The Third Heaven: Words of One Who Was Caught Up

2 Corinthians 12:1‑10  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Every Christian is "a man in Christ." There is no such thing as a Christian not being a man in Christ; the moment I can say of one that he is a Christian, in the sense in which it is spoken of here, there is a man in Christ—a man who as to his standing has entirely parted company with man in the flesh. Of course if I am not watchful and self-judged always, the flesh will get power over me; but there is a great difference between being what is called overtaken by the flesh, and being a man in the flesh. As a man in Christ, I am in a new place altogether.
We must see the difference between standing in the old thing, and standing before God in a new condition in Christ. Paul refers to the time when they were in the flesh, but now he says, "Ye are... in the Spirit." So it should read, "I know a man in Christ"—not "I knew a man in Christ." Observe he does not speak of himself as Paul; this is very blessed. If he had anything humiliating to say of himself, he spoke of Paul; he said, "Through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall"; there was nothing very elevating to a man in that. It was a humiliating position, so he said, "I." But the moment he came to speak of that which was elevating, it was no more "I"; it was "a man in Christ"—that which is true of every Christian. "I know a man in Christ."
After this he speaks of that which is not true of every Christian. Every Christian is a man in Christ, but every Christian is not "caught up into Paradise" (J.N.D. Trans.). None of us have been caught up as Paul was; it was a distinct thing peculiar to himself. And then he heard words not possible for a man to utter. "Possible" is the word, rather than "lawful:" He means to say that as soon as he returned to the consciousness of being in the body, he found he had no vehicle of communication with which to express the greatness of the things that he had witnessed. And so it is, the deeper a thing is in our souls, the greater the difficulty we find in speaking of it; we cannot convey to another the sense, the impression, of that which we have got ourselves. How difficult it is when we have received anything from God Himself, to convey to another anything like what it is to our own heart!
This is one thing. And then comes another thing which brings out the watchful care of God for His servant, and is most solemn to see. The blessed God, knowing that the flesh in Paul was just the same as before—his having been in the third heaven did not change it in the least; it was there ready to rise at the first opportunity—anticipates the working of it by "a thorn in the flesh."
I do not know anything in Scripture which gives a greater idea of the preventive watchfulness of God. We all know that He restores our souls when we fall; but do we enough think of all the little things that occur in our daily life that He has prepared and arranged to the end that we may not fail? It is "lest I should be exalted"—not bringing me back after failure but preventing its occurrence. It was a grievous thing for Paul—a messenger of the devil. Who but the blessed God could use Satan against Satan? This very thorn, this messenger of Satan, took away from Satan the power to work upon Paul's flesh. Is it not a blessed thing to think that God can do it? We are very prone to the language of infidelity, and apt to say, This or that happened to me. Would it not be more blessed to say, God sent me this or that? Is there not a sweetness about anything, however grievous, when I can say, My Father's hand in watchful love brought me this thorn? "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh"; it was not a crushing trial that happened to Paul; it was a given mercy.
Now the first thought with the Apostle was, Could not I get out of this difficulty? Saints think if they could only get out of their circumstances! But do you not know that if you did, you would take with you the nature that makes the circumstances in which you are so trying to you? That which makes the present ones so trying would soon make just as much difficulty in the new ones. Here the Apostle goes to God to change his circumstances; we often change them for ourselves. He said, in substance, Take it away, Lord, three times. What a contrast between the thrice repeated prayer of the blessed One to His Father, ending with, "Not My will, but Thine, be done." It was the perfection of Christ to shrink from drinking that cup. Paul, imperfect, feeble, prayed, Lord, change my circumstances. The answer came in this—Do you want Me to put you in circumstances where you will not need My power? "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness." To any pressed one I would say, Would you take from God occasion for displaying His power in your weakness, and from yourself all opportunity for turning to and leaning upon that power? This is really the answer of God here. He says, I will not take away the thorn, but I will give you My power. It is not only relief; it is that I am positively put in the place of power at His own side. "My grace is sufficient." Weakness is the platform on which it displays itself; the thorn becomes the blessed occasion for Christ to show how His strength comes in. What a wonderful thing to move through the world leaning on the power of Christ!