September 27, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (2 Corinthians 12)

Submitted by Wilson F. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

2 Corinthians 12:1-5; 11

“The striking absence of references to visions and revelations in Paul’s letters demonstrates his own lack of interest in sharing such private, spiritual experiences. He viewed them as without benefit either for establishing his authority as an apostle or for building up the church.”  [Scott J. Hafemann, 2 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary Series CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).]

  • Even though Apostle Paul did not want to “go on boasting,” he says the Corinthians “forced [him] to do it” (v. 11) because they thought he was “inferior” to the false teachers to whom he refers sarcastically as “super-apostles.”  What does this reveal about the nature of the boastful claims made by the false teachers?

The nature of these boastful claims made by the false teachers was that they presented themselves in a position of superiority, thereby casting everyone as inferior, beneath them in terms of status and recognition within the church community.  From the context, it can be inferred that the false teachers were boasting about having these visions and revelations of the Lord, these ecstatic experiences; and Apostle Paul hints at the danger of “becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations” (v. 7), and clearly, the false teachers were striving to promote themselves, to elevate their image before others, to distinguish themselves from the “unspiritual rank-and-file.”  Essentially, their boasting was full of self, full of pride, full of “hey, look at me and how spiritual and specially anointed and close to God I am!”  In that sense, it was about setting themselves apart from men, when as ministers of reconciliation, they should have been focused on reconciling men back to God (c.f. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20) – and that is why these teachers were false.

  • In recalling his own experiences, why would Paul choose to refer to himself in the third person?

Paul chose to refer to himself in the third person because he did not want to draw that kind of attention upon himself, to participate in that self-promoting declaration of his personal mystical experiences.  He refused to have people think more highly of him based on his recounting of visions and revelations of the Lord, but rather to look upon his life and judge him according to what one “sees in [him] or hears from [him]” (v. 6).  In genuine humility, he sought to show that it was not about him, but rather about God – and so he boasts “all the more gladly of [his] weaknesses” to showcase Christ’s power at work in his life.  So he does not engage in the “hey, look at me…!” but directs all the attention to Christ and the all-sufficiency of his grace manifest in him.

The application is not to start referring to myself in the third person when describing my personal relationship with God, but it is to examine my own heart and to consider the words I speak, the thoughts I entertain, and the motives I encourage in my heart – considering how much they are designed to make myself look better and to get others to think more highly of me.  The temptation is so strong because my pride and ego are so strong, and it feels so good to derive a sense of significance from other people’s respect and reverence and awe of me.  But conceit and boasting in personal greatness were the hallmark features of the false teachers back then, and they remain so even today.  That is why Paul talks about a thorn in the flesh, “a messenger of Satan to harass [him]” (v. 7) in order to keep him humble.  So as I think about my own testimony and about the things I deal with even today, I am reminded that I am nothing more than a struggling sinner in need of God’s grace every single day, and that ultimately all that is good in me is because of the power of Christ resting upon me in the midst of my weakness, my sin, my battles with the flesh.

2 Corinthians 12:5-6

“Accordingly, Paul restrains himself from such boasting so that no one will brag about him beyond what can be evaluated objectively (cf. 5:12–13; 10:7, 11–14, 17–18)…what counts is what others can observe concerning his words and deeds (12:6).” [Scott J. Hafemann, 2 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary Series CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).]

  • According to v. 6, on what basis did Paul want to be thought of or judged?

On the basis of what one can see in him or hear from him, on the basis of his actions, lifestyle choices, and conduct as well as his words, either in public preaching or in private conversation.

  • Reflect on the fact that Apostle Paul wanted “no one [to] think more of [him]” than what “[one] sees in [him] or hears from [him].”  Why is this appropriate as a Christian?

This attitude of not wanting anyone to think more highly of himself is appropriate as a Christian because a Christian has to be committed to truth.  As a follower of Christ, he must not engage in mask-wearing, putting on a pretense of someone he is not; instead, he strives for transparency so that what you see (and hear) is what you get.

  • In what ways were the false teachers not like this?

The false teachers were not committed to truth, instead trying to project an image of themselves that was divorced from reality.  They wanted to highlight their positives aspects while ignoring their negative aspects.  Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, they wanted to appear “righteous,” omitting any mention of their sinful heart.  And sadly, the Corinthians were taken by their presentation and started to stray from the pure and single devotion to Christ.

  • In what ways do I seek others’ approval through image-maintenance of some sort?

One way in which I seek others’ approval through image-maintenance is by caring so much about what others think of me.  For as long as I could remember, I was a people-pleaser, wanting to be well-liked by everyone around me, because I wanted their acceptance and eventually their recognition and approval.  This was how I approached my friends and classmates at school, and I imported that same people-consciousness into the church.  The problem was that I felt forced to suppress the truth about my sinfulness out of fear of rejection, and so I presented myself as a nice, decent and respectable person, when all the while, I was giving into my lust and greed again and again.

What freed me from this approval-seeking people-consciousness was opening myself up to the people in this community of faith, to my brothers and sisters, and then having my leaders speak truth into my life as they noticed the discrepancy between my profession of faith and my practice.  They also taught me how to confess my sins and to be honest before God and with others, and taught me the importance of cultivating a secret personal relationship with God, where I am doing things for God away from the gaze of man, where I do not even breathe a word about them either.  Through these steps, I developed an identity before God, grounded in truth, no longer trying to be impressive.

As a leader in our church, the temptation is even greater, given my title and position – and that is why my times devoted to God and spent in his Word are so crucial in keeping me honest before God and real with myself.  Remembering the darkness from which God has called me and confessing the sins I still battle, I keep my leadership role from getting to my head.  Instead, I can only pause and marvel at the fact that God would choose to use a sinner like me.  During the past two times in which I taught Bible Study during our Friday Night gatherings, I was able to share some pretty shameful things about myself, both from the past and from things going on now.  Even as I was preparing the night before, I reconsidered saying anything, preferring to preserve my image and reputation in front of my staff and students.  However, my hope and prayer were that through my honest sharing, they could relate to the message better, and additionally, they would be encouraged to be honest in confessing their own sins.  Looking back, though I am not sure if that happened in their lives or not, I am thankful that I had that opportunity – to be able to say with Apostle Paul that “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses” so that I experience once again the sufficiency of God’s grace and so that Christ may receive all the glory.

  • According to the passage below, a part of the objective reality by which Apostle Paul wished to be seen, compared to the false teachers, had to do with the fact that he brought the gospel to the Corinthians.  This was in contrast to what the false teachers were doing in “boasting…in the labors of others.” 

2 Corinthians 10:13–15 (ESV)

13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others.

  • What does this passage (2 Corinthians 10:13-15) show about one possible criteria by which false teachers can be discerned?

From this passage, one possible criteria by which false teachers can be discerned is if they are “boast[ing] … in the labors of others” (10:15).  Apostle Paul wanted to be clear, that he would “boast only with regard to the influence God assigned to [him],” suggesting that the false teachers were attempting to take credit for work done by others.  He points out that he and his missionary companions were the first ones to bring the gospel of Christ to them, laboring hard and sacrificing much so that the Corinthian church would be built upon a strong biblical foundation.  Then the false teachers come along and act as if they had something to do with the planting of the church, as if the Corinthians owed them for services they never rendered.  In that way, the false teachers were trying to “muscle” their way into another person’s ministry, rather than looking for ways to carry the gospel to people who have never heard.  It makes sense that they would use such a tact, because amongst believers, they have an audience that is responsive to the gospel and friendly toward preachers, and simply by being eloquent and winsome, they can steal their affections and loyalties with a watered-down version of the gospel.

Submitted by Steven C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

2 Corinthians 12:1-5; 11

  • Even though Apostle Paul did not want to “go on boasting,” he says the Corinthians “forced [him] to do it” (v. 11) because they thought he was “inferior” to the false teachers to whom he refers sarcastically as “super-apostles.”  What does this reveal about the nature of the boastful claims made by the false teachers?

Based on the content that Apostle Paul refers, to in v.1, “I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord,” it reveals that the false teachers were boasting of fantastical visions and revelations that they personally received.  Their boasts, were about the spiritual experiences that likely spoke of supernatural phenomena, mystical visions and other out of this world happenings that can’t be explained by science or any other observable phenomena.  The thing about these supernatural visions and revelations, is that they can neither be confirmed nor definitively rejected because they are based on personal experience.  So, no matter how fanatical, how absurd and unbelievable a revelation may seem, it’s impossible to show that they are wrong, that they’re lying or that their experience wasn’t actually what happened.  So, in thinking about these false teachers, the focus of their boasting was fantastical events, but Apostle Paul totally dismisses them and sarcastically calls them “super-apostles,” because their revelations and visions don’t ultimately lead to building up the church.  If anything, they serve to boost the ego of these false apostles and gather around themselves a following of people.

  • In recalling his own experiences, why would Paul choose to refer to himself in the third person?

Apostle Paul was embarrassed at the fact that he was actually sharing about his own supernatural experience.  So, to distance himself from the actual event, Apostle Paul speaks about a man that he knew, when in fact the man he speaks about is himself.  If he talks about someone else that he knows, but doesn’t identify himself, Apostle Paul is able to speak more candidly and openly, as opposed to directly linking himself to the event.  If he were to speak in the first person, he would likely feel very embarrassed and rather sheepish, in having to boast before the Corinthians about this matter.

2 Corinthians 12:5-6

  • According to v. 6, on what basis did Paul want to be thought of or judged?

Apostle Paul wants to be judged by the words that he speaks and what can be observed about his life.  He doesn’t want his life to be thought about or judged by personal narratives of supernatural and fantastical visions, that ultimately do nothing to build up the church.  Apostle Paul’s focus is that, “no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me”.  He wants his life to be judged and considered based on what anyone can observe, know and hear about his life.  It has to be something concrete and specific that one could point to.

  • Reflect on the fact that Apostle Paul wanted “no one [to] think more of [him]” than what “[one] sees in [him] or hears from [him].”  Why is this appropriate as a Christian?

Apostle Paul was very clear on his focus and purpose as an Apostle and servant of Christ Jesus.  He didn’t like the fact that he was being obligated and forced to boast before the Corinthians about his own personal vision that he received from God.  He knew and recognized that it was a blessing and revelation that God intended for him to receive.  Instead, of having the Corinthians and other people judge and perceive his life based on these other supernatural occurrences, Apostle Paul iterates the importance of first judging his life based on objective and observable facts about his life.  And, for Christians, this really is a very important concept to understand.  Christians are very good at telling other people how to live their lives according to God’s holy standard, but Christians have to first demonstrate this in their own lives.  The unfortunate truth, is that there are so many hypocritical Christians out there who preach about holy living, who share about how people ought live their lives, but their own lives are terribly unreflective of the truth they preach.  Hypocritical Christians are one of the most damaging things to the Christian faith, thus it is so important that each Christian hears and heeds the words of Apostle Paul.  Their actions have to speak louder than their boasts about the transforming power of the gospel.

  • In what ways were the false teachers not like this?

The false teachers were very different from Apostle Paul, in that their boasts, were primarily focused on the supernatural and sharing about visions and experiences.  Instead of focusing on the pattern of their lives and teaching about life that is understandable to all, they instead chose to persevere on these un-relatable phenomena that ultimately do very little for anyone to further know or understand God’s character.

  • In what ways do I seek others’ approval through image-maintenance of some sort?

I seek others’ approval through my own competencies and simply staying on top of everything that I’m doing.  Life, ministry, working and everything can be really crazy at times.  And, even though it can feel like it’s out of control inside, I always try to appear calm and composed on the surface, because I don’t want people to actually know that I’m not that competent, I just barely get by in life.  So, instead of asking for help, I try to simply do most things on my own.  Despite how behind I am with many things, I hastily try to get it done before the actual deadline in hopes that people won’t really notice.  But, this is such a tiring act, because undoubtedly I drop balls, make mistakes and things, of course, don’t get done, or they’re not done well.  But, because I’m so proud and I want to appear competent and capable, I don’t reach out to others.  This image-maintenance and approval seeking is so tiring because I’m constantly trying to show that I have everything together, when in fact I don’t, I’m not that put together as I often think of myself, and the fact of the matter is that I desperately need others’ help.

According to the passage below, a part of the objective reality by which Apostle Paul wished to be seen, compared to the false teachers, had to do with the fact that he brought the gospel to the Corinthians.  This was in contrast to what the false teachers were doing in “boasting…in the labors of others.”

  • What does this passage (2 Corinthians 10:13-15) show about one possible criteria by which false teachers can be discerned?

Here, Apostle Paul notes how his boasting is about the objective reality that he was the first to bring them the gospel and preach the message of Christ.  Instead, of simply bringing fanciful stories and personal boastings like the false teachers, Apostle Paul boasts simply about his labors in the gospel for the sake of the Corinthians.  So, one possible criterion by which these false teachers can be discerned is by if they boast about their own labors or boast in the labors of others as though it were their own.  Are these false teachers going to unreached people who’ve never heard the gospel, or are they going to people who’ve been converted by the work of some missionary and claiming them as their own?  Ultimately, these false teachers were stirring up factions and divisions within the church that Apostle Paul had labored so hard to establish, and in a sense these false teachers were trying to steal away the people that Apostle Paul had converted.

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