Notes on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

2 Corinthians 12:7‑10  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
We have seen the spiritual power and tact with which the apostle handles his glorying, how he blends “the man in Christ” with that which was peculiar to himself so as to cut off all self or fleshly boasting, and yet afford every saint intelligent of his privileges the dame conscious privilege substantially as he had himself received miraculously. Now he turns to that counterpoise which the wisdom of the Lord had bound up with his own experience in order to hinder the misuse of it; for flesh was as bad in the apostle as in any other and needed His dealing no less than in the Corinthians, though differently as to form.
“And that I should not be uplifted by the exceeding greatness of the revelations,1 there was given to me a thorn [or stake] for the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I might not be uplifted overmuch.2 For this I thrice besought the Lord that it might depart from me; and he hath said to me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for [my]3 power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest on me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in straits for Christ; for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (Vers. 7-10.)
Here at least is no ambiguity, no studied mysteriousness of mention. Paul boasts of nothing here below but in his weaknesses, and indeed specifies one especial trial, or thorn if not “stake” for the flesh, sent to make nothing of him in the eyes of others, rendering him contemptible, it would seem from elsewhere in his preaching. With this goes an extraordinary irregularity in the very expression which it is easier to paraphrase than to translate with any smoothness, if we adopt with some διό; “wherefore” after “revelations” and before “that.”
This the Revisers deal with ingeniously: “And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations-wherefore, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given,” &c. Otherwise, accepting the word, Lachmann was driven to make verse 6 a parenthesis, and to connect the first clause of verse 7 with the end of verse 5; and then the new sentence begins with διὸ ἴνα μὴ κ.τ.λ. which of course, if all allowed, yields a simple sense. In the text of Tregelles the insertion is beyond measure harsh; Alford brackets the word, and very oddly the last clause also, though repeatedly affirming its propriety for emphasis or solemnity; Tischendorf rejects it.
It will be observed that in the early part of the chapter the allusion is to what was communion with God's presence, not matter for communication to His children; and in that communion the body had no part. What he saw and heard was so outside its sphere that he knows not whether he were in the body or out of it. A man in Christ thus favored he knows, but whether in the body or apart from the body he knows not. Could anything make him feel more distinctly that all the power to enjoy is in God?
Yet flesh even in a saint might work in consequence and whisper that none before had ever been so caught up to the third heaven. Hence, lest by the excess of the revelations he should be uplifted, there was given him what was alike painful and humbling. What the thorn in the flesh was in Paul's case is purposely left undetermined, even if one may gather more or less its nature; but its moral aim, its intended effect, cannot be doubted. Nor is the measure of reticence without a wise motive, for it is a general principle of divine dealing with a form suited to each person so dealt with. If we hear of a messenger of Satan on one side, we hear; of something given on the other. If the enemy take pleasure in the pain of God's servant or child, He assuredly works even by that which so distresses the flesh for the deeper blessing of the soul.
Lessons previously not learned at all or imperfectly are now taught. “For this I thrice besought the Lord that it might depart from me; and he hath said to me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for [my] power is perfected in weakness.” (Vers. 8, 9.) How it reminds us of what was still more wonderful, yea of absolute perfection, in that very Lord Himself when He prayed thrice that, if the Father would, the cup might pass from Him. Here it could not, ought not, to have been otherwise; for how could He who knew His love as the Son but deprecate unsparing judgment because of sin? The Lord, in that infinite suffering according to God's will and in doing it, was alone necessarily: but in the case before us we have as a principle what pertains to us and must be our position by grace, if indeed we are to be kept from the more humbling lesson of what the flesh is by a positive fall like Peter's. There are exceeding precious privileges given to the Christian. And it is not in the soul's entrance into or enjoyment of them that the danger lies, but in our natural reflection on their possession afterward. Hence God knows how to use in grace what Satan means for hurt as in Job's case. Only here it is far deeper and more triumphant, as it ought to be now that Christ is come and redemption accomplished. It is not only dependence on God exercised and maintained, nor is it mere resignation to inevitable trial, but the sufficiency of grace practically proved, and Christ's power perfected in weakness.
Thus he who felt as soberly and profoundly as any man ever did can say, “Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weakness, that the power of Christ may spread its tabernacle over me.” This is incalculably more than vanquishing mighty foes by faith and patience. It is taking pleasure in what is most trying and overwhelming to nature that Christ's strength may be manifested. Where flesh might rise, it is put down. In such dealing with us is the life of the Spirit; but Christ makes the bitter sweet, and His power can make its dwelling in us when we acquiesce in our nothingness and rejoice in it if it be but to His praise and glory. Practically there is nothing so profitable for the soul; and the apostle was ministering in the most effectual way while thus drawing forth from his own deep experience the true glorying of the saint as he knew it in his life before God and His ways with him day by day. What did they know of it, who were boasting of themselves or their leaders at Corinth and depreciating the true path of Christ to which the apostle clave faithfully? They would willingly have persuaded themselves into the idea that such devotedness and suffering were but the eccentricities of an ill-balanced mind, and a prejudice to the gospel rather than a true and acceptable testimony to Christ. But, bear or forbear, he will tell them and us undauntedly what it is to live Christ. “Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in straits for Christ; for when I am weak, then am I strong.” Practical Christianity is as truly of faith as deliverance. All is of grace, though the ways differ. In every respect Christ is all. Only in redemption He suffered for us; in the path of faith we suffer with and it may be for Him. And blessed are those who thus suffer now, whether for righteousness' sake or for His name.