Sixth Sunday after Trinity, Year B, 2024: exegesis on the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, part 2 (2024)

Readings for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity in 2024 (Year B) — July 7, 2024 — can be found here.

My exegesis for the Gospel, Mark 6:1-13, is here.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

12:2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.

12:3 And I know that such a person–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows–

12:4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.

12:5 On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

12:6 But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me,

12:7 even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.

12:8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,

12:9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

12:10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Yesterday’s post,the first part, discussed the first six verses, 2 through 7. It is important to read John MacArthur’s analysis and explanation of verse 7 before continuing with verses 8 through 10.

In Year B 2024, we have had several readings from 2 Corinthians, about which you can read more in these exegeses:

First Sunday after Trinity, Year B — exegesis on the Epistle, 2 Corinthians4:5-12

Second Sunday after Trinity, Year B, 2024 — exegesis on the Epistle, 2 Corinthians4:13-5:1

Third Sunday after Trinity, Year B, 2024 — exegesis on the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 — part1 and part 2; part 1 explains what happens to our souls at death

Fourth Sunday after Trinity, Year B — exegesis on the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, parts 1, 2 and 3 (2024)

Fifth Sunday after Trinity, Year B, 2024 — exegesis on the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, part1 and part 2

It is essential to remember that Paul had planted the Corinthian church and loved the congregation with all his heart. Therefore, he was pained to discover that, after he left, false teachers began infiltrating the church and criticising Paul to such an extent that members of the congregation believed the lies and calumny.

John MacArthur summarises verse 7, but there is much more from him in yesterday’s post to make sense out of Paul’s thorn, which in the classical Greek actually means ‘stake’. The thorn was a demon galvanising false teachers — as well as the Corinthian congregation — against the Apostle:

So, as we saw last time, this was like a stake just driven right through Paul. It was just impaling him. The pain and the suffering were so profound. And I suppose in his own mind, he looked at Corinth as one of his crowning achievements, having spent, as I said, nearly two years there and had such tremendous effect and blessing and impact. And here it all seems to be falling prey to this demon-inspired group of false teachers and has resulted in a betrayal of him by his own beloved people whom he himself had led to Christ. He can’t get any lower than this. No physical pain can match this. No economic deprivation can match this. No travel difficulty can match this. No shipwreck can match this. No whipping, no stoning, no lashing by the Jews can match this pain.

So, here we find Paul at his deepest hour of suffering. And therefore, we would expect to learn the most about how to handle suffering. If we can find a man in his most profound time of suffering, that’s the place to learn the lessons, because they’ll be more clearly indicated in that environment. And that’s exactly what happens.

Now, Paul knew that God had allowed this to happen, and that was the amazing part. Sometimes bad things happen to God’s people because God allows them to happen. He has a purpose in them, and that purpose is to bring them to some spiritual level beyond where they are.

Paul says that he had appealed three times to God to remove the thorn (verse 8).

MacArthur says:

Verse 7 says, “There was given me a thorn in the flesh.” This, by the way, was a gift, however an unsolicited one. It was a gift. And it was really from God. We know that because in verse 8 he asks the Lord to remove it. God had allowed this to happen, as we saw God allowed Satan to assault Job, God allowed Satan to assault Peter. For his own purposes, God will allow the Devil to do His work. And in the end, it will effect the divine purpose.

Matthew Henry says that ‘thrice’, the word used in his version, meant more than three times. It meant ‘often’, as he explains below. Henry encourages us to pray for divine relief and also for the divine purpose intended to be accomplished:

Note, Prayer is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every malady; and when we are afflicted with thorns in the flesh we should give ourselves to prayer. Therefore we are sometimes tempted that we may learn to pray. The apostle besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from him, v. 8. Note, Though afflictions are sent for our spiritual benefit, yet we may pray to God for the removal of them: we ought indeed to desire also that they may reach the end for which they are designed. The apostle prayed earnestly, and repeated his requests; he besought the Lord thrice, that is, often. So that if an answer be not given to the first prayer, nor to the second, we must hold on, and hold out, till we receive an answer. Christ himself prayed to his Father thrice. As troubles are sent to teach us to pray, so they are continued to teach us to continue instant in prayer.

Paul tells us that God did not remove his thorn, because His grace is sufficient; power is made perfect in weakness; the Apostle says that this gives him reason to boast gladly of his weakness that the power of Christ may dwell in him (verse 9).

Henry explains the power of grace in accomplishing God’s purposes:

We have an account of the answer given to the apostle’s prayer, that, although the trouble was not removed, yet an equivalent should be granted: My grace is sufficient for thee. Note, (1.) Though God accepts the prayer of faith, yet he does not always answer it in the letter; as he sometimes grants in wrath, so he sometimes denies in love. (2.) When God does not remove our troubles and temptations, yet, if he gives us grace sufficient for us, we have no reason to complain, nor to say that he deals ill by us. It is a great comfort to us, whatever thorns in the flesh we are pained with, that God’s grace is sufficient for us. Grace signifies two things:—[1.] The good-will of God towards us, and this is enough to enlighten and enliven us, sufficient to strengthen and comfort us, to support our souls and cheer up our spirits, in all afflictions and distresses. [2.] The good work of God in us, the grace we receive from the fulness that is in Christ our head; and from him there shall be communicated that which is suitable and seasonable, and sufficient for his members. Christ Jesus understands our case, and knows our need, and will proportion the remedy to our malady, and not only strengthen us, but glorify himself. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Thus his grace is manifested and magnified

MacArthur gives us practical lessons we can learn about divinely-ordained personal suffering from this reading, particularly as they pertain to interpersonal relationships:

Now, the question is what does God accomplish in the life of His own through suffering? …

Number one, God uses suffering to reveal our spiritual condition – our spiritual condition. God uses suffering to reveal our spiritual character. You really do not know the truth about someone spiritually when everything is going well. Right? It doesn’t surface, because, basically, they appear to be at peace, and happy, and with a measure of joy and satisfaction and fulfillment in life because superficially and on the surface everything’s okay.

Then when things begin to go wrong, reality begins to surface as to their spiritual condition. And the worse things get, the more their spiritual character is unbared. When you strip away the blessings, and you strip away the successes, and you strip away the prosperity, and you strip away the health, and you begin to peel it all back, then you’re going to find out what somebody is really made of spiritually.

God wanted to accomplish that in the life of Paul because the truest crucible for testing one’s genuine spiritual character is the severest trouble. And it was very important to God that the character of Paul be manifest. Paul himself, you remember, wanted to establish his integrity. He wanted to establish his credibility. He wanted the Corinthians to know he was faithful, he was godly, he was not sinful as they were accusing him of being. He wanted them to know the real quality of his spiritual life, and there was no better way for that to surface than in the midst of this deep, deep suffering

The Lord knew that Paul was going to suffer more than any man in redemptive history, and – other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself – and as a result, he needed to be sustained with a hope for glory. And so, God gave him a glimpse of glory to show him what was awaiting him. So that when he said, “For to me to depart and be with Christ is far better,” he knew exactly what he was talking about, because he’d been there. God gave him that vision to sustain him in his suffering. But it was for that moment, and that moment alone, and only for him. And it was indescribable, incomprehensible, inexpressible, personable, not repeatable, not reproducible, and no even permissible. He couldn’t even talk about it.

Furthermore, it wasn’t verifiable. It wasn’t – there was no way to verify it. So, what are you going to do? He’s going to say, “Well, I went to heaven and such-and-such, and this is my experience.”

And all the false teachers are going to line up and say, “Well, we went there, too.” And how are you going to verify anything. You can’t verify anything.

And then what it does personally is it tends to produce pride. And Paul knew that. It tends to produce pride. You’ve been to heaven and back? That could make the best of men proud …

When these supposed men of God, these supposed prophets and seers of our day come along and tell us all about their visions, the right response is, “Fine, there’s no way to verify any of that. Let me follow you around and watch your life, and let me hear you speak. Let me hear the words that come from our lips, and let me measure them against the word of the living God.” That’s the issue

So, God allows suffering to manifest our character – our spiritual character. I realize some in my own life, that God has those purposes. I realize that I can’t expect you to trust me just because you see me preach. You need a closer look. You need to see my life and the life of any shepherd or leader or pastor. You need to hear my words when I preach, but you need to hear my words when I’m not preaching. And you need to see what happens in my life when I face suffering, and difficulty, and trial, and tribulation, and disappointment. That’s all part of the revelation that builds trust. Your trouble will manifest your spiritual condition.

And that’s not only good for everybody to see, because they can see the reality of your character, but it’s good for you to see, because you can see the weaknesses there and know where you need to be strong.

Secondly, God uses suffering to humble us. God uses suffering to humble us. And that’s what was happening to Paul. I mean Paul’s greatest success was the building of these churches. I mean this was sort of like his life work. This was his monument to his faithfulness and the excellence of his ministry. He’d built the Corinthian church, and now the whole thing is starting to collapse. This is a very humbling experience. But Paul needed it.

Verse 7 – and this is explicit – “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason” – explicitly – “to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me” – and in case you missed it – “to keep me from exalting myself!” He says it twice. Sometimes when we think about the apostle Paul, we think about a man who would seemingly be impervious to our normal struggles with things like pride. Right? Not so.

I mean you can just imagine the scenario, can’t you? Paul is talking to one of his co-workers, and he says to him, “How were you converted, brother?”

Oh, it was wonderful. I heard you preach, Paul, one day, and you preached the gospel, and the Lord turned my heart and I believed.”

“Really? Well, do you know how I was converted? I was on my way to Damascus one day, and heaven opened up, and a great light blinded me. And I fell to the ground, and the Lord Jesus Himself, the risen, exalted Lord came down and stood by me and spoke to me.”

“Really?”

Make the guy feel a little shabby, right?

Paul had not only had a trip to heaven, but he had a revelation of Christ on the Damascus Road, and he had a further revelation of Christ when He came to him when he was in jail in the land of Israel. He had a further revelation that God gave him when an angel joined him on a ship. The Holy Spirit came to him and testified to him about chains and imprisonment. I mean there was just this constant flow. We’re not talking about the 13 epistles that he received by inspiration; we’re talking about direct contact with heaven. And that’s enough to make the best of men proud.

“And because of all these great revelations,” he says, “to keep me from exalting myself, it was given me a thorn in the flesh.”

Do you mean to tell me that this whole mess in the Corinthian church, this whole deal over there was to humble Paul?

That’s right.

Do you mean to say that God would allow one of Satan’s demons to go in and ear up a church for nothing more than the humiliation of a its pastor?

That’s what happened. God’s ways are not our ways, are they? You see, Paul was a very formidable person, and his humility was very important to the redemptive plan. God wanted him humble, and God did what needed to be done. “For this reason, to keep me from exalting myself! To bring me to brokenness, meekness, humility” – which is the highest virtue – “the Lord allowed this demon to send those false teachers and tear up that church and produce that betrayal” …

So, God uses suffering to humble us. And listen, folks, if need be, he’ll use Satan to do it. That’s why it’s so foolish for these people running around chasing demons. They’re under the illusion that the demons respond, that somehow they have authority over demons. Christ did, and the apostles did; nothing in the Bible indicates that we do.

But even if you did, you might be chasing away the demons the Lord sent. You don’t understand kingdom purposes. People running around binding Satan here and binding Satan there – unsuccessfully I might add. It’s an illusion, and it might well be that if they could do that, they would be interrupting the work of God, who for His own purposes allows Satan access to His own, such as Job and Peter. And in the case of Paul, too, a messenger from Satan, to do what he did in that Corinthian church, to bring that kind of pain and sorrow and brokenness to Paul, in order that that man would be humbled.

Let me tell you something, folks, God blesses us. But while you’re in there praying for blessing and blessing and blessing and blessing, you’d better realize that the more you’re blessed, the more likely you are to need to be – what? – humble. So, the backside of all this blessing you may be pleading for may be painful.

MacArthur gives us a third reason why God ordains personal suffering:

One more point for this morning. God uses suffering to draw us to himself. God uses suffering to draw us to himself. Verse 8, “Concerning this, I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me.” Where did he go? To the Lord. Don’t you think that might have been the purpose – or one of the purposes? That’s the right response. He didn’t go to Timothy or Titus; he didn’t go to some of his buddies; he didn’t go to his friends; he didn’t go to somebody with an earthly formula; he didn’t find a therapy to fix his pain. He didn’t look for a technique; he wasn’t after human wisdom. He didn’t try to find the path of comfort. When the delight of his life was gone, the joy of his service was lost. He didn’t go to any human resource.

Furthermore, it’s notable he didn’t start messing with the demon. He didn’t run over there to Corinth and start chasing that demon. He didn’t bind Satan – quote-unquote – or try to cast that demon out. He just went to God. Directly to God who controls men and demons.

“I entreated” – the word entreated is used frequently in the Gospels for the appeals of the sick. He sees himself as a man in deep sickness here, and he’s crying out to God. This is a pleading, begging, crying out to God. “This is too painful, Lord. Please” …

And he prayed that it might depart – it being that thorn. It was just a constant thing. But the Lord didn’t answer yes.

MacArthur continues:

That leads us to the last two points … Point number four, God uses suffering to display His grace. God uses suffering to display His grace. Now we’re into verse 9. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’” “He has said,” by the way, is in a perfect tense which means it was a set answer. He went three times, and three times he got the same answer. “Paul, I hear you. I know you’re asking for the thorn to be removed. I know you’re asking for the messenger of Satan to be removed. I understand all of that. I’m sorry, however; I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to turn up the grace.” Standing answer.

God answers not by removing the pain, because the pain was productive; not by removing the trouble, because the trouble was productive. It really showed the true man, and it humbled him, and it drew him to God. And so, God says, “I’m not going to remove that; the process isn’t over. But what I am going to do is increase the grace so that you can endure it.” He gave relief. God gave relief not by removal, but by sufficient strength to persevere through the necessary humbling process.

In those times is when God pours out the greater grace. In those times sometimes you find yourself with an exhilarating joy. I can’t say it any better than to say it in the way that it’s in, in Acts 16, where Paul is in stocks, and his arms are stretched, and his legs are stretched so the muscles are taught and locked in these stocks, and he’s kept there in excruciating agony. And Paul and Silas are in that condition, and you go into the jail, and you hear them doing – what? – singing. Singing. Why are they singing? Because they have been given sufficient grace to endure it. Sufficient grace.

And you’re never going to know that grace if you don’t have the exigencies that call for it. You’re never going to know that grace, and you’re never going to know the joy of that grace and the exhilaration of that grace until you have to have that grace

The word “sufficient” there, in verse 9, is arkei; it’s enough. You’ll have enough grace. You will have trouble; you will have difficulty; you will have temptation; you will have pain and disappointment, but God promises not to take away all that. See, that is the – that’s the current contemporary lie, that God wants your life to be happy and peaceful and comfortable and successful and satisfactory and prosperous. And it’s the Devil who wants all the bad stuff.

You want to know the truth? It’s the Devil who would like to make your life prosperous and successful and happy and tranquil, because then you wouldn’t need God, and you wouldn’t need have to thank Him for anything.

The prosperity message is the Devil’s message. God’s message is a message of suffering and grace. God wants us humble, and He uses suffering to humble us. God wants us intimate with Him, and He uses suffering to make us intimate with Him. And God wants our testimony made manifest; He wants our character on display, and He uses suffering to reveal it. And the greatest testimonies the Christian ever have in history is when they’re persecuted. And the persecution of the saints, the blood of the martyrs becomes a seed of the Church. God will crank up the grace in your life, and He’ll crank up enough grace for you to be able to endure …

MacArthur gives us the fifth and final point:

One last point, God uses suffering to perfect His power. God uses suffering to perfect His power. God wanted Paul not just to be a humble man, not just to be a man of prayer and intimacy with God. Paul was not only to be a man of suffering so that God could display His grace, but God wanted this man to be powerful. God wanted this man to be used to change the world. God wanted him to impact individuals, and families, and cities, and nations.

And so, we come back to verse 9. “Power is perfected in weakness,” God said to him. When He answered that prayer, He said, “My grace is sufficient.” And then the second part of it was, “Power is perfected in weakness. I not only want you to go through this so I can put My grace on display, but I want you to go through this so there’s nothing of you left. I want you whittled down to nothing. I want you down – I want you down to the point where you have no self-confidence; you have no trust in yourself, or you have no self-esteem in the sense that you believe your capable of anything eternal. I want you broken down.” And I mean He broke him down …

You see, physical suffering, mental anguish, disappointment, unfulfillment, failure creates a pressure that produces power. It really does, because it just squeezes everything out of us so that we become nothing but a clear channel through which the power of God can flow.

And Paul learned; he really did. He learned all his lessons. And in the middle of verse 9, he says, “Most gladly.” He’s happy now. His circ*mstance hasn’t changed. Nothing’s changed. Circ*mstantially, but, “Most gladly,” he says – I’m happy now – “and I’d rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Paul concludes by saying that he is therefore ‘content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong’ (verse 10).

Henry says:

He gloried in his infirmities ( v. 9), and took pleasure in them, v. 10. He does not mean his sinful infirmities (those we have reason to be ashamed of and grieved at), but he means his afflictions, his reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses for Christ’s sake, v. 10. And the reason of his glory and joy on account of these things was this—they were fair opportunities for Christ to manifest the power and sufficiency of his grace resting upon him, by which he had so much experience of the strength of divine grace that he could say, When I am weak, then am I strong. This is a Christian paradox: when we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; when we see ourselves weak in ourselves, then we go out of ourselves to Christ, and are qualified to receive strength from him, and experience most of the supplies of divine strength and grace.

I am currently going through personal suffering through a life-changing event, which is why I have not been as regular as clockwork with posting as in the past.

Many are the times when I think of St Paul’s epistles and his exemplary life to get me through each day. There are many lessons here to be learnt.

This reading came along at an apposite time for me. Perhaps it has for some of my readers, too.

May all who have read this post enjoy a blessed week ahead.

Sixth Sunday after Trinity, Year B, 2024: exegesis on the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, part 2 (2024)
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