2 Corinthians 12:1-10 Sermon Notes

By July 18, 2021Sermon Notes

Louis Cyr is possibly the strongest man you have never heard of

Born in Canada in 1863, He was a strength prodigy as a child.

At age 18 he won his first strongman contest lifting a horse on a platform with iron bars attached…the horse, not counting the platform weighed over 1500 pounds.

His greatest feat was that he once lifted a platform on his back with 18 grown men on it. (estimated to weigh around 4,300 pounds)

He has many other incredible strength feats, some are probably urban legend, but one included a documented, 534 pound lift using 1 finger.

(By the way, the modern Guinness record for the pinky finger is 220 pounds)

His health began to fail at age 41 from inactivity and over eating (he could eat 6 pounds of meat at one meal) 

He died at age 49. 

William James Sidis, is possibly the smartest guy you have never heard of.

Born in Boston in 1898 his IQ was estimated to be 220-270.

-Point of reference, Einstein was around 170

His is not the highest recorded IQ, but the highest estimated IQ…he lived before testing.

At age 6 he could speak English, Latin, French, German, Russian, Hebrew, Turkish, and Armenian.

He could read the New York Times before he was 2…imagine being his super church teacher.

He entered Harvard at age 11 (he had been accepted at age 9).

He became a household name and he hated it all.

His friends said he found a happy life away from the limelight, working manual jobs, like office clerk. 

*Can you imagine being the boss of this guy and not knowing his capacity?

He wrote books, we don’t know how many, under assumed names…he didn’t want the publicity…he just liked to write.

He died at age 46 of a brain hemorrhage.

Okay, strongest, smartest…what else…richest, most beautiful, etc., etc.

These titles…are not held very long, are they?

And when was the last time you thought of these two guys… “Uh, never” 

Exactly…they died in 1912 and 1944…so when was the last time anyone thought of them?

They were, physically and mentally, limited humans, just slightly less so than other limited humans.

They could for a nanosecond in cosmic history…boast of being the strongest or smartest.

But for all humans, there is only one legitimate boast, actually two, they are similar…I’ll give you one now and the second in a few minutes.

The first, Jeremiah 9:23,24:

Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom

or the strong man boast of his strength

or the rich man boast of his riches,

but let him who boasts boast about this:

that he understands and knows me,

that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight,”

First legitimate boast:

-not wisdom

-not strength

-not riches 

But…to know the Lord.

We know him, because he has made himself known…this boast is a boast of his grace to us.

Today we are in 2 cor. 12, Paul continues to use what he calls “folly”  or “fools talk” in order to make an important point 

  1. Paul has “boasted” about his Jewish pedigree.

-The divisive teachers who had invaded Corinth were Jewish background believers who claimed to be the real deal, unlike Paul,  who they thought was not really up to their standards.

  1. Then he boasted about his trials as a church planter/Christ follower

-This to demonstrate his actual commitment to Christ as revealed in how far he was willing to go to make Christ known.

All this, in his own words, is folly.

But they had forced his hand in that they were impressed with some “super Christians” with cool persona and cool resumes…and they had been led astray by that “coolness” into beliefs and behaviors that were wrong.

So Paul is doing two things at the same time:

-Demonstrating very clearly that his stats are at least as good, in fact better…than these super-duper apostles.

-This whole thing of personal boasting is foolish…their value system needs to be aligned with the mind of Christ.

Now, after giving his Jewish stats and the evidence of his commitment to Christ he is going to really give the Corinthians something that they would have found to be impressive.

A cool, Supernatural experience…one that put him ahead of the super apostle 

In fact, it was an experience, that would connect him with the OT patriarchs and prophets…it was one of several experiences where Paul had received visions and revelations in his life.

But this one, was the coolest of cool.

12:1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.

Okay, now as he is working his way through his stats…he gets to visions and revelations from the Lord.

Visions and revelations are not two different events per se…but refers to a supernatural experience where he gains new insight. Like Peter’s vision of the sheet filled with unclean animals where he eventually gains insight(revelation) that God has accepted non-Jews as his people.

Paul is going to talk in third person, maybe, because it was just such a sacred experience for him…

…or as we will see shortly, in order to make a distinction between the “Paul” who had the cool vision and the “Paul” who will tell the real lesson to be learned from that vision.

It’s probably just a linguistic device to help them see that the real lesson is not what they (or perhaps we) would think it is.

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 

This happened a few years after Paul had become a Christian, he was probably in his early forties.

He is using terminology that was contemporary to his setting and would have made sense to his hearers…third heaven, paradise.

Don’t try to over scrutinize it, or think Paul is giving some layered physical cosmology…he isn’t.

He doesn’t fully understand the experience…in fact, he doesn’t know if the mechanism God used was to somehow transport him physically to another realm…or if his body stayed in this realm and his “Spirit” traveled to another.

It is downright amazing to me how often the “multiverse” has suddenly shown up everywhere in shows the past couple years.

It’s super convenient because you can kill off a hero and then bring in his or her alternative universe double…you can also jump around and do whatever want with storylines because…anything that could happen does happen.

But although the multiverse is Marvel comic fact, in the real world it is pure theory.

Paul is not speculating on the science or mechanism of his experience…or on the makeup of the cosmos…he has a specific purpose in even bringing it up.

He is showing them that he:

-He has Jewish pedigree (Jesus was a Jew, and the gospel started with the Jews)

-He has suffered for the gospel

-He has supernatural experiences that are impressive.

But he turns all this on its head because he is not making any of this the reason for his actual boasting.

Paul only mentions this super cool experience once in all of his letters…here, and he gives only four sentences about it.

We would write books, sign a movie contract, go on speaking tours and make a fortune from an experience like this.

Paul, talks about it once.

He doesn’t talk about what he saw he only barely mentions what he heard…things that were classified “top secret”…they were only for Paul to hear not for Paul to tell.

Paul now has the ultimate path to completely outflank his opponents…this is his mic drop moment.

“There…super apostles, compete with that.”

But he, once again, goes in a different direction that the youngsters at Corinth would expect.

He doesn’t give all the details of his experience, in fact, he is done talking about it, except as a background for his true “boast” in all this.

5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.

He separates himself, grammatically from the person who had the amazing experience.

“Yeah, that guy is impressive (that guy is him)…but me, I’m weak.”

Again, this is a verbal device to make his point…don’t focus on the amazing experience, focus on the main thing.

The main thing is revealed in the painful outcome of the amazing experience.

7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Instead of making much of his spiritual experience…as his opponents were doing of theirs…he explains how he was kept from becoming overly inflated by it.

Remember, the church at Corinth was very prone to chase and to be impressed by “supernatural experiences.”

In 1 Corinthians he had to set their values straight in this regard.

All of 1 Cor. 12 speaks to the use and pursuit of supernatural gifts…followed by the majestic chapter 13 where he says in summary…

“Now, I will show you the most excellent way”

There he outlines the priority of love…not experience, not showy gifts.

Our heart values are much like crooked teeth…they are fixed by “truth braces” and those braces need to be continually adjusted, and tightened.

That can hurt…but is necessary…these truth braces will have to remain on for the whole of our lives.

They less painful if we let the truth adjust us day by day…a bit at a time.

He is here, adjusting their crooked priorities with the truth.

There are lots of speculation as to what this “Thorn” was.

We don’t know, so evidently, it’s not important for us to know.

There are a lot of things we would like to know, but God has not seen fit to tell us.

There are two directions we can go with that fact:

  1. Distrust God because he won’t tell us the stuff we want to know.
  1. Trust God that he is smart and good enough to tell us what we need to know.

That fork in the road will, over time, lead to two drastically different life paths.

Maybe here, the details of Paul’s thorn is left intentionally vague so that we can relate any number of our own “thorns” to this principle.

Satan is behind the thorn…but Satan a dog on leash…God holds the leash.

God, for his own good purposes in Paul’s life, let’s Satan nip at Paul…but he limits Satan, won’t let him sink his teeth in too deep.

Paul, like any sane person, does not enjoy being nipped at by a vicious dog…so he asked God to reign the dog in.

It is interesting that Paul knows exactly how many times he asked God…three.

 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God said “no” and Paul stopped asking.

This illustrates an important, and super difficult thing to get hold of in regards to our relationship with God.

It’s a principle that can be stated in two simple phrases…but in actual fact there is nothing really simple about living this out.

  1. Ask your Father for what you want.
  1. Trust your Father for what he gives.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke with a friend who had asked God for one thing.

This ask was just that God would allow him a bit of time before a particular hardship, that was looming,  happened…this so that he could better be able to serve the people he was leading.

 This guy has a really good heart…I admire him a lot.

God said “no”…the one thing he most feared, happened…at a really bad time for him.

And now, he had to continue to lead even though he could not have imagined how he could do so.

My friend’s “ask” was reasonable…he didn’t think he had what it takes to lead a large and complex organization and deal with a particular hardship.

God, of course, understands, and empathizes with my friend’s desire and struggle…he was not offended by the ask.

But it seems, that God is more interested in my friend learning what it means to thrive in weakness…than to lead in his own strength.

That was what God wanted for Paul…so Paul, made the mental transition and stopped asking for God to remove the cause of “weakness” and instead embraced Christ’s strength in his own weakness.

The verb tenses Paul uses go like this:

“God said to me (past action, ongoing results)”…the Lord response to his prayer, once given, had ongoing application for Paul…this is the way it’s going to be.

“I’ve spoken, now press on.”

“My grace is sufficient (present active)…the grace is going to be continually available to Paul.

The struggle was going to be ongoing but so too was the sufficient grace.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

*There is our second legitimate boast:

  1. That we know the Lord
  2. In our weakness

What are we do to with this?

Here are some options for your consideration:

We can determine that:

  1. Paul is super human.

-Challenging words, but clearly beyond me

  1. Paul is crazy.

-He’s nuts to delight in this stuff.

-There is something wrong with him.

  1. Paul is exaggerating.

-This is hyperbole, he didn’t really fully embrace this…figure of speech.

I don’t think those are valid options:

  1. Paul never tries to present himself as anything other than merely human.

-He is slow to tell the amazing stuff and quick to admit to his own struggles.

  1. Paul doesn’t enjoy weakness as such, no one does. He doesn’t love struggle, or pain, or persecution.

-He is not crazy

  1. Paul is not using intentional exaggeration here.

But he is also not indicating that he feels this way every single minute of every day

OR that living in this perspective isn’t an ongoing choice

OR that he could not lose this perspective at any time if he stops making the choice.

This remained hard for him…but doable…as he continued to turn to Christ.

Here is the line of thinking I employed personally as I considered this passage:

  1. I am like Paul in that we are both just humans.

-It’s not helpful to approach the human characters in the Bible as being dramatically different than ourselves in terms of their potential.

-They are not that different in potential than I am, either for spiritual depth of maturity or the ability to mess things up.

I have potentional to be much like the best or worst characters in the Bible.

  1. Paul is unlike me in his spiritual maturity.

He is way beyond me.

I am somewhere in my own development between the Corinthians and Paul.

-I’m not impressed with “super apostles” I think human pride is dumb…but I also do not readily embrace weakness.

-In fact, I rather detest weakness…even though I am weak.

-I have the same potential for maturity as Paul, everyone Christian does.

-But Paul consistently made more and better choices than I have so far, those choices matured his values such that he more readily embraced his own weakness in order to experience Christ’s strength.

He was a work in progress, like you and me…he was just farther down the road.

  1. I can grow in my maturity in this if I am willing to make the choices necessary to do so.

*I am weak, that is a human reality…I can learn to be strong in Christ, that is a divine possibility. 

Let’s Land there and walk around for a bit: Listen to verses 9, 10 again.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul never mentioned his amazing experience before this chapter and he doesn’t again in any of his letters.

Here, he doesn’t use this incredible experience to give himself credibility or to indicate that this makes him special.

Quite the opposite, he says that the incredible experience itself reveals his own weakness.

In that he had to have a constant painful reminder in order to not become proud about something he had nothing to do with.

Instead of over and over going back to his amazing experience in order to validate his message, ministry, and life…Paul goes back to his own difficulties, suffering, and weakness.

He doesn’t preach “Seek an amazing experience like this and it will validate your life and make you special like me.”

He focuses on the truth of the gospel and the reality of God’s strength revealed in our weakness…these two things are available to anyone, anywhere.

  1. Embrace the truth as revealed in the gospel
  1. Embrace your own weakness so that God’s strength can shine through you.

In Corinth the opposite was trying to take root.

  1. A perverted gospel that obscured God’s truth
  1. A glorification of human greatness that threatened to obscure God’s glory

Application:

  1. Paul is not superman
  1. I can embrace, not hide or run, from my own weakness…and in so doing I can live in the Lord’s grace and power.
  1. There are choices, pathways, disciplines, that will help me become this kind of person…if I choose to take them

Groopmans: Anatomy of Hope:

Belief

Expectancy

Desire

Let’s use those three terms, ideas(I’ll unpack them)…to do some self-examination this morning.

Listen to me, but move into your own internal “space” so to speak:

-What I mean is to try and do an inner personal examination regarding these three things right now.

Belief: What do I believe is actually, factually true.

*If I don’t believe something is true or real…then clearly I will not takes steps in that direction.

-Do I believe this is a good direction for me to go?…to embrace my weakness in order reveal his strength?

-Do I believe God’s power is made perfect, or revealed in my weakness?

-Do I believe that God’s grace is going to be sufficient for me, if I let go of trying control my own life?

-Do I believe God is good and his ways are best?

*Why or why not.

*What could I do to firm up my beliefs?

*What practical thing or things can I do this to actually believe that it is better to embrace weakness than to run from it, hide it, or deny it?

*Not embrace weakness as an excuse for sin or passivity…but as the reality of my life as a human.

I am not really strong, smart, or good…I can see God’s glory revealed if I will just let his strength be seen in me…If I will get of his way.

Expectancy:

*Belief is the cognitive, do I actual think something is true.

*Expectancy is the personalization of a truth…do I believe that I have agency…can I make a choice that will make a difference?

If I don’t think it is true…I will not try move that way

If I don’t think my choices matter…why try to move that way, I can’t.  I wish I could, but I can’t

For example:

*If you are dying of thirst you can believe that there is actually a stream nearby…and it is not an illusion of your thirst.

*But if you are chained up, with no way to get to the stream, you have no expectancy of getting to the stream…so you don’t try.

-Do I have the expectation that I can make choices that will impact my own spiritual maturity and growth…has God given this agency to me?

-Do I expect that my choices, as much as anyone else’s…can have impact?

-Can I change, can I grow…or do I have the expectation that what has been, will always be, or even must always be?

Am I chained in the chains of no expectation of agency…my choices won’t change anything?Or is God saying “Choose, I give you choice to change…make that choice!”

Desire:

Desire is where we must take actual actions:  where the process moves from the mind to feet

Believe: I believe the stream is nearby that can quench my thirst, save me life.

Expectancy…I know that if I choose to, I can get to the stream and drink

Desire…Okay, I’m going to stand up, walk across the hot sand and drink the life giving water.

 -What plans will I make?

-What people will I ask to help me?

 Desire is revealed in action not just emotion.

DO YOU WANT TO SEE GOD REVEAL HIS STRENGTH IN YOUR LIFE?

It’s going to be revealed in our weakness.

So, be honest, do you?

  1. Nope!

-That’s honest

-But consider this, you won’t be able to save your life…in the end, it will be spent or will be wasted…but not saved.

-And all humans are weak…when it comes down to it…we will all die…our sense of control is mostly illusion.

We have choice over who we choose to become…but beyond that the sense that are controlling outcomes is largely illusion.

“Okay, I know…but I still don’t want to give in to God, I want to try to do things my own way.”

“I’m afraid of what he might do or what I might lose.”

That’s okay…I’m not selling the gospel, I’m telling it.

And God is no bully, he will not kick down the door of your heart…he is knocking, but you have to open up and let him in.

*Just consider the implications of living life your own way, think it through all the way the conclusion.

Don’t stop at an imaginary “good place”…take the scenario of doing life your own…to the full end of your current trajectory.

  1. I wish I were fully there, but I’m probably not?

Like me…somewhere between a deciding Corinthian and a decided Paul. 

Not deciding on the gospel…you have settled that…but struggling to embrace weakness in order to experience Christ’s strength.

What needs to happen next?

Again, this is not about a destination….this is part of sanctification…it is a journey.

Our “perspective or heart value…teeth” will always need braces and they will need continually adjustment.

Can you, for now, say “Jesus, I want to be all yours, I want your strength revealed in my weakness, help me?”

Then say that to him.

We are going to spend considering now considering all this personally…I’ll hand off to Rodney he will take it from here.

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