Before we consider this passage, I believe it will be quite evident that Paul was speaking of himself when he shares this experience from 14 years ago. He was writing in this chapter to defend his apostleship (and thus to defend the truth) and he was inspired to speak of this event to support that. He no doubt wrote in the “third person” to avoid exalting himself.

Verse 1 reads, “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord” (NASB). Again, Paul’s adversaries compelled him to boast of the revelation he had to prove that he truly was a believer in Christ and also an apostle.

Verses 2-6 state, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.” There are several things we learn from these verses:

  • Unlike some who can’t wait to share unusual spiritual experiences with others, Paul was a humble man and only revealed this to validate the truth that he brought the Corinthians as an apostle.
  • He was actually transported to the “third heaven” (verse 2) which he later calls Paradise (verse 4). If you compare this with Luke 23:43 and Revelation 2:7 you will see this was where God dwells.
  • He wasn’t sure if he was “in the body” (alive) or “apart from the body” (dead). This shows us that one doesn’t need the body to consciously enjoy God’s presence in heaven. I would encourage you to read 2nd Corinthians 5:1-8 and Philippians 1:21-23.
  • He “heard inexpressible words,” which means they were so sacred they could not be described. We often long to SEE the beauty of heaven, but here we learn to anticipate what we will HEAR in the glory.

Verses 7-10 say, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Here too there are several lessons we can take home to our hearts:

  • God allowed Satan to afflict Paul (just as he afflicted Job) to keep him humble. God always has a purpose in allowing us to experience pain and suffering. See 1 Peter 1:6-7 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-17.
  • Paul asked for the “thorn in the flesh” to be removed, but God had something better for Paul. Besides keeping him humble, he would learn that God’s grace would enable him to bear it.
  • Paul learned to “boast in his weaknesses” because it was then that “the power of Christ” rested on him. Have we learned this invaluable lesson? Can we say in truth, “When I am weak, then am I strong?” (215.1)  (DO)