2 Corinthians 12

2 Corinthians 12
by David Groendyk

Paul boasts an awful lot, doesn’t he? That was the theme at the end of yesterday’s chapter, and it continues into today’s. At the beginning of chapter 12, he boasts in this mysterious man who had a vision or revelation given to him while he was carried up into heaven. Some people believe Paul is actually referring to himself. The reason Paul mentions this vision is probably that his super-apostle opponents are boasting in their own spiritual experience, and Paul has to remind the Corinthians who the true apostle with the true gospel is. So, you see, he’s forced to remind the church of his stature, but, at the same time, he knows there is no real gain from it. Hence, some of these seemingly-contradictory verses: “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it…” (v. 1); “On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast…” (v. 5); “Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it…” (v. 6).

So Paul really isn’t boasting in himself at all. He boasts in his weaknesses. Isn’t that the opposite of how we think about boasting? Why would we boast in things that make us weak? Because it is only when you are weak that Christ works his power in you. Pause for a minute, and let that sink in. It is only when you are weak that God’s power takes over. Be like Paul. Recognize that you are nothing (v. 11)! You need the grace of God in your life in order to ever be strong. To put that another way, the only time you are strong is when God is doing it for you. When Paul says he is boasting in his weaknesses, he’s really boasting in God and God’s power and God’s grace. Therefore, bring on the weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. Because they remind us that we have an all-powerful God to bring us through and to work his power in us.

Do you boast a lot? Are you the one who’s always controlling things, always fixing things, always correcting people, the one person you can count on? I certainly feel that way about myself. If this is your attitude about yourself and about the world, you’re boasting in yourself and your own power, and you’re no longer relying on God’s grace and God’s power. I came across a quote by Francis Turretin (a Christian theologian who lived in the 1600s) recently: “But when we rise to the heavenly tribunal and place before our eyes that supreme Judge, then in an instant the vain confidence of men perishes and falls, and conscience is compelled to confess that it has nothing upon which it can rely before God.” Isn’t that exactly what happened to Paul? He had been lifted up to heaven, set his eyes on the Almighty Judge, and realized there was no reason for him to have confidence in himself. No Christian can have confidence in themselves, whether it’s for salvation or for anything in life, once they’ve truly seen God. So, what are you boasting in?

Now that we’ve put ourselves in proper relation to God, we can look at our relation with other people. Being utterly humbled before God ought to cause us to be utterly humbled before other people as well. Paul is gladly willing to “spend and be spent” for the sake of the Corinthians (v. 15). He does everything he can not to be a burden to them so that they would hear his gospel message (v. 14). Paul is simultaneously defending himself against accusations from the super-apostles, but he’s also challenging the church itself to imitate him in his humility. Because when we’re not humbled before God, when we’re not willing to boast in our weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, then it leads to quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (v. 20). When everybody thinks they’re the strongest, smartest, most capable person, then we give ourselves the right to do whatever we want, and sin results. Paul pleads: be humble. Paul’s willingness to sacrifice any and every right he has is a sign of his humility and reliance on God’s grace. So, what are you willing to give up for the sake of others?

Here is the paradoxical summary of this chapter: What a gift it is to be humbled by God! Humility leads to receiving God’s grace. And there is no greater joy in this life than to experience the gift of God’s grace. May we all long for that!