Fairview Baptist Church
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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – 2014/2015
Theme: Ready: Ministering Life to
Those in Crisis
What This Study Is About:
focus of this study is on people facing long-term health issues who may
wrestle with questions about God’s response to their suffering. We can
encourage those people and each other by reminding us all of God’s
presence and grace.
Ready When Injustice Prevails
Ready to Help the Poor
Ready When Sickness Comes to Stay
Ready When Sex Destroys
Ready When Homosexuality Devastates
Ready When Pornography Controls
grace is sufficient—even in times of sickness.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18;
Renewed for Eternity (2 Cor. 16-18)
That Is Sufficient (2 Cor. 12:7b-9a)
To Endure (2 Cor. 12:9b-10)
OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE: 2
Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:7b-10
Corinthians contains some of Paul’s deepest theological insight, reveals
more about Paul personally, and presents his strongest declaration of his
apostolic credentials and the validity of his ministry than is found in
his other letters. Second
Corinthians 4:16-18 describes the face of the afflictions he faced.
Physically, he might have been wasting away, but his inner life was
gaining new strength from God that was preparing him for an incomparable
glory. In 2 Corinthians
12:7-10, Paul described a life experience in which the Lord,
through a “thorn in the flesh.” As Paul called it, taught him that in
his weaknesses he could know the sufficiency of the Lord’s grace and the ability of His power. Paul stressed
whatever difficulty one endured would only be momentary when measured
against the promise of eternity with Christ.
Thanks to medical advances, many illnesses
that used to lead to death no longer do. Instead,
the person lives, often with non-stop medications or treatments. When
a person is first diagnosed with an illness or disease, people are great
at offering support. However,
for the chronic sufferer, that help and support often diminishes as time
progresses. We can help others
follow the example of Paul in how they view and live with their long-term
health issues. We have all
prayed for people who are suffering long-term illnesses only to watch them
waste away. Yet they continue
on. How do they do it?
They do it by relying on God’s power to keep on, keeping on!
The apostle Paul offered his own example of this in our focal
passage for this week.
Introduction is adapted from the following source:
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern
Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Renewed For Eternity (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
16 Therefore we do not give up. Even
though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being
renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely
incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is
seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
When you’re sick, what helps you feel better?
what did Paul reaffirm his commitment (v. 16a)?
conclusion does the word “therefore” in verse 16 sum up?
(See 2 Cor. 4:7-15.)
would you summarize Paul’s point in 2 Cor. 4:7-15?
contrasts are found in these verses?
do you think each encouraged Paul to continue in faithful service in the face of
his physical challenges?
does Paul’s focus on the term “temporary” mean to you when it comes to
would you contrast the outer person
with the inner person (v. 16)?
is the outer person being destroyed in
our world today (v. 16b)?
does God renew the inner person of a
believer today (v. 16b)?
is He renewing your inner person?
what surprising ways did Paul describe the affliction
that the Corinthians were experiencing (vv. 17-18)?
does verse 17 mean to you?
can trials end up producing glory (v.
have you see sicknesses result in bringing glory to God?
Why do you think some people facing long-term
health issues may wrestle with questions about God’s response to their illness
when they continue to linger without seeing any immediate improvement in answer
to their prayers?
would you describe the meaning of verse 18 to a non-believer? a new believer?
How does focusing on the eternal help you endure
are some ways God provides believers with the ability to endure the temporary?
What emotions do you
experience when you think about a new body that will never break down?
Grace That Is Sufficient (2 Cor. 12:7b-9a)
7b Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was
given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt
myself. 8 Concerning this, I pleaded
with the Lord three times to take it away from me. 9a But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is
perfected in weakness.”
to verse 7b, what was God’s purpose of giving Paul a thorn in the flesh?
fact that Paul, mentioned twice why
the thorn was given to him, tells you
that he may have been subject to what?
do you think Paul meant by calling his thorn a messenger of Satan (v. 7b)?
did Paul’s thorn in the flesh become
a messenger of Satan (v. 7b)?
do you think Satan could use this for his purpose (v. 7b)?
do you think Satan uses the physical maladies of believers today to his
did Paul respond his physical malady (v.
does verse 8 tell us about praying for God to relieve us of any physical malady
from which we may suffer?
you think verse 8 is telling us to cease praying after 3 times if God does not
relieve us of our malady?
can we reconcile verse 8 with Paul’s urging in 1 Thessalonians 5:7?
How am I to know when/if God has answered my prayers for deliverance from
my physical malady?
Jesus prayed (Matt. 26:38-46) God’s will took priority over His, so how
are we to know God’s will for us in the midst of our suffering?
assurance did the Lord give Paul as
he dealt with this thorn (v. 9a)?
would you define God’s grace (v.
9a)? (See Digging Deeper.)
What do you think makes God’s grace sufficient—even in times of
How is God’s grace . . .
sufficient for the trials that we endure in this lifetime (v. 9a)?
Do you have a thorn in your
If so, has it helped you grow in your
faith? If so, how do you think it
has helped you to grow?
Lessons in 2 Cor. 12:7b-9a:
can use trials to keep us humbly focused on Him.
God to remove trials is a good practice, but we must do so submitted to
sometimes uses us in spite of our weaknesses.
Sometimes He uses us because of our weaknesses.
To Endure (2 Cor. 12:9b-10)
9b Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so
that Christ’s power may reside in me. 10 So I take pleasure in
weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because
of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
to verse 9b, for what reasons did Paul say he would rather boast?
would you explain what Paul meant by boasting more about his weaknesses,
Christ’s power would reside in him?
you think 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 has an application here?
Why, or why not?
do you think Paul boasted in those things rather than in his successes (v. 10)?
of the items on Paul’s list of weaknesses have you experienced?
can a person be weak and strong at the same time (v. 10)? (Does verse 9a provide
How do you think God’s grace has proven itself
sufficient in the midst of affection?
When your prayer
isn’t answered as you hoped, how do you handle it?
What do you do, where
do you go, or to what or where do you turn?
Do you ever feel
abandoned by God when this kind of thing happens to you?
are some things we should considering doing to keep from feeling abandoned by
God in our afflictions?
When sickness comes to stay, what can we do to
express God’s love without seeming insincere?
What does ministering
to those dealing with long-term sickness require of us?
Lessons in 2 Cor. 12:9b-10:
suffer because of things we do and sometimes we suffer because of things
suffer only because we live in a fallen world.
power is perfected in us when we embrace the things He allows into our
The more we
humble ourselves, the more others can see Christ in us.
The apostle affirmed the value of his afflictions—whatever they
were—because he saw them as conduits of God’s all-sufficient power.
What he received from the Lord
was not unique to him but is available to all of us as well in our times
of weaknesses, infirmities, and disabilities—whether emotional,
physical, or spiritual. None
of us aspire to suffer in any form. But
when we do, we can find that God will provide us with at least three
things: (1) spiritual renewal that is greater than the adversity; (2) His
grace that is sufficient for the moment; and (3) His strength that enables
us to endure through it all.
So when adversity comes your way, how do you deal with it?
What do you ask of God? Which
Paul do you consider yourself: the Paul that asked God to relieve him of
Or the Paul who relied on the strength of God’s grace in his time
of weakness? On a scale of 1
(the first Paul) or 10 (the second Paul), which Paul do you consider you
to be? If you want to become
more like the second Paul, ask God to help you become more reliant on His
grace to see you through your times of weakness so that He may be
glorified before a lost and dying world.
He will help you shine for His glory in your weakness!
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the
center of God’s will.
Lesson Outline, Introduction,
Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:
King James Version: 2
Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:7b-10
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man
perish, yet the inward man
is renewed day by day. 17
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a
far more exceeding and
eternal weight of glory; 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at
the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are
temporal; but the things which are not seen are
was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest
I should be exalted above measure. 8 For
this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 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. 10 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. (KJV)
Version: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18;
we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are
being renewed day by day.
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
12:7. 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. 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.” 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.
New Living Translation: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:7b-10
4:16 That is why we never give
up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are£ being renewed
every day. 17 For our present troubles are
small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly
outweighs them and will last forever! 18
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze
on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but
the things we cannot see will last forever.
12:7b 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
Outline — “Ready When Sickness Comes to Stay” — 2 Corinthians
Renewed For Eternity
(2 Cor. 4:16-18)
Grace That Is Sufficient (2 Cor. 12:7b-9a)
Strength To Endure (2 Cor. 12:9b-10)
Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: “The College Press NIV Commentary,” “Believer's Bible Commentary,” and “The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
The College Press NIV Commentary – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:7b-10:
Driven by Unseen, Eternal Reward (4:16-18)
4:16. Therefore we do not lose heart.
With “therefore” plus the repetition of what
he said in 4:1, Paul signals that he will summarize and conclude this section of
his defense which comprises chapter four. Once again he denies that the physical
and emotional toll he endures for the gospel limits in any way his
aggressiveness to travel anywhere the Lord leads him to proclaim its
unassailable truth. Note comments on 4:1 regarding “lose heart” as referring
to action and not attitude.
Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly
we are being renewed day by day.
Paul focuses separate attention on the physical
dimension of a person as opposed to the spiritual. For the Christian, and
particularly for an apostle like himself, Paul sees these two dimensions moving
in opposite directions. One is deteriorating while the other, even now, is
growing toward its full eschatological potential.
Paul does not view the human body in itself as
evil and the soul as good as many Greeks did in his day. This is clear from
Romans 7. He also indicates this by the language he uses here. The word
“outwardly” actually translates two words in Greek, “outer person.”
“Person” is the presumed referent of “inner,” as well. These are not
separate and competing entities but simply two aspects of every human being.
Quite rightly, Paul sees the physical dimension
in a process of decay, especially in light of what he says in 4:7-12, as indeed
it is from the moment of birth. This is the case even more so for an apostle
like Paul whose body continues to accumulate the marks of physical abuse. In the
spiritual dimension, or the inward man, Paul believes the clock, as opposed to
winding down, is still in the process of winding up. Indeed, he likely views
physical suffering as contributing toward spiritual strength, as James 1:2-4
notes as well.
The word “wasting
away” is translated very suitably by the NIV. While the word can refer to
something being destroyed immediately, as in Rev 11:18, it can also describe a
more gradual process of destruction as in Luke 12:33 with moths destroying
our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far
outweighs them all.
Paul’s inclusion of his own current
accumulation of difficulties in the adjective “light” is only possible in
comparison to the unweighable weight of spiritual vitality he is developing.
This is precisely what he wishes the Corinthians to perceive. No amount or
intensity of personal trouble in the human sphere can ever be measured over
against the eternal value of serving the gospel of Christ faithfully, whether
applied to Paul himself or anyone else. This weighty “glory” is not viewed
by Paul as merely a prize at the end of the race, strictly eschatological.
Rather, it has already begun to accumulate, like sacks of gold around our
spiritual waist. The verb “are achieving” is present tense indicating what
is being accomplished right now.
The word the NIV renders as merely “far” is
much more heavily stressed than that word alone indicates. The Greek involves
the same word, “excess” placed in two separate prepositional phrases side by
side, roughly “from excess to excess.” This is Paul’s attempt to emphasize
that the “weight” of glory is beyond calculation.
we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
Paul switches his language, associating the
visible with the outward person and invisible with the inward. This is true
enough, but the language of this verse has broader possibilities than what he
said earlier in a way that helps set up what he will say about the Christian’s
immortal existence in 5:1-5.
Realizing that eternal glory is being
accumulated even as his body suffers pain from preaching the gospel motivates
Paul and other determined believers to focus on what is really important in
life, the spiritual dimension. This dimension is not really invisible; it’s
just not visible to those without the spiritual eyesight to see it.
The word “fix our eyes,” as the NIV
translation correctly shows, has more to do with concentration and evaluation
than simply gazing out over some expanse. In fact, one noun which is a cognate
of this word refers to a watchtower and another refers to certain gods as
personal guardians to their adherents. Correctly tuned Christians evaluate the
visible to recognize the “invisible,” spiritual dimension occurring around
them and in them. Those who remain deadened to the spiritual only see the
visible, physical aspects of life.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen
Paul now relates what is visible to a limited
dimension of time and what is invisible to a dimension in which time is
limitless. As he already alluded in 4:17, eternity does not merely begin when
contemporary history ends. Rather, the eternal coexists side by side with the
world we see around us now. A person taps her toe into that eternal, spiritual
dimension when she becomes a Christian. Gradually, the realization of that
spiritual world dominates what the Christian does in the visible, physical world
because it becomes readily apparent that the spiritual and eternal is what is
real, true, and forever.
Paul wants his Corinthian readers to realize
that evaluating truth simply on the basis of physical appearance is foolish.
Paul’s opponents may be flashy. They may register observable signs of success
in healthy bodies, fine clothes, and cultured speech. Does the visible equate
with the eternal? Based on what Paul has just said, doesn’t his battered body
and tenacious, outspoken message suggest the eternal truthfulness of his message
An Irremovable Thorn Remains (12:7-10)
12:7. To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great
Most translations (except the more recent NLT)
which create a new paragraph at this point make the break here as the NIV does.
However, most interpreters observe the artificialness of this since 12:7 begins
with the Greek word “and.” This is then followed by “surpassingly great
revelations.” In the Greek, “to keep me from being conceited” is the
clause which precedes the thorn in the flesh clause and does not begin this
verse (see NASB).
This means that “because of these surpassing
revelations” is a second reason why Paul refrains from boasting, added to his
point in 12:6 that his conduct in itself is sufficient for someone who is
unprejudiced to recognize his apostolic calling. Paul also fears that detailing
his rapture experience might cause undue pride in himself and perhaps even undue
adulation from those in Corinth who seem to be prone to forming personality
This is the last of five times Paul uses the
adjective translated as “surpassingly great” in 2 Corinthians, the others
being 2 Cor 1:8; 4:7; and 4:17 (twice). The word focuses on “excess,”
whether referring to overshooting a mark, crossing over a mountain, or
overachievement of any sort. Paul gets as close as he will ever get to boasting
about his rapture experience when he sets it apart from those revelations of his
rivals. Yet, his point is that its very extraordinariness is cause for his
concern in specifically recounting it. He does not trust his own human nature
any more than he does the Corinthians’.
Thus, with “to keep me from becoming
conceited,” Paul recognizes his own sinful frailty. In Greek, this phrase is
preceded by a strong “therefore,” which shows he has made this deduction
regarding the purpose for his “thorn in the flesh.” God has recognized the
necessity of keeping Paul humble in the face of his accomplishments and his
visions. Self-pride and arrogance are not compatible with genuine apostolic
service. No doubt, Paul views the constancy of this thorn as an ever-present
message from God against self-pride.
there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a
messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Paul’s statements about this “thorn” might
seem contradictory. On the one hand, the passive verb “was given” most
certainly is a divine passive, meaning God is the presumed subject of the
action. On the other hand, he links the thorn to the activity of Satan. To
reconcile this, it is helpful to consider Job 2:1-10 as a model illustrating the
relationship between God and Satan. God holds complete authority and power over
the world he has created. Yet, God allows Satan a measure of autonomy within
God’s rule, particularly to offer people an alternative to trusting God and
following his will.
Paul himself is not
averse to handing believers over to Satan as a legitimate and sometimes
necessary Christian rehabilitation scheme (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:20). That God in a
sense has done this with the “thorn” as a continual monitoring system is not
What exactly Paul’s thorn was is much debated.
The word “thorn” itself, only used here in all the NT, refers to anything
pointed, from a tiny splinter or fishhook, to a large stake used to impale a
person as a form of execution. It is generally agreed that Paul’s use of
“thorn” is figurative, to refer to some form of continuing or recurring
aggravation and perceived hindrance to his gospel mission. In what sense it is
figurative is more at issue. The oldest view, mostly discounted today, is that
Paul was tortured by his sinful nature, perhaps in the form of sexual
temptation. His most revealing expression of this recurring problem would be in
Romans 7. This interpretation would mean taking “flesh” in the carnal sense,
which seems unjustified here.
The most widespread view of Paul’s thorn is
that it is a physical ailment of some sort. Common suggestions include epilepsy,
a chronic eye disorder, a speech impediment, migraine headaches, malaria, and
leprosy. The attempt in each of these suggestions is to come up with a problem
which would be continually a part of Paul’s life but which could flare up on
occasion seriously enough to put him in bed or prevent him from ministering. His
three prayer requests to remove this physical problem, mentioned in 12:8, might
have occurred during three particularly bad episodes. The idea that Satan can
inflict torment through disease within God’s allowance has precedent in Job.
The view receiving the most amount of attention
recently holds that Paul’s thorn is relational, involving other people. In
view are the Judaizers who have dogged Paul’s trail in Galatia and probably in
Corinth but possibly others who have opposed the true gospel of grace in the
places Paul has preached. The attraction is that the thorn then serves as a
culminating ironic twist in Paul’s litany of difficulties. His life as an
apostle has had its share of trouble, but the most troublesome of all are people
like his rivals in Corinth whose presence and boastfulness has forced him to
construct his “foolish” list. Further attraction to this view is that the
word “thorn” is used in Num 33:55 and Ezek 28:24 to refer to Israel’s
enemies and that it makes the “messengers of Satan” designation more
appropriately apply to people.
However, the most recurring criticism of the
view involves Paul’s prayer to remove it and his decision to live with it.
Would it be consistent with Paul’s theology of suffering servanthood, so
eloquently broadcast in this very context as well as elsewhere in 2 Corinthians,
for Paul to request its removal? Has he decided just to live with opposition? If
he has, most of what he has said in the last few chapters, would seem to belie
this acceptance of the thorn as from the Lord.
It seems best then, to view Paul’s thorn as
some disease or ailment which affects him physically. Any firm decision on
precisely what kind of physical problem it was goes beyond anything that can be
known with certainty.
12:8. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
Paul acknowledges his intense desire to be rid
of the “thorn.” He also acknowledges that only one person could remove it.
Thus, he admits he prayed to the Lord for relief. Out of 109 uses in the NT,
this is the only time the verb “pleaded” is employed to refer to petitionary
prayer. Paul seems to want to convey an earnest intensity about his petitions.
At first, he must have believed that the thorn’s detraction from his ability
to conduct his apostolic mission would put it within the Lord’s will to remove
Apparently, only after the third time did he
begin to realize that it had a crucial purpose from the Lord, that is, to help
him keep his head screwed on straight, to prevent him from ever thinking about
boasting about himself or believing that anything was accomplished in his
ministry apart from the power of the Lord. Thus, his “thorn” has kept him
from becoming like his arrogant rivals in Corinth and explains why competing
with them is so heart-wrenching for Paul.
Since both God and Christ are referred to as
“Lord” in the NT, at times determining which is presumed in a certain
context is difficult. Here, the English reader may be surprised to learn that it
is reasonably certain Lord refers to Christ. It is rare that prayer is offered
to Christ; normally it is through Christ (Eph 2:18). Yet, it does occur (Acts
1:24; 7:59). Perhaps, this explains Paul’s use of “pleaded” instead of a
more usual word. At any rate, in the Greek text of this verse an article
“the” occurs before “Lord” and for Paul the use of this article signals
that he means Christ. He does not use the article before Lord if he refers to
God. Also, “Christ’s power” in 12:9 refers back to the person who answered
Paul’s petition, which further dictates that this is the one to whom his
prayer was addressed.
If there is any particular significance to
making his request exactly three times, it is not known. It is true that Jesus
petitions for God to remove the cup of the cross from him in the garden of
Gethsemane (Mark 14:35-42). However, this is more likely coincidental. Jews
practiced prayer three times a day, according to Ps 55:16-17 and Dan 6:10. Three
petitions for healing to Greek deities is not unknown. Three attempts may simply
mean that Paul was reasonably determined but that he was also open to learn
God’s true will and once he learned it, to accept it.
12:9. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is
made perfect in weakness.”
Although he could have heard this message as a
result of all three petitions, most likely Christ spoke to Paul in this way
after the third or there would have been no need for continued prayer on this
matter. This personal message from Christ to Paul quite rightly is seen to have
wider dimensions than simply Paul’s thorn. It really stands as the theme over
Paul’s nonboastful boasting list which began in 11:22. Beyond even that, it
could well stand as the signature motto for all of 2 Corinthians and for that
matter over Paul’s entire apostolic life. Paul implies that once he heard and
came to terms with the meaning of this motto, he fully understood what his life
was all about and could move forward with confidence. What Christ says to Paul
goes beyond application only to himself, extending to all those who desire to
The verb “is sufficient,” only used here in
2 Corinthians, is a term associated with strength, describing someone who is
strong enough to do something. In this text and elsewhere in the NT, the idea is
to be strong enough not to need any further help or assistance. First Timothy
6:8 describes being “content” with food and clothes and Heb 13:5 being
“content” with whatever one already has. This word signals that Paul very
much has in mind the physical and social difficulties involved in being an
apostle which he has listed since 11:22.
The “grace” of Christ includes not just
Christ’s acceptance of Paul in terms of salvation but also the grace involved
in Paul’s apostolic missionary service. At that level, grace includes the very
practical supplying of provisions and protection from natural and cultural
forces which might otherwise destroy Paul’s work. Grace has ramifications
toward enabling Paul to accept his “thorn” without further complaining.
In the NT “power” is
usually connected to God’s total, exhaustive power (2 Cor 4:7). God’s power
can be manifested through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5) and in and
through Christ, not only in the resurrection (1 Cor 6:14), and in his authority
over all other entities (Eph 1:21), but also in his working through his
representatives (Rom 9:17; 1 Cor 5:4). The latter would seem to be the emphasis
here. Paul has already emphasized in 2 Cor 3:4-5 that any confidence he has as
an apostle comes “through Christ before God.”
The verb “is perfected” is fairly common in
the NT but is only used here in 2 Corinthians. It refers to bringing something
to completion. If it involves taxes, as in Rom 13:6, it means to pay them. If it
involves laws, it means to keep them (Luke 2:39). If it involves prophecies, it
means for them to be fulfilled (Luke 18:31). If it involves a person’s life,
it means for it to be finished, or the person to die (John 19:20). If it
involves a person’s mission or purpose, as here, it means to complete it. The
paradox in this passage is that two missions are involved, Paul’s and
Christ’s, which are in a symbiotic relationship. Perfection, or 100%
completion only occurs when one party, Paul, supplies “weakness,” and the
other party, Christ, supplies “power.”
Is the power of Christ in Paul or any believer
something which is always present but only becomes activated whenever the need
for Christ’s power is admitted, or is the power of Christ absent until a
particular weakness requires it? Since the resurrection power of Christ already
fills the believer through the gift of the Holy Spirit, it would seem that
drawing upon his strength to achieve Christ’s mission for our lives seems
consistent. However, there is a point worth acknowledging that the power of
Christ is not observable in our lives except in counterpoint to our weaknesses,
no matter whether it is residual in our lives or not.
Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about
Paul now uses the verb “boast” for the last
of thirteen times since 11:12. Initializing this clause with “therefore”
signals that Paul intends this to be his conclusion about all the “boasting”
that has gone on since that point. From a worldly point of view, it hasn’t
been boasting at all. He has listed embarrassing revelations of weakness. Paul
now explains in as direct terms as possible why he has done this. It is a result
of the direction he received from the Christ which he has incorporated into his
life. He will embrace the paradox and celebrate the troubles in his life as
platforms for Christ to show his greatness.
Paul’s use of “weaknesses” three times in
12:9-10 accentuates further that it primarily is the physical hardships involved
in his apostolic service that he has in mind. The Greek word often refers to
deficiencies of the body such as sickness, disease, or handicaps (Luke 5:15;
8:2; 13:11; John 5:5). Certainly, emotional and spiritual scars can come from
physical difficulties, and Paul probably includes these as well. However, it is
easy for the modern, English reader to jump too quickly to think of feelings of
inadequacy when the word “weakness” is read and not connect “weakness”
to the context of hardships.
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Paul’s statement regarding his purpose for
boasting in his weaknesses presumes that “Christ’s power” would not remain
under other circumstances. Among those must be worldly self-boasting like his
rivals have done. He knows in order to keep Christ’s power active in his life
he must recognize his own inadequacies and thereby his constant dependence on
Christ for any measure of success in his mission.
The verb Paul has chosen, “rest,” means to
“take up one’s abode,” or “dwell.” Although only used here in all the
NT and rare even outside the NT, it is noted that related words are employed in
the Septuagint to describe the abiding of God’s Shekinah glory in the
tabernacle and temple of Israel (Exod 25:8; Ezek 37:27; 2 Cor 6:16). Paul
certainly does not elaborate on the possible connection. However, the presence
of God within believers via the Holy Spirit is a vital aspect of the new
covenant’s superiority to the old covenant in the NT.
12:10. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults,
in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.
Essentially, in this verse Paul rephrases for
the sake of emphasis what he said in 12:9. It is because of Christ, that his
power might remain the dominant force in Paul’s life, that he boasts in
weaknesses. What he says should not be construed to mean that Paul’s
weaknesses are to Christ’s personal benefit in any way. Paul may imply some
identification with Christ’s own voluntary weakness on the cross. However,
Paul’s weaknesses do not increase Christ’s strength, though they do enhance
and enable the accomplishment of Paul’s mission, which is also Christ’s: to
spread the gospel to the nations.
Paul is no masochist. His “delight” is not
in receiving pain. Rather, it is in knowing that Christ embraces his pain and
turns it into a positive resource for advancing the gospel mission. He turns
this “negative” inside out to produce a purposeful gain. In this way, Christ
defies the standards of the world and replaces them with God’s standards of
power in humility, victory in sacrifice, strength in weakness.
Paul’s list of four general categories of
troubles following the headliner of “weakness” does not appear to be an
attempt on his part to carefully summarize the list of troubles drawn out in
11:22-33. Rather, it seems offhanded, consisting of four more or less synonymous
The first one,
“insults,” usually refers to more vile treatment than the NIV translation
implies. Violence and assault are part of this word’s nomenclature, not just
words. The second word, “hardships” also leans toward bodily violence,
torture, and suffering. The third word, “persecutions” is often used of
hunters tracking their prey, so Paul may have in mind the Judaizers who dog his
The fourth word, “difficulties” envisages
someone getting into a tight spot, stuck or impeded by rugged terrain.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
As a fitting conclusion,
Paul boils down what he has learned about weakness into a compact proverb. The
simplification boosts the paradox involved. Yet, one should not conclude that
Paul in self-contradiction is saying weakness is strength. Rather, he means what
Christ told him in 12:9: weakness and trouble in the lives of believers are
opportunities for Christ to manifest his strength in their lives. In this way,
nonbelievers are drawn to the power of Christ they see displayed and are
hindered from idolizing Christ’s servants. Also, Christ’s servants are
prevented from getting big heads and accepting honor which Christ alone
SOURCE: The College Press NIV Commentary: 2
Corinthians; by William R. Baker; Copyright © 1999,
College Press Publishing Co. Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.
Bible Commentary: 2
Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:7-10:
minister is upheld by hope. 2
4:16. Paul had been explaining
his willingness to undergo all kinds of suffering and danger because he had
before him the certain hope of resurrection. Therefore he did not lose
heart. Although on the one hand, the process of physical decay was going on
constantly, yet on the other hand there was a spiritual renewal which enabled
him to go on in spite of every adverse circumstance.
The fact that the outward man is perishing
needs little explanation or comment. It is all too evident in our bodies! But
Paul is here rejoicing in the fact that God sends daily supplies of power for
Christian service. Thus it is true, as Michelangelo said, "The more the
marble wastes, the more the statue grows."
We are told that our material bodies are
completely changed every seven years... Yet we have a consciousness of being the
same persons. Our personality is unchanged from year to year, and so with regard
to the greater change as yet to come. The same life is in the butterfly that was
in the grub.
4:17. After reading the terrible afflictions which the
Apostle Paul endured, it may seem hard for us to understand how he could speak
of them as light affliction. In one sense, they were not at all light.
They were bitter and cruel.
But the explanation lies
in the comparison which Paul makes. The afflictions viewed by themselves
might be ever so heavy, but when compared with the eternal weight of glory
that lies ahead, then they are light. Also the light affliction is but
for a moment, whereas the glory is eternal. The lessons we learn
through afflictions in this world will yield richest fruit for us in the world
Moorehead observes: "A little joy
enters into us while we are in the world; we shall enter into joy when there. A
few drops here; a whole ocean there."
There is a pyramid in this verse which, as F. E.
Marsh has pointed out, does not tire the weary climber but brings unspeakable
rest and comfort to his soul.
Weight of glory
Eternal weight of glory
Exceeding and eternal weight of glory
More exceeding and eternal weight of glory
Far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory
4:18. In this verse look
does not merely describe human vision; rather it conveys the idea of regarding a
thing as important. As far as the things which are seen are concerned,
they are not the goal of one's existence. Here they refer primarily to the
hardships, trials, and sufferings which Paul endured. These were incidental to
his ministry; the great object of his ministry was what is not seen. This
might include the glory of Christ, the blessing of one's fellow men, and the
reward that awaits the faithful servant of Christ at the Judgment Seat.
To be able to see the first is sight; to be able
to see the second is insight. The first mode of vision is natural, the second
mode is spiritual. The primary organ in the first discernment is intellect; the
primary organ in the second discernment is faith.... All through the Scriptures
this contrast between sight and insight is being continually presented to us,
and everywhere we are taught to measure the meagerness and stinginess of the
one, and set it over the fullness and expansiveness of the other.
The thorn in the flesh. 2
12:7. This whole section is a most accurate
description of the life of a servant of Christ. It has its moments of deep
humiliation, such as the event at Damascus. Then it has its mountain top
experiences, such as Paul's exhilarating revelation. But normally after a
servant of the Lord has enjoyed one of these experiences, the Lord allows him to
suffer some thorn in the flesh. That is what we have here.
We learn many priceless lessons from this verse.
First, it is proof that even divine revelations of the Lord do not correct the
flesh in us. Even after the apostle had listened to the language of
Paradise, he still had the old nature, and was in danger of falling into the
snare of pride. As R. J. Reid has said:
"A man in Christ" is safe in the
presence of God as he listens to the untranslatable things spoken in paradise,
but he needs "a thorn in the flesh" upon his return to earth, for the
flesh in him would boast of his paradise experience.
What was Paul's thorn in the flesh? All
we can say for sure is that it was some bodily trial which God allowed to come
into his life. No doubt the Lord purposely failed to specify exactly what the thorn
was so that tried and tested saints down through the years might feel a closer
kinship with the apostle as they suffer. Perhaps it was some form of eye
disease, perhaps an earache, perhaps malaria, perhaps migraine headaches,
perhaps something connected with Paul's speech. Moorehead states: "The
precise nature of it has been concealed perhaps that all afflicted ones may be
encouraged and helped by Paul's unnamed yet painful experience." Our trials
may be very different from Paul's, but they should produce the same exercise and
The apostle describes the thorn in the flesh
as a messenger of Satan to buffet him. In one sense it represented an
effort on Satan's part to hinder Paul in the work of the Lord. But God is
greater than Satan, and He used the thorn to further the work of the Lord
by keeping Paul humble. Successful service for Christ depends on a weak servant.
The weaker he is, the more the power of Christ accompanies his preaching.
12:8. Three times Paul pleaded with the Lord that the
thorn in the flesh might depart from him.
prayer was answered, but not in the way he had hoped. In effect, God said to
Paul, "I will not remove the thorn, but I will do something better: I will
give you grace to bear it. And just remember, Paul, that although I have not
given you what you asked for, yet I am giving you what you need most deeply. You
want my power and strength to accompany your preaching, don't you? Well, the
best way to have that happen is for you to be kept in a place of weakness."
This was God's repeated answer to Paul's thrice
repeated prayer. And it continues to be God's answer to his suffering people
throughout the world. Better than the removal of trials and sufferings is the
companionship of the Son of God in them, and the assurance of His strength and
Notice that God says, My grace IS sufficient
for you. We don't have to ask Him to make His grace sufficient. It already IS!
The apostle is completely satisfied with the
Lord's answer, so he says, "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in
my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
When the Lord explained
the wisdom of His actions, Paul said in effect that that was the only way he
would want it to be. So instead of complaining and grumbling about the thorn, he
would rather boast in his infirmities. He would get down on his
knees and thank the Lord for them. He would gladly endure them if only the power
of Christ might rest upon him. J. Oswald Sanders puts it well:
The world's philosophy is, "What can't be
cured must be endured." But Paul radiantly testifies, "What can't be
cured can be enjoyed. I enjoy weakness, sufferings, privations, and
difficulties." So wonderful did he prove God's grace to be, that he even
welcomed fresh occasions of drawing upon its fullness. "I gladly glory... I
even enjoy"—my thorn."
Emma Piechynska, the wife of a Polish nobleman,
led a long life of frustration and disappointment. Yet her biographer paid a
remarkable tribute to her triumphant faith: "She made magnificent bouquets
out of the refusals of God!"
12:10. Naturally speaking, it is quite impossible for
us to take pleasure in the type of experiences listed here. But the key
to the understanding of the verse is found in the expression, for Christ's
sake. We should be willing to endure in His cause, and in the furtherance of
His gospel, things which we would not ordinarily endure for ourselves or for the
sake of some loved one.
It is when we are conscious of our own weakness
and nothingness that we most depend on the power of God. And it is when we are
thus cast on Him in complete dependence that His power is manifested to us, and
we are truly strong.
William Wilberforce, who led the fight to
abolish slavery in the British Empire, was physically weak and frail, but he had
deep faith in God. Boswell said of him, "I saw what seemed to me a shrimp
become a whale."
In this verse Paul is obeying the word of the
Lord in Matthew 5:11, 12. He is rejoicing when men reviled and persecuted him.
Believer's Bible Commentary; by William
MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald.
Database © 2014 WORDsearch.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:7-10:
glorious facts gave Paul sufficient reason not to faint or lose heart. True, the
difficulties encountered in his ministry wore his physical strength away. He
knew well his outward man was decaying. At the same time, though, his inward man
was renewed day by day.
The apostle realized what all aging believers
know. They too find comfort in the fact that both decay and renewal go on at the
same time within their being. They receive the answer to the prayer of the
Psalmist, "Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my
strength faileth" (Psalm 71:9).
Spirit within Paul brought him to the conclusion that his relatively
insignificant affliction which brought distress because of the pressure of
outward circumstances actually worked for his good. As something which was
momentary, it brought about for him a far more exceeding, literally "excess
to excess"), beyond all measure or comparison, weight or fullness of glory.
That glory would be eternal and would never fade away. To the Romans he wrote,
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be
compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).
of the things which kept Paul true to his calling was holding the proper
perspective in life. He did not look (skopeō, "to gaze
upon," in contrast to blepō, "to see") or concentrate
his attention upon the things which are seen. He had but little interest in the
things of this world. Any who accused the apostle of being a materialist would
be very wrong.
Instead, the apostle fixed his gaze on the
things which are not seen. His reason was the things which are seen are
transitory, lasting only for time, while the things which are not seen are
eternal. Elisha's servant with his physical eyes saw only their city surrounded
with horses and chariots of the enemy army that had come to arrest the prophet.
The man of God prayed, "Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may
see" (2 Kings 6:17). As the servant viewed the unseen, he discovered God
had placed horses and chariots of fire all around the prophet to protect him.
The reality of the unseen world contained a greater army for Elisha than the
seen world held against him.
12:7. In Paul's life the Lord allowed events to combat
pride. His eternal plan allows "that no flesh should glory in his
presence" (1 Corinthians 1:29). With visions and revelations, there was a
danger pride might raise its ugly head. To prevent this God permitted a thorn to
come and remain in Paul's flesh. To stick a thorn in the foot is a most painful
experience. Not to remove it to relieve the suffering is ordinarily unthinkable.
Many have speculated about Paul's thorn. One guess is it was some illness
of the eyes because he wrote the Galatians with large letters and they were
willing to give him their eyes if they could (Galatians 6:11; 4:15). Some
liberals say the thorn was epilepsy and that his conversion experience on the
road to Damascus was among his many seizures! This is unthinkable. Others think
his problem was one of chronic attacks of malarial fever.
Paul said a messenger of Satan brought the thorn. The spirit buffeted
(beat, struck as with the fist) and tortured him. The devil continuously slapped
the apostle on the face, as the present subjunctive tense of the verb shows.
Thus Paul followed the story of his most blessed experience in life (verses 2-4)
with that of his deepest humiliation.
wonder, then, Paul talked to the Lord earnestly about removing such a thorn. He
besought (intreated, implored, urgently appealed to) God three times for relief.
Even Jesus had three seasons of prayer for assistance in Gethsemane (Mark
14:35-41). Elijah petitioned for rain seven times before water fell from the sky
(1 Kings 18:42-44). Daniel had to remain before the Lord for 21 days before his
answer came (Daniel 10:12-14).
answer to Paul's prayer did not remove the thorn. The Lord sometimes gives a
negative response to the most earnest petition. Instead it gave him assurance
God would provide sufficient grace and divine strength to sustain him regardless
of his trials. As the apostle himself declared in 1 Corinthians 10:13, with
every temptation the Lord always provides a way of escape making it possible to
bear up under the difficulty.
More wonderfully, though, God's power reaches its perfection through
human weakness. As the smallest of light shines most brightly in the darkest of
nights, the Lord reveals His strength most completely in the face of man's
helplessness. As someone has said, Christians are somewhat like tea; their real
strength does not show until they are in hot water.
Having learned the lesson Jesus taught him through the thorn, Paul
experienced an attitude change. He came to the place where he could gladly glory
in his weakness. He knew it was necessary for him to realize his helplessness in
order for the power of Christ to rest upon him and become an overshadowing tent
to cover him.
Hughes has warned against misusing the apostle's words here in following
"the errors of a later ascetic theology which encouraged men to think that
by means of self-inflicted bodily sufferings and indignities they could
accumulate forgiveness of post-baptismal sins and justifying merit before God.
That was a joyless theology of insecurity; whereas Paul's theology is one of
unclouded joy and impregnable security..." (The New London Commentary,
p. 452). He concluded Paul's thorn was not self-induced but given.
apostle declared again he delighted in and cheerfully accepted the fact of his
human weakness. Then he revealed more of what the thorn involved. It included
suffering reproaches (shame, insults, mistreatment) at the hands of his enemies.
At times it brought necessities (privations and hardships). Periods of distress
(difficulty, anguish) came with it.
Understandably, then, the apostle sought relief from such constant
pressures. However, the lesson he learned by carrying a heavy burden was
priceless. He came to know man's extremities are God's opportunities. As long as
his suffering was for Christ's sake, he rested in the assurance that when
circumstances pressed him to helplessness he would then, and only then,
experience the help of the Lord. To say "when I am weak, then am I
strong" sounds contradictory, but the paradox expresses a truth more
valuable than gold.
Of course, not all suffering in the lives of Christians qualifies for
such blessings as followed Paul's. As Peter warned, "Let none of you suffer
as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's
matters" (1 Peter 4:15).
Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts. Database ©
2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.
Grace—Paul used the word grace (12:9) in the greetings of his letters (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3,
2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:2;
1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philem. 1:3).
The basic idea of this term was something that was freely given.
Paul most often anchored that in the things given by God through the
cross of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:21). Everything
God gave to us in the cross is encompassed in the word grace.
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Grace: Grace (12:9) is unmerited favor; God’s compulsion to
grant His goodwill or to show His lovingkindness even though it is not deserved.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
Grace—Undeserved acceptance and love received
from another, especially the characteristic attitude of God in providing salvation
for sinners. For Christians, the word “grace” is virtually
synonymous with the gospel of God’s gift of unmerited salvation in Jesus
Christ. To express this, the New Testament writers used the Greek word charis,
which had a long previous history in secular Greek. Related to the word for joy
or pleasure, charis originally referred to something delightful or
attractive in a person, something which brought pleasure to others. From this it
came to have the idea of a favor or kindness done to another or of a gift
which brought pleasure to another. Viewed from the standpoint of the recipient,
it was used to refer to the thankfulness felt for a gift or favor. These
meanings also appear in the biblical use of charis, but only in the
New Testament does it come to have the familiar sense which “grace” bears
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
Sufficient—The Greek word for sufficient (12:9) literally means “adequate,” “sufficient,”
or “enough.” Two examples
illustrate the meaning of this word, in the parable of the ten virgins, the
prepared virgins said to the unprepared ones, “No, there won’t be enough vor
us and for you? (Matt. 25:9). Their
supply was inadequate. When Jesus
asked Philip about buying bread for the 5,000, the disciple answered, “Two
hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a
little” (John 6:7). That which is sufficient is enough!
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Sufficient: At its root, the Greek word rendered sufficient
(12:9) captures the idea of raising a barrier to ward off something.
Having done so, a person could believe he possessed unfailing strength to
face whatever he raised the barrier against.
By extension, the word came to mean “to have enough; to be content; to
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
Perfected—The Greek word rendered perfected (12:9) described the progress of something toward a goal
or directed end. It conveyed the
idea of completion, maturity, or wholeness.
An example of this occurs in 1 John 4:18, where we read, “There is no
fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves
punishment.” The kind of love that
is from God is complete, whole, and mature.
It is perfect.
Made perfect: Made perfect (12:9) does not refer to moral perfection or flawlessness but means
“to finish, complete, accomplish, or to bring to its end.”
The verb tense in this verse indicates the Lord’s
strength is “brought to fulfillment, to completion, or is accomplishing its
intended end or purpose” in the midst of human weakness.
The god of
Portrait of Satan in 2 Corinthians
By Bennie R.
Crockett, Jr., is professor of religion and philosophy and is co-director of the
Center for Study of the Life and Work of William Carey at William Carey
University, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
atan has the
of being the enemy of the Son of God, and of daring
to oppose and tempt Him (Matt. 4:1-11; 16:23; Mark 1:13; 8:33).
Near the end of Jesus’ ministry, through Satan’s evil influence,
Judas willingly betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and Pharisees (John 13:27;
18:1-5). Often referred to as “the
Devil,”1 Satan schemes
against God’s people with evil methods and traps (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11; 1
Tim. 3;7; 2 Tim. 2:26). Because of
Satan, creation itself appears under bondage to corruption (Rom. 8:22).
Outside of Paul’s letters, the New Testament uses
the name “Satan” over 20 times.2
In his letters, Paul referred to Satan by name 10 times.
With several other titles, Paul described Satan as the Devil (Eph. 4:27),
the evil one (6:16), the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), Belial (6:15), a
disguised angel of light (11:14), prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), and
the tempter (1 Thess. 3:5).
Paul knew the power Satan had over nonbelievers.
When Paul was under arrest in Jerusalem and in his self-defense before
King Agrippa, Paul said the risen Lord
Jesus challenged him to serve and witness in a new way.
Jesus appointed Paul to open the eyes of Jews and Gentiles “that they
may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they
may receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18, HCSB).
The Enemy’s Work
In 1—2 Corinthians,
Paul’s references to Satan’s activities fall into four categories:
deceiving, tempting, being subject to the larger purpose of God’s will, and
maintaining an evil identity. First,
Satan’s basic deceptive nature appears in 2 Corinthians 2:11, where Paul
warned the Corinthians that Satan could take advantage or outwit them when they
fail in their duty to forgive a divisive fellow Christian.3
Likewise, Paul captured Satan’s basic deceptive character when he wrote
that Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).
Satan’s disguise was so effective that some Corinthians agreed with
Satan’s unrighteousness, deceptively disguising themselves as Christ’s
apostles (v. 13) and opposing Paul’s ministry as an unskilled speaker (v. 6).
Second, Satan’s longstanding role as a tempter
appears in the context of Paul’s discussion of sexual relations in marriage (1
Cor. 7:5). Paul advised spouses not
to deprive their spouses sexually lest Satan would tempt them toward infidelity
through their lack of self-control (see v. 2).
Yet, Paul affirmed that no temptation is too strong for God’s
faithfulness to provide the believer a way of escape (10:13).
Despite his ability to tempt, Satan’s power is not absolute, for God,
in His power and grace, limits Satan’s power over believers.
Third, in 1 Corinthians 5:5 and 2 Corinthians 12:7,
Paul referred to Satan as functioning as an instrument within God’s larger
knowledge and grace (see Job 1—2). Without
explaining how God works in difficult and painful situations, Paul affirmed that
God’s sovereignty is able to transform Satan’s destructive power into a
redemptive conclusion (see 1 Tim. 1:20; Rom. 8:28,38).
For Paul, the only positive characteristic of Satan’s work is God’s
ability to transform the enemy’s deception, temptation, and evil into good
that ultimately glorifies Him.
Fourth, Paul offered his most noteworthy images of
Satan’s evil nature and influence with the two phrases “god of this world”
and “Belial” (2 Cor. 4:4; 6:15). In
2 Corinthians 4, Paul discussed his ministry and gospel message as shining light
into pagan darkness. However,
through the power of the “god of this world,” darkness enveloped those who
rejected the gospel, which caused them to perish (see Acts 26:18).
Related to Satan’s evil nature, Paul’s most
piercing remark occurs in 2 Corinthians 6:15 where he referred to Satan as
“Belial,” a transliterated Hebrew word which meant “worthless” or
“What fellowship does light have with darkness?
What agreement does Christ have with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15, HCSB)—no
sharper division between Christ and his believers versus Satan and his evil
maneuverings exists in all of Paul’s letters.
How the Corinthians
understood Paul’s references to Satan is a complicated issue because of the
puzzling social makeup of the city and the church, Corinth was a cosmopolitan
and polytheistic Roman colony, the capital of Achaia, which in 44 BC Julius
Caesar had reestablished and populated with Roman freedmen and army veterans.5
Because of its strategic location near the sea, Corinth was a wealthy
Polytheistic in Paul’s day, Corinthians celebrated
the Isthmian athletic games with invocations to Poseidon, and worshipped in
various pagan temples to Apollo, Asclepius, Aphrodite, and Octavia (Caesar
Prior to becoming Christians, some Corinthian believers practiced idol
worship (1 Cor. 12:2), and Paul accused pagans of worshiping demons (i.e., pagan
gods) by eating food offered to idols (10:20).
According to Acts 18:4, Paul reasoned with both Jews
and Greeks on each Sabbath in the Jewish synagogue.
Crispus, the ruler of the Corinthian synagogue, and all the people in his
house became believers in Jesus. Also,
Titius Justus (a Gentile worshiping in the synagogue) and other gentile
Corinthians believed in Jesus (Acts 18:7-8).
Subsequently, some Jews beat Sosthenes, the succeeding ruler of the
synagogue, in the presence of the Roman tribunal (v. 17).
Possibly, this was the same Sosthenes, a believer and colleague of Paul,
who joined him in writing 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:1).
Into this mixed social context of converted pagans
and Jewish Christians at Corinth, Paul referred to the enemy as “Satan,”
“Belial,” “disguised angel of light,” and “god of this world.”
For Jews, both “Satan” and “Belial” deceived people and opposed
God, and, yet, was subjected to God’s sovereignty.
Persons living in Paul’s day would have understood the implication of
Satan being referred to as “Belial.” First-century
Jews in the Qumran Community said that wicked people followed the ways of Belial
and eventually would be condemned to everlasting fire.8
Some Greeks at Corinth may have understood “this
world” within the context of Greek philosophy’s (i.e., Plato) negative
appraisal of the material world.9
The influence of Plato’s philosophy on Greco-Roman religions came to
fruition in the growing gnostic religious systems of the first, second, and
third centuries AD. Pagan
Corinthians influenced by gnostic ideology could have understood “the god of
this age” possibly as the present evil world created by an evil god.10
Paul’s phrase the “god of this world” relates
the “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) which is passing away (1 Cor. 2:6; 7:31)
to that which one must not be conformed (Rom. 12:2).
The Corinthians—whether Jewish Christian or converted
pagans—understood that the rulers of this age (1 Cor. 2:6,8) exemplified
opposition to God through their crucifixion of Jesus.11
The god of this world’s opposition to Paul and the gospel message
coalesced with unbelieving and blinded minds (2 Cor. 4:4).
Such a negative consequence betrays the reality that believers have the
privilege of housing “this treasure in earthen vessels” (v. 7, KJV).
Paul likened the weakness of
the body with the evils of this world’s god, while he likened the strength of
the inner self to that which is unseen and eternal (2 Cor. 4:4,16,18; 5:1).
For those who think they are wise in this world, that supposed wisdom is
sheer foolishness (1 Cor. 3:18-19), for the form of this world is passing away
Although this world and its god(s) display eternally
destructive circumstances, consequences, ideas, and behaviors, “the
transcendent power belongs to God . . . so we do not lose heart” (2 Cor.
Matt. 4:1,5,8,11; 13:39; 25:41; Luke 4:2,3,6; 8:12; John 6:70; 8:44;
13:2; Acts 10:38; 13:10; Eph. 4:27; 6:11; 1 Tim. 3:6,7; 2 Tim. 2:26; Heb. 2:14;
James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8; 1 John 3:8,10; Jude 9; Rev. 2:10; 12:9,12; 20:2,10.
Matt. 4:10; 12:26; 16:23; Mark 1:13; 3:23,26; 4:15; 8:33; Luke 10:18;
11:18; 13:16; 22:3,31; John 13:27; Acts 5:3; 26:18; Rev. 2:9,13,24; 3:9; 12:9;
Matt. 6:14-15, HCSB.
In the KJV, “Belial” appears several times in the Old Testament.
Contemporary translations translate the Hebrew word with terms such as
“wicked man,” “worthless man,” “perverted men,” “base fellow,”
or “wicked woman.”
Strabo, Geography, 8.6.23, in
Hamilton and Falconer, The Geography of
Strabo, 3 vols. (London: Bohn, 1856), 2:65.
Strabo, Geography 8.6.20, in
Hamilton and Falconer, 2:60.
Poseidon ruled as god of the sea; Apollo, god of the sun, oracles, music,
and the eintellect; Asclepius, god of healing; Aphrodite, legendary for temple
prostitutes; and Octavia, the focal point of the Emperor cult.
“The Community Rule,” 1QS II, 5-9, in Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: Penguin Books,
Plato, The Republic, 509-513,
in Great Books of the Western World, ed.
in chief Hutchins, trans. Jowett, vol. 7 (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica,
Irenaeus, Irenaeus Against Heresies
in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Roberts and Donaldson, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA:
Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 1:5:2; pg. 322.
Dominated by “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), “this
age” is “the dominion of darkness” (Col. 1:13).
Jerry M. Windsor
Windsor is associate professor of preaching, The Baptist College of Florida,
WERE TWO TIMES
in my life when I should have been fired from my job and was not.
One was when I worked in the display advertising department of a large
daily newspaper. In the rush of
meeting a daily deadline, I switched the newspaper advertisements of the two
largest grocery competitors in town. The
mistake never went to press, but had it not been for a sharp proofreader, my
major error could have caused great harm to our newspaper and the grocery store
other serious misdeed was when I worked at a bakery.
Due to a mix-up on my part, other employees had to cover for me and the
whole department suffered because of my mistake.
both cases my supervisors talked with me, corrected me, and retained me.
I deserved to be fired both times, but my supervisors saved me.
apostle Paul knew something about favors granted for no logical reason.
In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul spoke of the grace of God that is
foundational to God’s redemptive plan for people.
A helpful insight about Ephesians is that it probably was a general
letter intended for all the churches of the Roman province of Asia.
The oldest documents of this letter do not have “in Ephesus” in 1:1,
indicating that the letter was a general and circular letter for all the
churches and not just the church in Ephesus.
A. T. Robertson pointed out in his Word Pictures in the New Testament
that perhaps the original copy had no place name in 1:1 but only a plank space.1
Therefore, we gladly and legitimately place the name of our own church in that
space as we realize these great truths are valid for us today also.
is a theological treatise, a practical letter, and a devotional writing.
The theme of Ephesians is that God is working out His great plan of
redemption by calling men and women to Christ and thereby forming a redeemed
society. The redeemed are God’s
heritage, God’s building, God’s body, and God’s elect.
has blessed us (Eph. 1:3). God has
chosen us (v. 4). The Lord God has
predestinated us (v. 5) and by grace has made us acceptable (v. 6) to Himself.
He has redeemed us in Christ Jesus (v. 7) and has forgiven us of our sins
(v. 7). He has made His will known
to us (v. 11) and sealed us to Himself (vv.13-14).
could not help but burst out into a praise prayer of intercession for the church
(vv. 15-19) as believers came under the authority of the resurrected Christ.
The sweep of God’s grace included Jews and Gentiles, heaven and earth,
past and present, and ages to come (vv. 20-23).
The church is filled with the spirit of Christ under the headship,
authority, and lordship of Christ.
We are all saved by grace alone, faith alone, and Christ
alone. There are not three plans of
salvation. The Old Testament, New
Testament, and present testimony of God’s Spirit is that grace and faith are
given and received in Christ Jesus.
word grace is a foundational word in this first chapter of Ephesians.
Paul stated that it is a glorious grace (v. 6), a great grace (v. 7), and
a given grace (v. 8). The word charis
is the New Testament word for “grace” in this first chapter and it means
“divine favor and mercy.” Grace
is especially associated with freeness and spontaneity.
The term is in contrast to works and debt.
E. Vine pointed out in his dictionary of biblical words that in Ephesians 1:6,
grace is freely given; not earned, but received as one who has been unexpectedly
bestowed or given a favor.2
Grace is not easily understood.
We live in a tradition and a culture where we feel we have to “earn”
all rewards and favors. Our society
teaches us that work brings rewards and effort and energy are paid off by perks,
salaries, and bonuses.
could teach us a lesson. They plant
one grain of corn, and it brings forth a stalk that may have five ears of corn
and 700 grains of corn per ear. The
one grain is multiplied by the gifts of good soil, sunshine, and rain.
God’s grace brings multiplied fruit even after human efforts have been
felt God’s grace in a personal way. He
wanted the readers of his letter to experience the joy of knowing Christ as
Savior (v. 6-8) and Lord in all of life. God’s
grace was given in election (vv. 1-6), salvation (vv.7-10), calling (vv. 11-14),
and lordship (vv. 15-23). This was a
comprehensive plan from before creation (v. 4) throughout all of eternity (v.
1989 I heard Colonel Nimrod McNair speak at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in
Tallahassee, Florida. He stated that
many things had happened to him in life, and he felt he needed to wear a sign
around his neck and said, “I am under consturuction.”3
does not leave us alone. In the
salutation of Ephesians Paul gave us the Father’s voice (vv. 1-2).
Paul then told us the Father’s choice (vv. 3-6).
Next, Paul wrote of the Father’s plan (vv. 7-10), then the Father’s
mind (vv. 11-14), and His ministry (vv. 15-23).
God is actively working on our behalf.
He works through the redemptive ministry of the Lord Jesus and the
abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. This
is done on the basis of divine choice and not human merit.
Grace works freely, profoundly, and absolutely.
A. Dorsey wrote the hymn “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
He and gospel singer Willie Mac Ford Smith sang and recorded a lesser
known but very moving gospel song entitled “Jesus Dropped the Charges.”
This is what grace is all about. It
is sin denounced and Christ uplifted. Paul
knew the glory of that kind of grace and prayed that all believers might
experience it in Christ.
must always precede peace (v. 2). We
cannot know God’s peace until we have personally experienced God’s grace.
Paul had come to know God through Jesus, and he wanted to share with
everyone the great blessings that God’s grace brings.
Paul then went into a litany of spiritual rewards that
come from God’s favor and grace. There
is the work of God the Father, “to the praise of his glorious grace” (v. 6,
NIV). There is the work of the Son,
“for the praise of his glory” (v. 12, NIV), and the work of the Spirit,
“to the praise of his glory” (v. 14, NIV).
This is not the Trinity in theory, but the Trinity in action.
chose to act before the creation of the world.
All is to the praise of His glory.4
are at least nine spiritual blessings that come to each of us in Jesus (vv.
3-14). We do not earn these
blessings any more than we earn Christmas gifts or birthday gifts, but these are
given by Christ to all believers. By
His grace He has blesses us (v. 3). By
His grace He has chosen us (v. 4). He
has also predestinated us (v. 5) and made us acceptable (v. 6).
The Lord Jesus has redeemed us (v. 7), forgiven us (v. 7), and made His
will known to us (v. 9). Our Lord
has given us an inheritance (vv. 11, 14) and has sealed us in the Holy Spirit
gifts or blessings of God’s grace are contrary to our laws of logic and
reason. We have difficulty accepting
God’s grace because we know we are unacceptable.
No amount of self-analysis or self-esteem seminars can get us over the
hump of feeling as if we have sinned, fallen short, and failed.
We throw away broken things because we lack the time, interest, skill,
and desire to fox them. We discard
broken things but God collects broken people.
Paul saw that only grace could bring the miracles of election,
redemption, and eternal fellowship with Jesus Christ.
is unmerited. By its definition the
New Testament word for “grace” means “undeserved.”
No one has earned God’s grace. B.
F. Westcoff stated that Paul never used charis to speak of human grace.6
is unmotivated. No one and no thing
prompted God to choose us. Christ
chose us in the redemptive plan of God before the foundation of the earth.
God’s plan and not man’s actions motivated the work of the cross.
is unmatched. There is nothing like
it. Paul challenged the Christians
in Ephesus and other churches to live differently and be different because
God’s grace is sufficient to save and bring peace in a hurting society.
Grace is unmoved. Grace
is not temporary. Grace is not
capricious. Grace is not transient.
Grace is stable and sure.
wrote Ephesians from some kind of imprisonment or confinement.
Yet in the Lord Jesus, he experienced grace and peace that passes all
1. Archibald Thomas
Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (New York: Harper and
Brothers, Publishers, 1931), 4:514-515.
2. W. E. Vine, Merrill R. Unger, William White, Vine’s
Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson
Publishers, 1985), 277.
3. Nimrod McNair, Governor’s Prayer Breakfast,
April 13, 1989, The Civic Center in Tallahassee, Florida.
4. William W. Adams, Class notes. New Orleans
Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.
5. E. Y. Mullins, Studies in Ephesians
(Nashville: Convention Press, 1993), 25-41.
6. Brook Foss Westcott, Saint Paul’s Epistle to
the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1979 reprint), 10.
Jerry M. Windsor
M. Windsor is Associate Professor of Preaching, Florida Baptist Theological
College, Graceville, Florida.
TIMES IN MY LIFE I
have experienced God’s glory.
June 28, 1956, at Shocco Springs Baptist Assembly near Talladega, Alabama, I
felt God call me to preach as a 16-year-old boy.
the winter of 1956 I was invited to preach a Saturday night youth rally at
Oneonta, Alabama, and numerous teenagers made decisions for Christ.
The glory of God came down.
a first-year student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary I was reading The
Diary of Hudson Taylor, and the glory of the Lord overwhelmed me.
my first pastorate I was faced with a problem that could not be avoided, and the
glory of God came upon me at a crisis time and assured me that “everything was
going to be all right.”
later I was faced with a number of crucial vocational choices.
I came before the Lord asking for uprity of heart and wisdom in decision
making. The Lord told me plainly but
not vocally that I was to pay off a personal debt, return a book that I had
borrowed, and make a donation of an artifact to one of our Baptist seminaries.
Upon doing this, I had that peace that passes all understanding and the
certain glory of God’s mighty presence and power.
glory is the mighty, weighty presence of God upon our lives in an overpowering,
dynamic way. It may be a theophany
of physical or spiritual occurrence. It
may be visual (as Moses saw the burning bush), vocal (as Paul heard the voice of
Jesus on the road to Damascus), or visceral (as Jonah had an internal urge and
compulsion to go to Nineveh). But
however it comes, it is a mind-changing, heart-moving, powerful encounter with
to Young’s Analytical Concordance
two primary words are translated “glory” in the King
James Version.1 The most prominent word for “glory” in the
Old Testament is Kabod [kah BODH], and
the most used word in the New Testament translated “glory” is doxa
the Old Testament the Hebrew word Kabod
denotes weight, substance (Gen. 45:13; Ps. 49:16), and honor that true worth
commands.2 The word may refer to weight as a burden (Ex. 18:18; Ps.
38:4), or it could also mean weight as importance or consideration.
This may refer to God’s glory or the glory of man.
the Old Testament the Bible speaks
clearly of glory as related to men. Glory
is seen in riches (Ps. 49:16; Isa. 61:6), in the Assyrian army (Isa. 8:7), in
the trees of Lebanon (Isa. 60:13), in reputation (Job 29:20; Ps. 4:2), and in
spiritual condition (Ps. 8:5). Glory
in the lives of men includes the external as well as the internal qualities that
come to man at the point of creation.3 At no time is this glory seen
as a person-made disposition only. There
is certainly earthly glory that speaks of wealth, pride, and prestige (Job 19:9;
Isa. 10:3; Hos. 9:11), but it would be impossible to say all the weighty honor
came only by the hand of man.
glory is not so much what something or someone might bestow upon God, but rather
the quality of weight, honor, and importance that is already present in God.
We only recognize it. We only
declare it. It is already there.4
Kabod is the Hebrew word in the Old Testament that most often is
translated “glory,” the New Testament counterpart is doxa. In early Greek in
Homer and Herodotus the word doxa
expressed expectation, judgment, and opinion.
Only later did the word come to mean prestige, honor, splendor, and
Holman Bible Dictionary suggested that
in the New Testament doxa is pointing
to God’s glory.6 Thayer in his lexicon stated that the context will
show how one may give glory to God and cited New Testament examples.
may give or ascribe glory to God by expressing gratitude for a benefit received
from God (Luke 17:18). Thayer stated
that other ways to give glory to God include trusting God’s promises (Rom.
4:20), celebrating His praises (Rev. 4:9-11; 11:13; 14:7; 19:7), rendering due
honor to His majesty (Acts 12:23), and acknowledging that God knows all things
and showing that you believe it by the confessions that you make (John 9:24).7
2 Corinthians 3 Paul used tradition, emotion, logic, common sense, and Scripture
to show he was an authentic apostle and messenger of Jesus Christ.
Paul boldly yet humbly charted the way for all ministers as he shared his
motivation for service. Paul had
respect for all men but feared only God. He
cogently laid out the role of a minister with its frustrations and rewards.
a minister uses references and resources. Paul
did not disavow that practice but claimed the emotional argument that his best
references were the changed lives of the Corinthian Christians (3:1-5).
Logically a ministry that is built on the resurrected Christ is superior
to any manufactured document. G. R.
Beasley-Murray in his commentary writings on this passage stated that the Lord
always effectively uses preachers who know their own weaknesses, stay near the
cross, and throw themselves upon the mercy and work of the Holy Spirit.8
needed to wear a veil, but in Jesus Christ that veil is removed for all who turn
to the Lord in faith, repentance and obedience (3:16).
We can see God’s glory in Christ Jesus.
We can see God’s glory as we read of Him in Scripture, as we serve
others, and they serve us. We feel
that imprint of many personalities on our lives, and likewise we leave
influences and impressions on others. But
greater still is that eternal impact of the Lord Jesus in every believer’s
life. This confrontation with
God’s grace causes each of Christ’s followers to grow in His likeness.
Paul saw that freedom, light, service, and growth were available for each
one in Christ. There is no fading
away and this is no temporary condition.
Holy Spirit assisted Paul and will assist every believer in reflecting Jesus
Christ. Mirrors in those days were
made of flat pieces of cast metal or bronze and had to be continuously polished
to properly reflect the desired image. The
indwelling Holy Spirit gives vigorous cleaning to every Christian who permits it
and desires to reflect Jesus Christ. No
sin, no action, or habit need be hidden. God’s
Holy spirit polished the life of every believer that we might reflect Jesus
Christ more accurately (3:18).
honored Christ because he knew Christ’s glory was God’s glory.
If you want to see God, look at Jesus.
The glory of Christ is the focal point of the universe.
Jesus Christ is the primary object of all creation, adoration, and
people made personal and professional charges against Paul.
Yet in all his experiences Paul desired to honor Christ.
Pain, suffering, persecution, stress, and conflict were endured (4:9-11),
but God’s glory was always his focal point.
his conversion on the road to Damascus until his death, Paul believed that
experiencing God’s weighty might and presence was to leave one humble and
transformed. Giving his life as an
expression of the glory of God was Paul’s aim and every born-again
Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible
(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1969), 399-400.
Furness, Vital Words of the Bible
(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966), 43.
Arthur Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter’s
Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 2:401-403.
“Glory” in Holman Bible Dictionary,
gen. ed. Trent C. Butler (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 557.
Furness, Vital Words, 43-44.
Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of
the New Testament, 4th ed. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1905),
Beasley-Murray, 2 Corinthians vol.
11 of The Broadman Bible Commentary, gen.
ed. Clifton J. Allen (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 21.
SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 1999.
What Is The Answer
To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (02/01/15)
Whose mother does Paul send a greeting as being a mother to him, also? (NIV)
Answer next week:
The answer to last
week’s trivia question: (01/25/15)
A two-part question: In Ephesus, (1) where and (2) for how long, did the
Apostle Paul minister? Answer: (1) Where? The
school of Tyrannus (2) how long? Two years. Acts 19:9-10.