which is neither sleeping nor waking, but which are regarded as objective; "revelations" are the truths apprehended as a result of the visions. Optasia, for "visions," only occurs elsewhere in Luk_1:22
; Luk_24:23; Act_26:19 (comp. Gal_2:2).


I knew;
rather, I know. A man. St. Paul speaks in this indirect way of himself (see 2Co_12:5
, 2Co_12:7). In Christ (1Co_1:30). To St. Paul every true Christian was a man whose personal life was lost in the life of Christ. Above fourteen years ago. The note of time is very vague. If we are at all able to identify the vision alluded to, it must have been the vision in the temple, referred to in Act_22:17, which was, roughly speaking, "about fourteen years" before this time. The vision on the road to Damascus had occurred about twenty years earlier than the date of this Epistle. Whether in the body, etc. A powerful description of the absorption of all conscious bodily modes of apprehension. In their comments on. these verses, many commentators enter into speculations which seem to me to be so entirely arbitrary and futile that I shall not even allude to them. St. Paul's bodily and mental state during this vision is familiar to all who know the history of Oriental and mediaeval mysticism. Caught up (Eze_11:24; Act_8:39; Rev_4:1, Rev_4:2). Into the third heaven. It is most unlikely that St. Paul is here in any way referring to the Jewish hagadoth about seven heavens. The expression is purely general, and even the rabbis did not expect to be taken au pied de la lettre. Hence all speculations about first, second, and third heavens are idle and useless. Even as late as the Clementine writings in the middle of the second century, an attempt is made, in reference to this passage, to disparage St. Paul by sneering at visions as a medium of revelation, on the ground that they may spring from self-deception; and this rapture of the "bald hook-nosed Galilean" to the third heaven is also sneered at in the 'Philopatris' of the pseudo-Lucian. Yet how modest and simple is St. Paul's awestruck reference to this event, when compared, not only with the lying details of Mohammed's visit to heaven, but even with the visions of St. Theresa or Swedenborg!


Into Paradise.
Here, again, we encounter long speculations as to whether Paradise is the same as the third heaven; whether St.,Paul is referring to two visions or two parts of one vision. Such questions are clearly insoluble, and I leave them where I find them. We shall never understand this passage otherwise than in the dim and vague outline in which St. Paul has purposely left it. All that we can know from the New Testament about Paradise must be learnt from this verse and Luk_23:1-56
:63 and Rev_2:7, and it is extremely little. Unspeakable words. A figure of speech called an oxymoron. Utterances (or "things") incapable of utterance. Not lawful for a man to utter. How futile, then, must be the attempt to guess what they were, or on what subject!


Of such a one.
These are legitimate subjects of "boast," because they are heavenly privileges, not earthly grounds of superiority. Except in my infirmities (2Co_11:30


I forbear;
literally, I spare; i.e. I refrain from boasting. Should think of me; literally, that no man should estimate concerning me beyond what he sees me (to be), or hears at all from my own lips. If he were to tell them more of his revelations, he might encourage them to think more of him than he deserves or wishes.


The thorn in the flesh.


Lest I should be exalted above measure;
literally, that I may not be over exalted. It was necessary to show St. Paul that he only held the treasure in an earthen vessel. There was given me. Even God's afflictions are meant for gifts. A thorn (skolops). The more usual meaning is, as Hesychius says, "a sharp stake" ('Sudes,' Tert.). Hence the word skolopizo, I impale or crucify. St. Paul's agony was an impalement or crucifixion of all sensual impulses and earthly ambitions. In the flesh. There have been endless conjectures as to the exact nature of this painful and most humbling physical affliction. It is only by placing side by side a great many separate passages that we are almost irresistibly led to the conclusion which is now most generally adopted, namely, that it was acute and disfiguring ophthalmia, originating in the blinding glare of the light which flashed round him at Damascus, and accompanied, as that most humiliating disease usually is, by occasional cerebral excitement. It would be impossible here to enter into the whole inquiry, for which! refer to my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:214-226. The messenger of Satan; rather, an angel of Satan. By way of comment, see Mat_25:41
; Luk_13:16; Job_2:7; Rev_12:7, Rev_12:9. To buffet me. The verb is derived from kolaphos, a slap on the face, and would be suitable to such a disfigurement as ophthalmia (2Co_10:10).


For this thing.
In reference to this or "to him," the angel of Satan. The Lord. That is, Christ (1Co_1:3
). Thrice (comp. Mat_26:44).


And he said unto me.
The original is much more forcible: "And he has said to me." Is sufficient for thee. A similar phrase, though in a very different context, occurs in Deu_3:26
. My strength is made perfect in weakness. The verse contains a paradox, which yet describes the best history of the world. The paradox becomes more suggestive if, with à , A, B, D, F, G, we omit "my." May rest upon me; literally, may tabernacle over me. The compound verb occurs here alone, but the simple verb and the substantive occur in similar meanings in Joh_1:14; Rev_7:15; Rev_21:3.


I take pleasure in;
I am content to bear them cheerfully (2Co_7:4
; Rom_5:3). Strong; rather, powerful, mighty. The resemblance to Philo ('Vit. Mos.,' Opp., 1:613, "Your weakness is might") is probably accidental (see 1Co_15:54; Col_3:4).


A fool
(see 2Co_11:16
). For I ought. The "I" is emphatic. You compelled me to become senseless in boasting of myself to you, whereas I ought to have been commended by you. To have been commended. The verb gives one more side allusion, not without bitterness, to the commendatory epistles of which his adversaries boasted (2Co_3:1; 2Co_5:12; 2Co_10:12-18). The very chiefest apostles. The same strange compound, "out and out apostles," is used as in 2Co_11:5; comp. Gal_2:6.


The signs of an apostle.
St. Paul always claimed to have attested his mission by spiritual and miraculous gifts (Rom_15:19
; Act_15:12).


I was not burdensome.
The same word as in 2Co_11:9
. Forgive me this wrong. There is an exquisite dignity and pathos mixed with the irony of this remark.


The third time I am ready to come to you.
He had been ready twice before, though the second time his actual visit had been prevented by the scandals in their Church. That the visit which he now contemplates is a third visit, and that there was an unrecorded second visit, is a needless and improbable inference from this passage. Be burdensome (see 2Co_12:13
). Not yours, but you (1Th_2:8).


Spend and be spent;
rather, spend and be outspent, or spent to the uttermost (Php_2:17


But be it so, I did not burden you.
The "I" is emphatic. It is shocking to think that, even after Paul has so triumphantly cleared himself from the disgraceful charge of trying to make gain out of the Corinthians, he should still be obliged to meet the slanderous innuendo that, even if he had not personally tried to get anything out of them, still he had done so indirectly through the agency of Titus. Being crafty, I caught you with guile. He is here quoting the sneer of his enemies (see what he has already said in 2Co_1:12
; 2Co_7:2). The word used for "being" means "being by my very nature."


Did I make a gain of you,
etc.? The same verb as in 2Co_2:11
. It means" to overreach," "to take unfair advantages."


. This refers to the first visit of Titus. He was now on the eve of a second visit with two others (2Co_8:6
, 2Co_8:18, 2Co_8:22). A brother; rather, the brother. Who it was is entirely unknown. Perhaps Tychicus (Tit_3:12). In the same Spirit; namely, in the Spirit of God.


Again, think you that we excuse ourselves unto you?
The best reading is not palin, again, but palai, long ago. This word with the present is an elegant classical idiom, and means, "You have, perhaps, been imagining all this time that I am pleading with you by way of self-defence. Do not think it! You are no judges of mine. My only object is to speak before God in Christ, not to defend myself since I need no defence so far as you are concerned—but to help in building you up, by removing the falsehoods that alienate you from me."


Such as ye would not
(see 1Co_4:21
). Debates. "Discords," "quarrels." Strifes. "Party intrigues," "factious and emulous rivalries" (Rom_2:8). Backbiting. Detractions, talkings against one another. Swellings. Inflated conceit pompous egotism (1Co_4:6, 1Co_4:18, 1Co_4:19; Col_2:18). Tumults. Disorderly excitement.


Humble me among you;
rather, in my relation to you. Many which have sinned already, and have not repented; rather, who have sinned before and did not repent. Many had sinned (1Co_6:12-20); some only had repented.


2Co_12:1-5 - Apostolic piety and psychology.

"It is not expedient," etc. These verses present two subjects of thought.

I. APOSTOLIC PSYCHOLOGY. The words reveal certain ideas which Paul had concerning the human mind. He had the idea:

1. That whilst here it is capable of existing separate from the body. "Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell." If he had been certain that the soul could not exist whilst here apart from the body, would he have spoken thus? And who is not conscious of the mind having experiences in which the body does not participate? Paul speaks of himself as entering regions far away.

(1) The "third heaven." The Bible speaks of three heavens.

(a) The atmospheric, There the clouds travel and perform their functions.

(b) The starry. There the sun, moon, and stars appear.

(c) The heavens that lie beyond the heavenly orbs; where God and his holy angels are supposed to have their special residence. Up to this" third heaven" Paul was caught.

(2) Paradise. "Caught up into Paradise." The word here denotes some place in the universe distinguished in beauty and fruitfulness. Paul regarded it possible for the soul to go away into those distant regions of supernal brightness and beauty. Who has not been conscious of being borne far away from the body on the wing of thought?

2. That whilst here it is capable of receiving extraordinary revelations apart from the body. "Heard unspeakable words." Things of the soul may be unutterable either from necessity or from impropriety. The deepest things of the heart are unutterable in any language. Perhaps what Paul saw and heard in the spirit was neither possible nor proper to communicate. There are but few of us who have not received impressions of distant things. We are often caught away to distant scenes, and see and hear extraordinary things.

3. That whilst here it may exist apart from the body and the man not know it. "Whether in the body, I cannot tell." He was so charged with spiritual things that he had lost all consciousness of matter and his relations to it. The man whose soul is flooded with the higher elements of being does not know for the time whether he is "in the body" or "out of the body."

4. That wherever or however it exists it constitutes the man. "I knew a man in Christ." That which had these wonderful revelations he regarded as the man. To the apostle the body was the costume of the man, which he put on at birth and took off at death. In fact, he regarded the body as his not him, the soul as himself.

II. APOSTOLIC PIETY. There are three things concerning piety here.

1. Humility. That the man of whom Paul here speaks is himself scarcely admits of a doubt. Why should he speak of himself in the third person? It is because of that modesty of nature which is ever the characteristic of a truly great soul. Humility is an essential attribute of piety.

2. Christism. "A man in Christ." To be in Christ is to live in his ideas, character, spirit, as the atmosphere of being. He who lives in the spirit of Christ becomes a man.

3. Transport. His soul was borne away in ecstasy. The time when the revelation occurred is specified—"fourteen years ago." Strange that he did not speak of it before. Piety has its hours of ravishments, ecstasies, and transfigurations.

2Co_12:6-10 - Soul schooling.

"For though," etc. These words teach us several things concerning soul discipline.

I. THAT THE EXERCISE OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE IS EXPEDIENT FOR THE BEST OF MEN. Paul required it. He says, "Lest I should be exalted above measure."

1. Pride is a great spiritual evil. This is implied in the discipline with which the apostle was now visited. "To be exalted above measure [or, 'overmuch']" is, of course, to be proud, and to be proud is to be in a position inimical to soul progress.

2. Good men have sometimes great temptations to pride. Paul's temptation seems to have arisen from the "abundance of the revelation" of which he speaks.

II. THAT THE MODE OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE IS SOMETIMES VERY PAINFUL. Paul was visited with a "thorn in the flesh." What the thorn was is a question for speculation; our object is practical. Two things deserve notice here.

1. That suffering stands connected with Satan. This painful dispensation was a "messenger from Satan." The great original sinner is the father of suffering.

2. Both suffering and Satan are under the direction of God. He uses them as his instruments for good. Satan himself is the servant of the Holy One.

III. THAT THE MEANS OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE ARE SOMETIMES MISUNDERSTOOD. Paul prays to be delivered from that "thorn in the flesh" which was sent for his good, and he does so frequently—"thrice." Notice:

1. The ignorance which sometimes marks our prayers. We often pray against our own interests. There are some blessings which are positively promised by God, such as pardon for sin, etc., for which we may pray incessantly; and there are others which we may esteem desirable, but which are not promised. These we must seek in submission to his will.

2. The kindness of God in not always answering our prayers. He knows what is best. The great Father may refuse the cry of his children for toys here, but he will give them estates in the great hereafter.

IV. THAT THE SUPPORTS UNDER SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE ARE ALWAYS ABUNDANT. "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." Observe:

1. The nature of the support. "Strength." What matters the weight of the burden it the strength is equal to bear it with ease?

2. The principle of the support. "Grace." It comes, not from merit, but from grace free and unbounded.

3. The influence of the support. "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." "Rest upon me." Spread over me like a tent to screen me from the scorching sun. "I glory in my infirmities." The cup may be bitter, but it has curative virtues. Tempests may toss, but those storms will purify the atmosphere round the heart and bear us away from scenes on which our hearts are set. All prayer is answered when the mind of the suppliant is brought into cordial submission to the Divine will.

2Co_12:11-21 - Paul's state of mind concerning his past and prospective connection with the Church at Corinth.

"I am become a fool in glorying," etc. These verses throw light upon Paul's state of mind, both in relation to his past and prospective connection with the Corinthian Church.


1. He remembers the ill treatment which forced him to speak with apparent boastfulness of himself. "I am become a fool [I am become foolish] 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." Dean Plumptre's remarks tend to illustrate Paul's state of mind. "The verse opens with a somewhat thrilling abruptness, 'I am become insane—it was you who compelled me.' The words are partly ironical, partly speak of an impatient consciousness, that what he had been saying would seem to give colour to the opprobrious epithets that had been flung at him. The passage on which we now enter, and of which we may think as begun after a pause, is remarkable for the production in a compressed form of most of the topics, each with its characteristic phrase, on which he had before dwelt. The violence of the storm is over, but the sky is not yet clear, and we still hear the mutterings of the receding thunder. He remembers once more that he has been called insane, that he has been taunted with commending himself, that he has been treated as 'nothing' in comparison with those apostles extraordinary, who were setting themselves up as his rivals. 'I,' he says, with an emphatic stress on the pronoun, 'ought to have had no need for this painful self-assertion. You ought to have acknowledged my labour and nay love for you.'"

2. He remembers the work which he had done amongst them, and which raised him above all the apostles. "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds." Paul possessed supernatural power and wrought supernatural results in their midst. Of this they must have been aware and could not deny. Referring to his ministry there he says elsewhere, "My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and. of power" (1Co_2:4
). In this respect he was, therefore, not only not behind "the very chiefest apostles," such as Peter, James, and John, but immeasurably superior to the false teachers, his traducers. Can a man who was conscious of such power as this be charged with egotism in proclaiming it in the presence of his detractors? Does he become "a fool in glorying"? Nay, nay, a wise man.

3. He remembers that for his labours amongst them he had not sought any temporal assistance. "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." Probably it had been insinuated by his traducers that Paul cared less for the Churches at Corinth than for those at Macedonia, because he had maintained his independence and sought no gifts. He seems to intimate that this was some disadvantage to them, and he asks their forgiveness. And, indeed, it seems to me it is a spiritual disadvantage to any Church not to contribute to the support of its minister; for there is more good in giving than in receiving.


1. Here are loving resolves. "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." We have no record of a second visit, but this does not disprove its existence; for no doubt there is more omitted of Paul's history than recorded. He resolves that in this third visit he would not be burdensome to them, but pursue the same conduct of independency towards them as he had done all along, taking nothing from them, but giving to them. "I seek not yours, but you." Act as a father generally acts towards his "children," "lay up" for them, not they for him, and gladly spend and be spent for them. And all this, whether they love him or not. What noble generosity breathes in all these resolves!

2. Here are painful memories. "I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile." This, again, is ironical. You say that, although I made no demand on your purses for myself, I want a collection for the "saints," and that out of that collection I will craftily take what I want. He seems to fling back upon them their accusation of his being crafty and catching them "with guile." "Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? 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?" Nay, neither they nor he had ever sponged on them, but had maintained their high independency. In saying this he deprecates the idea that he was amenable to them for his conduct, but to God only. "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." Thus, in the prospect of visiting Corinth once more, most painful memories of his traducers arose.

3. Here are anxious apprehensions. "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." His tender nature seemed to shrink at the supposition of the old evils still rampant there. "Lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults." He was too brave a man to dread perils, or toils, or death. "None of these things moved" him, but from such evils as "strifes," "envyings," "wraths," "backbitings," "whisperings," "swellings," "tumults," "uncleanness," "fornication," "lasciviousness," his pure and pious nature shrank with horror. The great thing to be dreaded is sin. It is the "abominable thing," the soul destroying devil of humanity.


1. Do not judge any minister by the opinions of his brethren. Paul was the best and the most useful of men, but the opinion of his brethren was that he was the worst and the most pernicious.

2. Do not cease in your endeavours to benefit men because they calumniate you. The worst men require your services most, the "whole need no physician."

3. Do not sponge upon your congregation. Do not seek theirs, but them. Do not study how to increase your pew rents, swell your collections and offertories, but how to increase the spiritual intelligence, freedom, and true blessedness of the people.

4. Do not cower before anything but sin. Sin is the Apollyon of the universe.


2Co_12:1-6 - Supernatural communications as evidences of his apostleship.

The old question as to his apostolic authority, which had recently been revived in a most exciting form, was not yet disposed of, and he must now discuss it in another aspect. So far as external circumstances were concerned, had not the prophetic declaration to Ananias been fulfilled?—"I will show him how great things he must suffer for my Name's sake." And, furthermore, he had proved that his own state of mind, the inward being of his soul, had corresponded with his call to suffer. The flesh had been subdued. Years of growth had brought him to a stage of experience that allowed him to speak of glorying in his infirmities. But he would now turn to another branch of experiences, viz. "visions and revelations of the Lord." Glorious as these exaltations were, they would see that, while they were exceptional in certain respects, yet they fell in with the providential discipline of his life, and opened the way for a keener sense of his infirmities by "a thorn in the flesh" All along St. Paul has been painfully aware that his enemies were using these infirmities to his official disparagement. Painfully, we say, for it is obvious that he was sensitive to the disadvantages under which he appeared before the public. "Humble," "rude in speech," "bodily presence weak," "speech contemptible," were things that had some foundation in fact. Of course, his adversaries exaggerated them, but the apostle could not escape instinctive feeling, and at times acute feeling, touching this matter. This, however, was only one source of depression. A fuller account of his sufferings, physical and mental, than he had ever given bad just now been presented, and the conclusion of it was that his bodily disadvantages as a speaker, his low repute as a public teacher, his constant endurance of pain and solicitude, had resulted in his realizing the fact that this very weakness was his strength. Could "visions and revelations" be entrusted to him—such visions and revelations—and he not be humbled by Divine direction? The more glorious the revelation, the greater the necessity for him to be reminded, and most painfully reminded, that the treasure was committed to an "earthen vessel." Witness the following: a man fourteen years ago—the memory of it still vividly present as a reality of today—such a man, whether in the body or out of the body it was impossible to tell, elevated to, the third heaven, and hearing "unspeakable words not lawful for a man to utter." "Fourteen years ago" the fact now first divulged, and yet the fact alone; the secret disclosures still a secret and personal to the man alone; and the sanctity such that it would be profanation to make the contents of the communication known. "Caught up to the third heaven, caught up into Paradise," face to face with the Lord Jesus in his mediatorial glory; and there, the senses laid to rest and the body forgotten and the spirit opened to receive instruction and inspiration, the man taught what he was to be and what he was to do as the servant on earth of his Divine Master. Of this man, as a man in Christ, he would boast; of himself in the flesh and subject to its infirmities, be would not boast save of his weakness. Under grace, what a debtor was he to these humiliations! Intellectual pride and vanity, spiritual pride and vanity, pride and vanity as a Jew to whom the God of the fathers had manifested himself—how could these be kept down except by mortifications of the flesh? If, nevertheless, he were to boast of these revelations, he should do it truthfully. Suppose, then, that he should make this boast; who would be able to transfer himself into the proper attitude of a listener? It would not be weakness, but power, the observer would see. "I forbear," and I shrink from it, lest the contrast between this power and my visible weakness, this glory and my present humiliation, be too great for any man to bear.—L.

2Co_12:7-10 - Need of humility add the means appointed to secure it.

If the Lord Jesus passed from the baptism in the Jordan, and the dovelike descent of the Holy Ghost upon him, to the solitude of the wilderness and the assaults of the tempter; if he came down from the mount of transfiguration to witness the failure of the disciples to heal the lunatic boy, and to give expression to his sorrow in the words, "O faithless and perverse generation!" etc.—it is not surprising that an apostle should be sorely tried after his exaltation. New endowments must have new tests. New and larger grace must be immediately put off probation, since there are many probations in this one probation that have eternal issues. "Lest I"—this man in Christ, who fourteen years ago was prepared by special revelation for the toil and trial of his Gentile apostleship—"lest I should be exalted above measure;" and what was the danger? "The abundance of the revelations." Against that danger he must be fortified. If new endowments and new graces are instantly put on trial, and the conditions of life's general probation changed, then, indeed, a new check to guard against abuse of increased gifts must not be lacking. The man is not precisely the same man as before, nor is he in the same world that he previously occupied. Accessions of outward advantages, such as wealth and social position, are full of risks, but accessions of inward power are far more perilous. To preserve St. Paul from self-glorification, there was given him "a thorn in the flesh." First of all, the revelations were as to the fact itself to be kept a secret, and this was a means of humility, but the thorn in the flesh was added. What it was we know not, but it was a bodily infirmity that caused him much suffering. "This is significant. It is of the very nature of thorns to be felt rather than seen, and to appear trifling evils to all but those directly stung by them" (Dr. Bellows). It was "a messenger of Satan," though this does not imply that it was not under God s direction. The idea is that this "angel of Satan" was an impaling stake that produced severe and continued pain, and the reason therefore is twice stated, "lest I should be exalted above measure." So, then, it was not as an apostle, but as the apostle to the Gentiles, that he was specially afflicted. Pain is instinctively resisted as an enemy to the activity, comfort, and pleasure of life. Naturally, therefore, St. Paul felt that it would interfere with his energy and happiness, and, of course, the Satanic side of the torture would be uppermost in his thought. The evil in pain is what we see first. If this were not realized, it could not be an affliction. Hence he prayed thrice to the Lord that it might depart from him. But his prayer was denied. At the same time, the promise was given—a promise worth far more than the removal of the pain—"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." The thorn was to continue—a lifelong suffering in addition to his other infirmities was to be fastened upon him, a special and grievous suffering. Yet, while it had to remain a sad memorial, not of his exaltation, but of human frailty in connection with great endowments, there was an assurance direct and specific of sustaining grace. Along with that a most important truth was taught him, namely, that the perfection of strength is attained through the consciousness of our utter weakness. First, then, the evil of pain; next, the good of pain under the agency of God's grace;—this is the method of providence and grace, for the two are one in the Divine purpose. Alas! had the prayer of those sensitive nerves of his been literally answered, what a loser would he and we have been! How much of his power would have vanished with the pain! How many thoughts and emotions that have cheered the afflicted and inspired the weak to be heroic, would have been unknown! Such Epistles as the apostle wrote (to say nothing of his other services to the world) could never have been written under the ordinary experience of the ills of life. All men have thorns in the flesh, for there is no perfect health, no human body free from ailments. But in St. Paul's case the thorn was a superaddition to existing infirmities. Nor is it difficult for us to see how this particular infirmity, sanctified by the Spirit, was specially adapted to guard him at a most exposed point. Inasmuch as he was the object of a peculiar and violent opposition, he was singularly liable to the temptation of over asserting himself and his merits, the more so as his enemies took delight in taunting him with his personal defects as to manner and appearance. The safeguard was provided where it was most wanted. Such, in fact, was his own view of the matter: "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." "My infirmities," he argues, "instead of being the hindrance they would be if left to themselves, are helpers, since they are the occasions of grace, and this grace rests upon me, i.e. abides continually. The thought is precious; it must be repeated. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities," etc.; for the power of Christ had been imparted to him with such fulness as to transform pain into pleasure so far as his spiritual nature was concerned. The body continued to suffer, the humiliations were increased, but his soul was filled with Christ as the Christ of his pains and sorrows, and thus he had the victory, not only over physical misery, but over all pride and vanity that might have sprung up "through the abundance of the revelations." Glorious words are these: "When I am weak, then am I strong." Notice the clear view St. Paul has of the Divine hand in his thorn in the flesh. If he is perfectly assured of the abundance of the revelations, if he can locate the scene in Paradise, if he realizes the sanctity of these disclosures in the "unspeakable words," he is just as certain that the thorn "was given" him. He knew it was a "thorn," and he knew whence it came. He acknowledged God in it, and, in this feeling, prayed thrice for its removal. Christians often fail at this point. They doubt at times whether their afflictions come from God. Some Christians cannot be induced to believe that their sufferings are sent from above, and they see in them nothing more than evil casualties. But if they fail to recognize God in the sorrow, they will not find him in the joy of his blessed promise, "My grace is sufficient for thee." It was not merely the "them" that St. Paul had to endure. This was a source of pain, and it aggravated, doubtless, his other physical infirmities, and, in turn, was augmented by them. But we must not forget the state of mind such an affliction naturally produced—the surprise that it should follow such wonderful signs of God's favour as had been vouchsafed in the "abundance of the revelations," the temptation to a rebellious spirit and the occasion for unbelief it would furnish. A literal answer to his prayer was refused; a spiritual answer was granted. The "grace" bestowed was "sufficient," not only to bear the pain as a peculiar addition to his "infirmities" already existing, but to enable him to "glory" in it; and the providence of it was specially manifested in the power it had given him to be patient, forbearing, humble, in the late trouble with the Corinthians. O Christians, who are called to a lifelong discipline in the school of suffering, think of the measure implied in the sufficient grace! Sufficient for what? Sufficient, not only to glory in pain and infirmity, but to glory "most gladly."—L.

2Co_12:11-15 - Recurrence to the former argument.

The intense feeling of St. Paul indicates itself by not continuing on one unvarying level. From the climax just reached he reverts to what had been previously discussed in 2Co_10:1-18
. and 11. These reverberations are very characteristic of the man as a thinker, and they show how closely, in him, temperament was allied with intellect. If aroused, he never became artificial or unnatural, but was then most true to his organization. In the verses before us he resumes his ironical vein: "I am become a fool in glorying;" but not of his own accord, for "ye have compelled me." The disaffected party at Corinth had not respected his just claims, had not "commended" him, and they had failed in this matter when he had demonstrated that he was "in nothing behind the very chiefest of the apostles" the same idea expressed in 2Co_11:5, adding in this instance, "though I be nothing." Was he thinking of the abundant revelations with which he could not have been entrusted save on the condition of a thorn in the flesh? Only a brief utterance, yet very sincere—"though I be nothing." It was safe for such a man in his impaled situation to dramatize the "fool," but he hastens to serious work and mentions that "the signs of an apostle" had been wrought among them. His language is, full and earnest; "truly," "in all patience," "signs and wonders and mighty deeds," no lack, no irritating haste, no deception, number and variety and extraordinary power all provided for. Despite of the accumulation, the magnitude, the unimpeachable quality of these Divine evidences, God among you of a truth, Christ honouring his servant and his servant's work, ye Corinthians, or some of you, have not "commended" me! In what respect were ye inferior to other Churches? Look at Macedonia, look at Asia; wherein were you less favoured than they? They commended me; what have you done to exemplify your sense of my apostleship? I remember but one thing in which ye were "inferior"—and the irony is keen now—I remember that I preached the gospel gratuitously, so as not to be "burdensome to you;" and this is your acknowledgment, this your commendation of my course! What a mistake my disinterestedness was! What a "fool" in my goodness! "Forgive me this wrong!" Despite of it all, I am not weaned from Corinth. "The third time I am ready to come to you." Though my self-denying conduct has been used to bring me into contempt, I shall repeat it without any abatement, for "I will not be burdensome to you." And now his heart swells as he says, "I seek not yours, but you"—words that he bequeathed to the admiration of ages; for was he not their spiritual father? If, at the bidding of natural instinct, children were not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children, then it became him to provide for his spiritual children. But was this all that his love had to promise? Nay; what means he had or might have should not only be freely used in their behalf, but he would give his faculties, his heart, his whole self, to advance their well being. "Signs of an apostle" had been wrought at Corinth, "wonders and mighty deeds," but the signs of a sublime moral manhood rise before us when he declares, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you." Will this avail? "If I love you more abundantly, am I loved the less?"—L.

2Co_12:16-19 - Forestalling false criticism.

What limit is there to the carping skill of envy and hatred! Some of this Judaizing party might say that, under cover of disinterestedness, he had acted cunningly in the matter of the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Was this so? Did the deputies make a gain of you? Did Titus abuse his position? One spirit, Christ's spirit, animated us, for we all "walked in the same steps." Think you that this has been said for self-justification? Do we excuse ourselves? Fears were oppressing him, fears that he would mention presently. Can it all be in vain? Assurances of fatherly regard, assurances of a willingness, ay, of a gladness, in giving all he had and all he was, even life itself, to their service and interest; would they pass for nought? And were there both history and prophecy in the melancholy winds, "The more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved"? The fervent appeal, the protracted argument, the action and reaction, the irony and the profound sincerity, the grieved tenderness, the sad ingratitude, the memory of noble self-sacrifice, gather into the climax, "We speak before God in Christ." There, at that bar of judgment, he makes the solemn avowal, "We do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying." Once more he would conciliate, nor should this long and impassioned outburst come to a close without calling God in Christ to witness his deep-felt affection for these ungrateful Corinthians.—L.

2Co_12:20, 2Co_12:21 - Expression of his fears.

Why had he just spoken with so much earnestness? Why had St. Paul brought facts to their notice which he had never used in addressing his Churches? Why had he referred to that extraordinary event in his career, when he had been ushered into the secret chambers of Paradise and permitted to hear things which were not to be told? Why a revelation to be unrevealed? It was to teach the rebellious and evil disposed among the Corinthians that he was Christ's apostle to them, and, as such, charged with maintaining the order, peace, and purity of the Churches entrusted to his oversight. Very tenderly had he appealed to the Corinthians, and now, having called God, even God in Christ, to witness the depth and sincerity of his love for them, he would entreat them not to drive him to extreme measures. To exercise stern authority gave him no pleasure. The greatest thing in an apostle was love, and he wished to restore harmony and prosperity to the Church by means of forbearance and affectionate counsel. Therefore he had pleaded so fervently; therefore he had condescended to boasting; therefore he had told them more of his infirmities than his enemies knew; therefore he had gloried in those things which these very men used to alienate his own spiritual children by putting contempt on him and his office. Fears he had, lest when he should come to Corinth, he should not find them such as he wished, and fears too that he would have to act in an apostolic way not agreeable to them, so that on their meeting together each party would be disappointed in the other. Hope he had, and so he speaks doubtingly. But the fatherly heart is overloaded with apprehensions and "lest" is thrice employed, for he would not conceal these apprehensions. What a dark list of vices and sins is spread out in the last two verses! If he should have to confront these evils, he will not find them such as he would and they will find him such as they would not. First comes the catalogue of moral evils such as originated in the factious spirit so rife in Corinth, viz. strife, jealousy, wraths, factions, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults. These things would require discipline. But, moreover, he feared the sensual wickedness which had such a hold on Corinth. For he might have to deal with gross offenders, men who had committed sins of "uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness," and had not repented. Such a state of things would grieve him. Disappointed and afflicted by a blight like this falling on his labours in the ministry of the gospel, he tells them, "My God will humble me among you." To avoid these distressing results, to restore peace and spiritual prosperity to a Church rent by faction and disgraced by immorality, he had written and laboured and prayed. If all failed, "my God will humble me among you."—L.


2Co_12:2 - "A man in Christ."

When we consider what man is, and who Christ is, the conjunction seems wonderful indeed. Yet, when apprehended, this union appears one fraught with richest blessings for him who is the inferior and dependent member. The thought was one familiar to the apostle; himself "a man in Christ," he spoke of others who were "in Christ before" himself, and he designated Christian societies, "Churches in Christ Jesus."


1. The Christian is grafted "in Christ" as a graft in a tree, joined to him as a branch to a vine. The union is thus a vital union, and is to the Christian the means and the occasion of spiritual life.

2. The Christian is accepted "in Christ," i.e. in the Beloved. For Christ's sake the Christian is received into Divine favour. The Saviour is in this capacity a Representative, a Mediator, an Advocate.

3. The Christian is incorporated "in Christ" as the member in the body, and has a new function to discharge in consequence of this relationship.

4. The Christian is hidden "in Christ" as the traveller in the cleft of the rock, as the voyager in the ark, when "the Lord shut him in."

5. The Christian dwells "in Christ" as in a house, a home appointed for him by Divine wisdom and goodness.


1. As is apparent from considering the position of those who are out of Christ. For such, where is safety, where is a law of life, where is a prospect for immortality? For to be out of Christ is to be without God, and so without hope.

2. From considering what in this life they possess who have Christ and are in him. Whilst, so far as the bodily life is concerned, they are in the world, they are in spirit in the Lord, and thus partake a higher nature and existence than belong to earth and to time.

3. From considering the imperishable character of this union. To be "in Christ" now is to be "with Christ" forever. To those who are in him there is no condemnation now, and from him there shall be no separation hereafter. The visions which Paul beheld, and the declarations he heard when he was caught up into the third heaven, were to him, and may be to us, an earnest and promise of immortal union. Therefore "Abide in him."—T.

2Co_12:5 - Glorying in weaknesses.

It is not to be wondered at that Paul boasted; the wonder is that, instead of boasting of the extraordinary visions he had experienced, the extraordinary commission he had received, the extraordinary success which had followed his labours, he boasted of what other men would have concealed or have lamented—his own infirmities, disadvantages, and troubles.


1. His own bodily infirmity was especially present to his thoughts, when using this language. Whatever this was, whether general ill health or some special malady, as of the eyes, it was naturally distressing to himself, as it prevented him from doing his work with the ease and pleasure which he might have experienced had he possessed health and vigour of body.

2. The contempt he met with from some amongst whom he laboured was to Paul no cause of mortification, but cause of rejoicing. Let men despise him; if he was able to serve and please his Master, that was enough.

3. The hardships and privations and persecutions he endured in the fulfilment of his ministry were matter of glorying. In these he took pleasure, contrary as such a fact was to ordinary human experience.


1. There can be no doubt that the deepest ground lay in Paul's sympathy with his Divine Lord. The humiliation and obedience unto death of the Lord Jesus in order to secure man's salvation became a new source of inspiration, in the direction both of human action and of human suffering, and Paul was crucified with Christ unto the world. He bore about with him in the body the marks of the Lord Jesus, and of this he justly boasted.

2. Personal weakness was the occasion of the reception of new and spiritual strength. For Christ made his own grace sufficient when his servant's strength was gone. And by a sublime paradox the apostle learned that when he was weak, then was he strong. And thus the very infirmities which seemed to disqualify for service became the occasion of the communication of such spiritual power and aid as rendered the apostle more efficient and successful in the service of the Lord.—T.

2Co_12:9 - Sufficient grace.

Perhaps there is no verse in Scripture which has brought more strength and comfort to the hearts of Christ's people than this. The explanation of its preciousness and its power is to be sought first in the spiritual, the revealed truth which it communicates, and secondly in the fact that it is the record of personal experience. There is an instinctive persuasion in the human mind that the experience which has been realized by one is possible to another. The grace which was actually bestowed upon Paul does not seem inaccessible to the feeble, the tempted, the overburdened Christian who cries to Heaven for help.


1. The manifold duties, the severe temptations, the wried sorrows and troubles, incidental to the Christian life. There are difficulties and trials common to the Christian with all men, but there are others peculiar to him, arising from the higher view he takes of life, both as a personal discipline and as an opportunity for serving and glorifying God.

2. The conscious insufficiency of human resources. This, indeed, accounts for the universal practice of prayer, frequent or occasional, deliberate or spontaneous. Men feel their utter helplessness in the presence of the demands of life, and therefore they call upon God. Much more keenly does the follower of the Lord Jesus realize his need of a higher than human aid. Conscious that only Divine grace has reconciled him to God, he daily acknowledges his dependence upon the same grace for the maintenance of his spiritual life and usefulness.


1. The divinity of the Saviour. Can we imagine any other than Christ using this language, "My grace is sufficient"? It is becoming, it is possible, only to him who possesses Divine resources, who is spiritually present with all his people.

2. Christ's mediatorial position. This involves the possession and the disposal of whatsoever is necessary for the spiritual welfare of those whom the Lord Jesus saves. Accepted as our Representative, he has received gifts for men; and it is in the fulfilment of his mediatorial office that he imparts to each individual disciple and friend the specially needed grace.

3. The spiritual dispensation over which the Lord Jesus presides. He is Head over all things unto his Church. He distributes to every man severally as he will. His Spirit is the Spirit of truth, of holiness, of power.


1. The personal experience of Paul as recorded in this passage. He tells us here, not only what Christ promised, but what he performed. He was perfectly satisfied with the course he had taken. He did not find His own personal weakness and insufficiency a barrier to his efficiency and usefulness. What he lacked, his Lord supplied.

2. The recorded experience of all who have trusted to the same Divine Source of all-sufficiency. There is no discordant note in the song of grateful, affectionate adoration which fills the Church of the Redeemer. All his people have known their own demerits, their own powerlessness, and all have known the sufficiency of their Lord. And every Christian has reason to acknowledge—

"And when my all of strength shall fail,

I shall with the God Man prevail."


2Co_12:12 - Signs of apostleship.

The evidences of deep feeling, which are manifest throughout this Epistle, are very prominent in this passage. There were special reasons why a sensitive man like Paul should lay to heart the treatment with which he met from the Corinthians. Considering what he had done among them and for them, he felt it hard that empty pretenders should be preferred to himself. And he was convinced that, in disregarding his authority, these members of the Corinthian congregation whom he had in view were doing injustice to his ministry among them. For all the proofs of a Divine commission had been exhibited in his ministry in their city. He appeals to—

I. MIRACULOUS EVIDENCES OF APOSTLESHIP. Upon due occasion the apostle did not hesitate to bring forward and adduce as proofs of his commission the supernatural gifts which had been bestowed upon him. How could he have publicly made such a claim as this in an authentic letter, unless the Corinthians, friendly and inimical, were ready to witness to the truth of his language? It would not be fanciful to discriminate among the terms which Paul in this passage applies to these miraculous evidences. Observe that they are designated:

1. Powers, as pointing to the heavenly and Divine source to which they must needs be traced. Whether exercised in controlling nature, in healing disease, or in inflicting punishment, they bore upon their very presence the evidences that they were of superhuman origin.

2. Wonders, as fitted and indeed intended to awaken the interest, the inquiry, the amazement, of all beholders. Wonder may be useful in leading to such reflection, such emotion, as may surpass itself in value.

3. Signs, as indicating the authority of those at whose prayer or command these marvels were wrought "among" the Corinthians.

II. THE MORAL EVIDENCE OF APOSTLESHIP. Nowhere in the New Testament is the portent placed above the spiritual. Christ's mighty works answered their purpose when they prompted the exclamation and inquiry, "What manner of man is this!" And in Paul's character there was seen an evidence of apostleship far more convincing and far more instructive than the most marvellous deeds which he performed. He justly claims to have exhibited patience, both in his continuing to work for the Corinthians and to interest himself in them notwithstanding their ingratitude, and in his tender and brotherly treatment of them with a view to their restoration to entire sympathy with himself.—T.

2Co_12:15 - Ministerial devotion.

Paul rejoices and boasts that, however the Corinthians may misunderstand him, he cannot be accused of having acted towards them in a mercenary spirit. Disinterestedness at all events he must claim, and they must concede. They are the debtors, not he. He is the parent who lays up for the children. This he does cheerfully, and is resolved that he will do in the future as in the past. His determination is to spend and to be spent for their souls.

I. A SINCERE PROFESSION. Had Paul been a stranger to his correspondents he could not have used such language as this. But he was well known to them, having lived and laboured in Corinth, working with his own hands for his maintenance, and putting forth every effort for the spiritual enlightenment and salvation of the citizens.

1. The minister of Christ spends for the enrichment of his people's souls. He has "treasure," though in earthen vessels. He has "the true riches" committed to his keeping. His sire is to bestow the choicest and most precious blessings upon the spiritually necessitous. All he has he longs to part with.

2. The minister of Christ is willing to be spent for his people's souls. Labour often involves suffering. Bodily powers may be exhausted; even the mind itself may give way under the strain of a toilsome, emotional, prolonged ministry. The missionary may sink beneath the burden of climate, of unrequited toil, of persecution. Every faithful minister must lay his account, not only with effort, but with self-denial and self-sacrifice.

II. AN ARDENT APPEAL. The Revisers adopt a rendering of the latter part of this verse which harmonizes with what we may well believe to have been the sentiment of the apostle.

1. Paul has proved the abundance of his love; and every true minister, animated by the love of Christ and by pity for souls, has shown himself to be a true lover and friend of his fellow men.

2. Shall it, then, be the ease that those whom the Christian minister loves, and whose welfare he seeks, shall be indifferent and ungrateful? It is sometimes so; the very faithfulness and earnestness of the minister may occasion the aversion of those who desire that he should "prophesy smooth things," and leave them to their sinful pursuits and pleasures uninterrupted. Yet the affection and devotion of spiritual workers deserve a very different return.—T.

2Co_12:19 - Edification.

The strain in which this portion of the Epistle is written may, the writer is conscious, mislead some readers. It displays a good deal of personal feeling; it reproaches those who have not shown themselves amenable to rightful influence and authority; it reveals a wounded heart. Some readers may misinterpret these signs and infer that the apostle regards himself as on his defence, as excusing and vindicating himself, as asking that the best construction possible may be forbearing]y put upon his conduct. But all this is erroneous. Paul's one great aim is, not his own vindication, but, on the contrary, the edification of those to whom his Epistle is addressed.


1. It has respect to those who are already built upon the one Foundation—Christ. The minister of Christ, like other workmen, must begin at the beginning. When men receive the gospel, then, and only then, are they in a position to be "edified."

2. It consists in the building up of the Christian character in the case of individuals. The resemblance to Christ is what is mainly to be sought.

3. And in the formation of solid and serviceable Christian societies, all of which are parts of the holy temple which is being reared to the glory of God.


1. The means divinely appointed and approved are moral and spiritual. All employment of mechanical or political agency to secure such an end is to be condemned, as both inappropriate and useless.

2. Personal agency is that which the New Testament exemplifies and which experience approves. Living spirits, full of love and sympathy, are divinely qualified to engage in such a work as this.

3. The presentation of truth, the addressing of language of encouragement and promise, of admonition and rebuke,—these are emphatically the scriptural methods of edification. Of all these abundant and very instructive examples may be found in this very Epistle.


1. The welfare, the highest spiritual development and happiness, of those who are edified.

2. The impression thus made upon the world by the presence in the midst of it of a Divine temple reared with human souls.

3. The honour and glory of the heavenly Architect himself.—T.


2Co_12:1-4 - Apostolic experiences in heaven.