Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Let’s start by reading 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.  I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.  Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”  This portion is rich with instruction and truth.  The Apostle Paul relates to the Corinthians an incident that had happened to him fourteen years earlier.  Although he doesn’t expressly identify himself as the one that was caught up to the third heaven, the context shows that Paul was indeed speaking of himself.

What an incredible occurrence.  Either in the body or in the spirit, Paul was transported to Heaven where he was given abundant revelations from the Lord.  Although we’re not told why, Paul waited fourteen years before he mentioned being caught up to the third heaven.  This ‘third heaven’ is the dwelling place of God.  We understand the first heaven is the atmosphere around and over us, the second heaven is what is beyond our atmosphere, and the third heaven is where God dwells, also referred to as “Paradise” in verse 4.  Although we sometimes hear of a “seventh heaven”, there is no such thing according to the scriptures.  We only have reference to this “third heaven.”

Here in this third heaven, Paul heard things he could not speak of, things that could not be described; things that he was forbidden to repeat.  Obviously, these things were for Paul’s personal edification and encouragement.  However, he was also given revelations from God which were for us, the body of Christ to hear.  Notice that Paul did not even mention what he saw, only what he heard.

What the Lord did to Paul because of this experience and these revelations is sometimes called preventative discipline.  Paul had done nothing to be disciplined for, but the Lord acted before Paul could do something wrong.  Realizing man’s tendency to brag, the Lord gave Paul a thorn in the flesh.  This was done to prevent Paul from boasting and also to prevent others from thinking of Paul more highly than they should.  Paul prayed three times, asking the Lord to remove this infirmity.  Because there was a specific purpose and lesson in this infirmity, the Lord did not remove it.  What an incredible lesson Paul learned as he said in verse 9, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  This is an important lesson that we all need to learn.  Although this infirmity was to continue, God’s grace would also continue.  What more do we need?  We have the grace of God with us and operating on our behalf.  Also, the power of God is mostly evident when we realize the weakness of our flesh.  The Lord Jesus Himself says in John 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”  We are effective for the Lord when we realize our dependence on His strength.  Without Him, we cannot accomplish anything that will honor Him.

So, what was this thorn in the flesh that was given to Paul?  Well, to be honest, I just don’t know.  It is possible that this thorn might have been the loss of Paul’s eyesight.  Paul wrote in Galatians 4:15, “Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.”  He also wrote in Galatians 6:11, “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.”  It’s obvious that Paul’s eyesight was bad, and that could very well have been what his thorn in the flesh was, but the Bible doesn’t expressly say that, so I don’t feel comfortable saying it.  Whatever this thorn was, Paul was thankful for it.  As he said in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”  May we all learn this valuable lesson for ourselves.