Title: God’s Amazing Grace
Text: 2 Corinthians 12.1-13
Introduction: In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul touches on the grace of God for us. There is no definition here – at least not in words that are meant to define it for us.
I’ve been thinking of the words – the way to explain the grace of God. And words fail me. I hate, I abhor the idea of leaving it to experience alone. However; if you consider God’s grace – words alone cannot draw into visibility the incredible vast expanse of his marvelous grace. And, when you experience it, you’re left with a sense of having been overtaken – overcome – overwhelmed.
God’s Grace – his Amazing Grace is perfect in timing. It is measured out to the one in need completely. Its not that there isn’t anymore of God’s Grace, it’s that his Grace is sufficient. You don’t need anymore. You can’t do without any less.
There is no far-seeing shoreline to outline the boundary of his Grace. It’s like being adrift in an ocean. No, it’s like treading water in an ocean of grace. It’s consuming and engulfing at the same time. Trying to explain it like you can contain it is useless – it’s defeating.
It is experienced – a felted thing. And what’s more is that it is delivered without payment to the recipient. Its expense is incalculable and yet available to the poorest in spirit.
Here in 2 Corinthians 12, it looks like Paul is boasting; however, a closer look shows us that he is not boast at all, but rather letting us get a look at Grace from a distance – from a high height that will show us God’s Grace. At first, we see Paul just treading water, but as we pull back, we’re allowed to see the big picture. It’s as if Paul disappears and we’re left with a view of the ocean – the ocean of God’s grace.
We begin in v 1; rd v 1; lit.: It is necessary to boast. It isn’t profitable or beneficial to Paul. He’ll gain nothing from it. We don’t now it yet, but we will. His boasting must continue – to move on to visions and revelations.
And then he tells us of a personal experience – in the 3rd person. We know it’s him because of v 7; Paul does this because his story to us will unfold like a play – like a set of scenes, or acts, or movements. The first act is all about God.
1. It is God who acts for his purposes and his glory (2-4)
exp.: rd v2-4; I know a man; this man; this man in v 5; This man is Paul; cf.: v7; he was ἁρπάζω; Raptured, caught up; My favorite: snatched away; That’s the picture of the graverobber in 1 Thessalonians 4.17: 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Paul was snatched up to a place called the 3rd heaven or paradise. Three questions come out of this small bit of information.
Q1: When did this take place? He gives us a time frame; 14 years ago; But, I’m looking for the event. Given of what we know about this letter, we can safely assume that Paul is talking about the year that Barnabas found him and took him to Antioch and the time he spent in Antioch. Some have assumed he was talking about:
- When he was stoned and left for dead outside the city
- When he was in a trance
- Or when he had the Macedonian vision
- However, none of those fit the time frame Paul gives. So, we must assume it was about the time he began his service in Antioch.
Now, let’s talk about paradise or the 3rd heaven for a moment. I know you probably have questions and I doubt that my quick look at this will suffice. So, let me keep this brief and encourage you to do your own Bible study:
The Third Heaven:
- Does not indicate that there are three levels (Jehovah Witnesses)
- Heavens is plural in the Gk probably because of the Hebrew is plural (šhā·mǎyim)
- There is the idea that there is the expanse above us where the clouds are and the birds fly –
- 2ndly the stars and outer space
- 3rd – a spiritual level; neither space nor locale; 10.14 gives us the heaven of heavens; 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.
- Paradise is understood to be synonymous with The Third Heaven; it is true that many scholars think this is a 2nd rapture; Origen thought Paradise was a place on earth – the garden of Eden perhaps, guarded by an angel with a flaming sword. I don’t think that. These sound like one and the same.
- Paradise is used 3x’s in the NT: here; Luke 23.43; Rev 2.7 – each reference indicates the place where God is.
- This is the same word used in the LXX for the Garden of Eden – the place where Adam and Eve walked with God until they rebelled and were cast out.
- So, I think we can surmise from this that Paul, using the 3rd person terminology, was snatched away into the presence of the Lord.
There are probably some more questions: Like, What did he see and hear there? How long was he there?
1st, he doesn’t know if he was physically, bodily resurrected or if it was spiritually – an out of body experience.
2nd, he doesn’t tell us that he sees anything.
3rd, he does tell us that he heard things, but for whatever reason, he is not allowed to repeat to us.
ill.: I’m reminded of Revelation 10 and the 7 thunders. We know of the 7 seals and the 7 trumpets and the 7 bowls and plagues; however, when it comes to the 7 thunders, we’re left in the dark. Evidently, John saw and heard things he was not allowed to repeat. 4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.”
app.: so, here is what I think we’re supposed to get from this passage so far: God acts for the purpose of his glory. That is what he is concerned about. He’s not concerned with what others think about you or me. Our glory isn’t his goal. And the same goes for Paul. He is working in Paul’s life doing what Paul needs. Paul will work and give all the glory to God.
t.s.: There is a problem that arises when we as humans have these supernatural experiences: An Act II, if you will – and that is…
2. Man’s tendency is toward intercepting that glory (5-6)
exp.: rd v 5-6; Paul’s got his head in the right place, and we’ll learn why in a moment; for now, note the tendency to boast about such experiences; that is what we do as humans.
Paul will boast only in his weakness; however, for the moment, he’ll keep this boasting within limits; I think there are some good reasons for this:
1st, we can easily take the supernatural experience and set it up as a standard.
ill.: Someone speaks in tongues. Lets say its Phil Baker. Everyone is impressed. All of the sudden, there becomes this standard that others must have this experience. Another speaks in tongues and so there are now two people above everyone else. It becomes like a special club and everyone then wants to join that club.
I remember once sitting in a group of pastors. There were about 8 of us. We had come together to encourage each other and to build a bond of unity in our community. Many evangelical denominations were represented amongst these men. On this particular day, at this particular meeting, a new pastor was introduced. It was his 1st meeting. One of the Pentecostal pastors asked him if he had been baptized in the spirit. It was if he already knew the answer and had sensed it. When this young pastor affirmed that he had indeed been baptized in the Holy Spirit and that he spoke in a prayer language, it was if these two were somehow higher than the rest of us. We were welcomed there, but until we were to have this experience, we would somehow be inferior in rank.
1st, we can easily take the supernatural experience and set it up as a standard – using it to elevate ourselves above others.
Allow me to share a deeply personal story: I can see where God has supernaturally interposed himself into my life at the most important times. When asked of these times, I felt special – even superior. I’m ashamed of that. What God gave to me and what he did for me were exactly what I needed to be here today to preach his word boldly. These Supernatural experiences from decades ago have sustained me thus far. And, I suspect it will deep into the future. If I’ve shared these experiences with you to make myself appear to be holier than or more blessed than you – I was wrong. And, I’m deeply repentant of that. Please forgive me.
2nd, I think that speaking of these experiences is like casting pearls before swine. I now understand that. These gifts are pearls – not to be discarded carelessly before others who couldn’t care less. These experiences become fodder at parties to throw around and make fun of Christianity.
app.: Man’s tendency is toward intercepting that glory which only belongs to God – either for glorifying himself or for purposes of ridicule and persecution. Furthermore, for our instance here, it appears that these super apostles are doing just that.
t.s.: So why hasn’t Paul done that? Why hasn’t he ‘glorified’ in his experience? He tells us next. I call this movement:
3. God’s Grace is seen in his intervention into our attempt to steal his glory (7-10)
exp.: We see ‘purpose’ in what God is about to do – we find reason in the actions of God; rd v 7a; conceited is a compound word demonstrating an elevation of someone to an overly high position; here, meaning conceited in thought – whether of Paul, himself or, of others who might hear of this vision and revelation. And, why “conceited”? rd 7b; because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations…the Gk word here is ὑπερβολῇ or hyperbole. This word means just what it says: surpassing greatness. We often times use hyperbolic language to describe something way beyond what really happened for exagerated effect. I’m starving to death! I’m dying of thirst! He hit that baseball a mile! He’s shooting the basketball from the rafters! Paul isn’t using hyperbole – that’s an english term we get from this Gk word.
This vision is so incredible, God chooses to humble Paul. rd v 7c; a thorn was given me in the flesh; what in the world does that mean? Many guesses have been made; however, Paul tells us a little; rd 7d; a messenger of Satan to harass me; Just what is this thorn?
- Tertullian is the 1st to mention it. He was around a little over a hundred years after Paul. He says that tradition passed down for that 1st hundred years was that Paul suffered from a recurring earache or headache. Yo un dolor de cavessa. I have a pain in my head. Na neun mori apa yo.
- If you take the Gk lit.: a messenger (angel) of an adversary. It could mean people making trouble for him. This makes sense in that the highest high for a preacher would be a supernatural experience from God. The lowest of lows is when people within the church torment us. And yes, I mean tormented. There have been incredible acts of evil within the body toward pastors.
- Others have said it was his eyesight. Namely from Galatians: you would have gouged out your own eyes for me… see with what big letters I write. You probably remember in Acts, when he was brought before the High Priest: “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” Now, how could he not recognize Ananias? Paul was a part of this group years earlier. Answer: Poor eyesight.
- Bishop J.B. Lightfoot in his Commentary of the Epistle to the Galatians writes that interpretations vary throughout the history of the church as ‘in the Apostle’s temptation a more or less perfect reflection of the trials which beset their own lives.” We think that whatever we suffer from must be what he suffered from. A former pastor of mine once said that the thorn in the flesh was deacons! I leave that pastor unnamed…
- The truth is that God has left us in the dark as to what this ‘thorn in the flesh’ was.
app.: what is important in this sentence is the part that is repeated twice: Do you see it? to keep me from becoming conceited… when God works in and through our lives in miraculous, supernatural ways, it can lead to boasting. How many of us as teachers and preachers, men of God, have taken glory for ourselves that was only intended for God? Just as we get cocky and conceited, God is so good about humbling us – and showing us that none of this is really about us.
t.s.: So we have God’s Action for his purpose and glory; our tendency to steal that glory; and God’s intervention to keep us humble. Next, we see God continuing to act.
4. God’s Great Grace (8-9)
exp.: rd v 8; 3x’s; I’m guessing there were 3 different season of prayer and fasting, pleading with God to remove this thorn. This is mirrored in Christ prayer in the Garden? Do you remember how he ended that prayer? Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done. Rd v 9a; Paul quotes Christ and brings this boasting around full circle – back to his weaknesses. Lit.: Sufficient for you is my Grace; And continuing literally: for my power in weakness is perfected (completed). τελέω, it means like reaching a goal. Rd v 9b; gladly there in the English, is the sweet or sweetness; What a great perspective: it is a sweet thing for Christ to be glorified in my life.
app.: Aren’t you glad for his mercy? What if he did to us as we deserved? What if he gave to us according to what we really deserve? Anytime we wanted to touch his glory, what if he treated us as we deserve? Isn’t that really what Adam and Eve did? Your eyes will be opened and you will become like God…
Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus, deeper than the mighty rolling sea; higher than a mountain, sparkling like a fountain, all sufficient grace for even me.
Broader than the scope of my transgression, Greater far than all my sin and shame, O magnify the precious name of Jesus, Praise his name.
Wonderful grace of Jesus,
Greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it,
Where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden,
Setting my spirit free;
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.
Conclusion: we end with how it should be (10-13)
exp.: read v 10a;
10b; For when I am weak, then I am strong. It could be translated: For when I am weak, then I am able. Rd 11-13; Well, there you have it: I have made a fool of myself on your behalf!