2 Corinthians 12

2 Corinthians 12  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
There is a remarkable contrast between the beginning and ending of this chapter; that is, between Paul, caught up into the third heaven, and the Christians at Corinth; between what a Christian should be and what a Christian may be.
A great privilege is here proposed to us, and it is well for us to consider it. Paul speaks of himself as a man in Christ (ver. 2), and this is the true character of every Christian, and of the Church at large. It was not in the character of an apostle that Paul was caught up, but in that of "a man in Christ." Whosoever is in Christ is a new creature, and each of us has His share in this character. So that Paul puts himself on a level with the rest of the Church. We have, through the Spirit, our participation in the same privilege, though the degree of participation is very different. We are quickened together with Christ, raised up together with Christ, and seated together with Christ in heavenly places: there is no place into which faith cannot enter.
Paul did not receive in the third heaven a revelation which he could communicate to others; on the contrary, the mysteries which he there saw, were such as could not be revealed. It was "the man in Christ" that went thither, and not the apostle as such.
When the eye of faith penetrates thus far, we get strength to walk before God in every circumstance; therein is communion of the soul with God-a spring of strength, but not a revelation to tell of. It is not Christ's glory at his return, but a communion with God, in which the body can have no part, or to which it becomes, at any rate, insensible, "whether in the body I know not." The principle of this communion may be applied to the Church, although the measure will not be the same as in Paul, but we share with him the privilege of communion with God.
There are two very different prayers in the Epistle to the Ephesians (comp. 1:17, 18; and 3:16-19). The first calls for a knowledge of the glory of Christ, the grand hope of the Church: the second seeks for communion with God for our souls, and that we may be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, that, being rooted and grounded in love, we may be filled with the knowledge of God even to all the fullness of God. If we grieve the Spirit by seeking things below, the inner man is immediately weakened.
Paul could glory in his infirmities, because he had felt that his strength was in God. Weak as he was, many were converted by him, for God was acting with him. He rejoices in persecutions and infirmities, and in all that is contrary to the flesh. As soon as ever he becomes again conscious of the presence of the flesh, the latter seeks to rise, and the thorn is sent.
The flesh seeks its own ease, and shrinks from struggles and difficulties, but God will not ease the flesh at the soul's expense. One may earnestly seek relief from infirmities, or deliverance from painful circumstances; but God does not always grant the request. Our dependance upon God is thereby increased. Not only ought we to expect infirmities, but also desire to find pleasure in them, in order that we may see the strength of Christ manifested in us.
The thorn in the flesh was given to Paul that he might not be puffed up. It was some infirmity which rendered him despicable in preaching (Gal. 4:13,1413Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. 14And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. (Galatians 4:13‑14)); it was a counterpoise to the glory he had tasted. It does not follow that we should necessarily have the same thorn, for God gives to each of us the very thorn which is suitable for us.
It is Satan whom God uses against the flesh; the flesh is seen in four different circumstances.
1. Before conversion, it is under Satan's power, the conscience being hardened. As Judas, who loved money, and was a thief. When he had taken the sop, Satan entered into him to lead him on to unbridled
iniquity, and to give him over to despair when 'he saw the result of his crime.
Before conversion, the flesh acts, and Satan, presents the temptation.
After conversion, the flesh is still there; the Holy Ghost (who is the seal of redemption), has not yet fully accomplished his work in us; we are weak like Peter. Peter is contrasted with Christ in almost every circumstance, even the most amiable. Before the transfiguration, when Jesus tells of His approaching sufferings, Peter answers with love, but yet according to the flesh, and Jesus reproaches him thus, "Get thee behind me, Satan" (Matt. 16:20,2320Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. (Matthew 16:20)
23But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. (Matthew 16:23)
). In the Apostle Peter, the flesh was still under the dominion of Satan.
Satan desires to sift us like wheat, by means of the flesh. Jesus warns his disciples of this, and prays especially for Peter, in whom the flesh was strong, for he put himself forward on all occasions. The flesh is, in everything opposed to Christ. Jesus says to the disciples, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." He does not say sin. The Spirit leads Christ to prayer, and when temptation comes, it finds him perfectly calm; but the three disciples are heavy with grief, and when temptation comes they are taken by surprise.
All that could break the heart of Jesus was brought at once against Him; but even when Judas betrayed Him with a kiss, Jesus remained calm; He submitted, allowed Himself to be taken, and went through the depths of humiliation. While Jesus submitted Himself to everything, Peter drew his sword and did contrariwise. The flesh will urge a person on into temptation but can sustain no one in the midst of it. It was the flesh which led Peter to the hall of the high priest-there, Jesus witnessed a glorious confession of His own character as Son of God, but Peter, hurried on by Satan, denied him. The flesh is in everything opposed to Christ. Peter, however, truly loved Christ, yet we see him still acting according to the flesh, even after having received the Holy Ghost (Gal. 2:1111But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. (Galatians 2:11)).
Whenever a Christian acts in the flesh, all the weight of his piety goes to sanction and authorize his conduct before others: and therefore the effects of the working of the flesh in a believer are far worse than in an unconverted person. Peter, for instance, had carried away all the Jews, including Barsabas, in his dissimulation.
Being caught up to the third heaven, does not change the flesh; and the flesh in Paul was ready to say, "You are the only man who has been in the third heaven." But then the messenger of Satan was permitted to buffet him, and became thus the instrument of God's goodness in correcting his child. God does not do it Himself, but Satan, who loves to torment God's children, is used as an instrument to humble the flesh when it seeks to rise.
It is the circumstances that are painful to the flesh, which are those that are most profitable to our souls. What would be the use of a father giving his child as a punishment a 'thing which would not be one to the child? And thus it is with God and us. The power of God in us manifests itself, as well as our weakness in times of difficulty. When we see before us something painful, God says, "My grace is sufficient for thee." He would bring us into His presence by means of a joy unmarred by the flesh: and everything which can make the flesh a burden is especially profitable for us.