Reading this next chapter in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians reminded me of my mom’s rose garden on one side of our house in upstate New York. You learn very quickly that you have to wear thick gloves if you want to cut roses. Those thorns are sharp and they hurt. God didn’t make it easy to pick roses.
Living in Phoenix, I admire the desert landscaping in some houses. You develop a respect for cacti and their thorns when you want to use them in your garden.
What do gardens and thorns have to do with this chapter? Well, it gives us a well-used phrase — “a thorn in my my flesh”.
Here Paul also talks about the “3rd heaven”. Where is that exactly? Let’s find out…
2 Corinthians 12
Paul’s Vision and His Thorn in the Flesh
12 This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. 3 Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know 4 that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.
5 That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. 6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, 7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul’s Concern for the Corinthians
11 You have made me act like a fool. You ought to be writing commendations for me, for I am not at all inferior to these “super apostles,” even though I am nothing at all. 12 When I was with you, I certainly gave you proof that I am an apostle. For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you. 13 The only thing I failed to do, which I do in the other churches, was to become a financial burden to you. Please forgive me for this wrong!
14 Now I am coming to you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you. I don’t want what you have—I want you. After all, children don’t provide for their parents. Rather, parents provide for their children. 15 I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me.
16 Some of you admit I was not a burden to you. But others still think I was sneaky and took advantage of you by trickery. 17 But how? Did any of the men I sent to you take advantage of you? 18 When I urged Titus to visit you and sent our other brother with him, did Titus take advantage of you? No! For we have the same spirit and walk in each other’s steps, doing things the same way.
19 Perhaps you think we’re saying these things just to defend ourselves. No, we tell you this as Christ’s servants, and with God as our witness. Everything we do, dear friends, is to strengthen you. 20 For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. 21 Yes, I am afraid that when I come again, God will humble me in your presence. And I will be grieved because many of you have not given up your old sins. You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.2 Corinthians 12 NLT
Are there 3 heavens?
Technically, yes. The first heaven is earth’s atmosphere. The 2nd heaven outer space — where the sun, moon, stars and planets are. The 3rd heaven is where God is. Where Jesus is preparing a place for us and He’ll come and get us when God says so — that’s the rapture.
Apparently, since Paul didn’t come to know Jesus like the other apostles, he got a special trip to meet Jesus in heaven. Jesus then gave him a crash course on the meaning of the Gospel and directions on converting Jews and Gentiles.
The Corinthians were questioning his authority and comparing him with the false teachers or “super apostles” who had come teaching the fake news of the day.
A Thorn in the Flesh
We don’t know exactly what this was, but it must have been painful. Painful enough that Paul kept asking God to remove it — to heal him from the agony. Alas, it was not to be. God wanted to keep Paul humble…
8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT
What’s the thorn in your flesh?
For me, it’s arthritis. I have it in my hands, knees, and feet. I pray everyday for God to heal me, but, no. It keeps me humble because I have to ask God for strength to finish a hike. I have to depend on Him. Because I depend on Him for all my needs, He gladly provides. His grace is all I need. With the power of His grace, I can resist the devil’s temptations.
Paul Fears Backsliding
In the last paragraph of this chapter, Paul admits that he doesn’t trust the Corinthians to live godly lives on their own. He sent Titus and hoped to visit them again. All of Paul’s letters were copied and passed on from church to church. Back then, they didn’t have a Bible canon like we do. The Bible we have today is what helps us keep living godly, righteous lives. That along with attending a Bible-believing church regularly and enjoying fellowship with other born again Christians.
If Paul walked into your church, what would he find?
I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. 21 Yes, I am afraid that when I come again, God will humble me in your presence. And I will be grieved because many of you have not given up your old sins. You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.2 Corinthians 12:20-21 NLT
In addition, throw in idolatry and pagan rituals.
Isn’t it time you repented?
If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven after you die, or that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, which can happen at any moment, this is what you have to do…