RSS

Category Archives: 2 Corinthians 12

Living Now in Light of the Future (A Series of Messages on 2 Corinthians 12) Part 8

In just a few weeks Linda and I will be with the supporters of Camp Elim in Colorado for their Heritage Retreat (Sept. 23-24). These posts allow me to work on my messages from 2 Corinthians 12.

Let’s read over our text one more time:

We have seen that Paul’s tour of heaven — 14 years prior — was life-changing for him. But it brought him a thorn to keep him from becoming conceited about what he had experienced.

We’ve suggested that four challenges or truths can be gleaned from Paul’s description of this event in his life. First, living now in light of the future means that we have a biblical view of boasting (vv. 1-16). Second, we have seen that, taking Paul’s words seriously means that we have a clear focus on the future (vv. 2, 4, 7). And, third, Paul’s example here provides us with a practical primer on prayer (vv. 8-9).

Let’s notice a fourth — and final — lesson or challenge from this text and it is this: We now receive —

IV. A God-Honoring Perspective on Problems (vv. 9-10)

Let’s look at these two verses carefully: 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. 

We all have problems, don’t we? But how to we look at them? As irritants? As dead-end streets on our journey to happiness? As inconveniences, monkey-wrenches thrown into our self-focused itineraries? Christians are nowhere told to become passive, masochistic puddles that siliently “suffer for Jesus.” Problems and difficulties give God the opportunity to show us the sufficiency of His grace and us the opportunity to face the naked truth of our weaknesses. Such “weaknesses” — sovereignly given to us — allow us to recalibrate our priorities.

Such a perspective does not remove from us the power of repetitive prayer, but will sometimes change our praying from escape to submission. For Paul God’s refusal to remove his thorn led him to gladness (v. 9)! And he achieved a biblical delight (!) in his weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties. [I will certainly need to do a bit of a word study on each of these four terms]. But, would you not agree that Paul has pretty much covered all circumstances in life by the use of these four words: WEAKNESSES, INSULTS, HARDSHIPS, PERSECUTIONS, and DIFFICULTIES?

The Challenge: What specific difficulty are you facing right now? Have you given it over to the Lord and prayed something like this? “Lord, I don’t want this. But more than that, I want Your strength to be shown in my weakness. Help me, Lord, to trust You in this circumstance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 17, 2019 in 2 Corinthians 12

 

Tags: , , , ,

Living Now in Light of the Future (A Series of Messages on 2 Corinthians 12) Part 7

Linda and I are looking forward to September 23-24 when we will be speaking to the supporters of Camp Elim in Colorado. These posts give me the opportunity to work on my messages (from 2 Corinthians 12) for the Heritage Retreat.

Let’s look at our text one more time:

Paul’s experience of heaven was dramatically different from the often silly and unbiblical reports of people who say they have toured heaven.

We don’t need their testimonies — we have the Word of God to guide us.

We saw that the first challenge in Living Now in Light of the Future is that we have a biblical view of boasting (vv. 1-6).

Our second challenge from this text is that we have a clear focus on the future (vv. 2 & 4 & 7). Having a clear focus on the future does not mean that we try to explain all the sights and sounds of heaven — but we allow its superlative nature to silence us into awe and wonder!

Let’s notice a third challenge from our text that will help us live now in light of the future. Because of the reality of our future we are given —

III. A Practical Primer on Prayer (vv. 8-9)

“Primer” is an old word meaning either (1) an elementary book for teaching children to read; or, (2) any book of elementary principles. Well, we don’t have a book here, but we are given — through Paul’s example — a model of prayer which we ought to follow.

There are, of course, various kinds of prayer in the Scriptures. I find it helpful to use the ACTS formula (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication). Here in 2 Corinthians 12 Paul’s prayer is of the supplication kind, don’t you think? He has a desperate need — and he brings it to the Lord for resolution.

What is Paul’s need? He is talking about an incredible, superior experience of getting a glimpse (both auditory and visual) of heaven! What possible needs could he now have?! Ah, he receives a “gift” for his experience. He says in verse 7 – “in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” What?!?!?!

God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” which Paul describes as “a messenger of Satan”! Scholars have long debated what Paul’s “thorn” was (malaria, Judaizers plaguing him, etc.). My suggestion is that it was a vision problem, for he says in the book of Galatians things like “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (6:11) and “if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (4:15). He does refer to this thorn as his “weakness” (vv. 5, 9ff), a Greek term which normally refers to a physical problem.

[One can’t help but think of another “Saul” who had a similar experience. Of King Saul we read — “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (I Sam. 16:14)].

What do we learn about PRAYER from Paul here?
1. We learn that it is never wrong to pray for something more than once. Paul “pleaded with the Lord” three times for the thorn to be taken away.
2. We learn that we are to submit to God’s will and not become disillusioned when God doesn’t answer our prayers as we think He should.
3. We learn about His sufficient grace — that it becomes most real to us in our “weaknesses.”
4. We learn that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

You may have heard the story of Bill’s meeting with his pastor. “Pastor,” he said, “I have the worst temper! I fly off the handle at my wife and my kids. It’s terrible! I guess it’s just my ‘thorn in the flesh.'” “Bill,” the pastor said, “your temper is not your ‘thorn in the flesh.’ It’s your wife’s thorn in the flesh! But it’s your SIN!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 15, 2019 in 2 Corinthians 12

 

Tags: , ,

Living Now in Light of the Future (A Series of Messages on 2 Corinthians 12) Part 6

September 23-24 will be when I get to address the supporters at Camp Elim in Colorado (their “Heritage Retreat).” These posts give me the opportunity to work on my messages which will be from 2 Corinthians 12.

Let’s look at our text one more time:

We’ve seen that Paul’s experience of heaven is dramatically different from the often silly reports of people who say they have toured heaven.

We don’t need their testimonies — we have the Word of God to guide us.

The first challenge in Living Now in Light of the Future is that we have a biblical view of boasting (vv. 1-6).

Let’s notice our second challenge from this text and it is that we would have —

II. A Clear Focus on the Future! (vv. 2 & 4 & 7).

In these verses Paul tells us that his tour of heaven was very real, but he was not sure whether he was literally taken to heaven or he experienced a vision of heaven given to him by the Lord. One could ask, what difference would it make? His experience was genuine — and he learned several truths from it.

What does he say about his experience? First of all, he says he was “caught up to the third heaven” (v. 2). Later he says he was “caught up to paradise” (v. 4). Obviously those moments were real and he was in a real place (if he was “out of the body”) or he was shown a real place (if he was “in the body”).

What did he experience there? We are given two extremely succinct statements:
(1) He “heard inexpressible things — things that no one is permitted to tell” (v. 4). We verbal creatures think that all of life can be explained or described with mortal words. We deceive ourselves and we shrink our view of heaven by our conversation. Some experiences are beyond words. And if heaven, the abode of God, doesn’t fit that description, it is unworthy of our thought. But what if just a glimpse overwhelmingly convinces us, not just of heaven’s reality, but of its auditory superiority to any sounds we have ever heard — or could ever utter?

(2) He saw “surpassingly great revelations” (v. 7). We often cavalierly use superlatives when they are deserved or earned.  “That was the best meal I have ever had!” “That concert left me breathless!” “He was the greatest Christian that ever lived!” When we have “used up” all our superlatives for merely earthly things, what words are left to speak about eternity? What visual descriptions remain that could be used about heaven?

Paul’s trip to heaven was not given to him to satisfy his curiosity — or to convince him that “heaven is real.” The text doesn’t tell us why gave him this experience. Perhaps as an expression of God’s grace God lets Paul hear and see the future. And it changes his life! But the changes in Paul’s life are very different from those described in the heaven tour books.

To receive a “clear focus on the future” for Paul meant keeping the experience to himself for 14 years and staying faithful in his ministry. We will notice two major impacts that his vision of heaven had on him in our next several posts.

The Challenge Today: It’s not wrong for the believer to think about heaven and what life will be like in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Sounds and sights will superscede our imaginations. We read in I Corinthians 2 —

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 13, 2019 in 2 Corinthians 12

 

Tags: , ,

Living Now in Light of the Future (A Series of Messages on 2 Corinthians 12) Part 5

I am looking forward to speaking to the supporters of Camp Elim in Colorado September 23-24. Their “Heritage Retreat” gives me the opportunity to preach on one of my favorite passages, 2 Corinthians 12. I will be sharing four messages with them.

One of the many benefits of doing a daily blog is that I get to “think out” what I’m going to preach on. Let’s look at the 2 Corinthians 12 passage again before I share message #1 with you:

We’ve noticed a number of “heaven tourism” books that have sold millions of copies — and found them, in most cases, a challenge to the authority of Scripture about the reality of heaven!

We don’t need tour books — we need the Book — and an authoritative account from an approved Apostle of Christ!

The first message I want to preach from this text can be entitled as —

I. A Biblical View of Boasting (vv. 1-6)

It must be pointed out that there is godly and there is ungodly boasting. Ungodly boasting is found in passages like: James 4:16 “As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.”; Proverbs 27:1 “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”; and James 3:5 “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” When we boast about our “arrogant schemes” or brag about our plans for tomorrow or use our words in ungodly ways, we are engaged in ungodly boasting.

Godly boasting is spoken of in passages like: Jeremiah 9:24 “but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. And in 2 Thessalonians 1:4 “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” And in Philippians 2:16 “as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” Also in Philippians 3:3 “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” Godly boasting focuses on the joy of knowing the Lord and the pleasure we receive when we see other believers living for Him!

In our text, 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is employing a kind of boasting by which he is defending his apostleship. He is quite reluctant to engage in such boasting as evidenced by the fact that he has kept his experience of heaven to himself for 14 years! We also see that he begins to explain his going to heaven in the 3rd person (“I knew a man . . . he . . .”), but later shifts to 1st person (“Even if I should choose to boast . . .”). Paul uses the term “boast” five times in this text.

We may boast about our grandchildren or our children or our spouses, but our greatest boast must be about the Lord Himself and His goodness to us! (to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 11, 2019 in 2 Corinthians 12

 

Tags: , ,

Living Now in Light of the Future (A Series of Messages on 2 Corinthians 12) Part 4

Linda and I will be at Camp Elim in Colorado September 23-24 for their “Heritage Retreat.” I will be speaking on one of my favorite passages, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. These posts will allow me to think out some of what I want to say in those four messages.

Paul’s final evidence of his apostleship (of which he boasts) is this vision of or trip to heaven.

There have been many who have claimed to literally go to heaven, usually during a traumatic time of injury. Here are several books that make the claim of having actually gone to heaven — and come back!

Each of these books have been carefully read and evaluated by Bible-believing followers of Jesus — and found wanting!

How do these so-called trips to heaven differ from Paul’s trip (or vision) here in 2 Corinthians 12? In every way!  He waited 14 years to tell of his experience (v. 2)! He was clearly told not to give any details about his what he heard and saw (v. 4). For his trouble Paul was given, not book tours, but a thorn in his flesh. To keep him humble (“to keep me from becoming conceited,” v. 7).

This “thorn” was so severe that it drove Paul to his knees in repetitive prayer for rescue! We don’t need extra-biblical (outside the Bible) experiences of others to convince us that heaven is real. We have God’s infallible Word! (to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 9, 2019 in 2 Corinthians 12

 

Tags: , ,

Living Now in Light of the Future (A Series of Messages on 2 Corinthians 12) Part 3

Linda and I will be at Camp Elim in Colorado September 23-24 for their “Heritage Retreat.” I will be speaking on one of my favorite passages, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. These posts will allow me to think out some of what I want to say in those four messages.

Paul’s final evidence of his apostleship (of which he boasts) is this vision of or trip to heaven.

There have been many who have claimed to literally go to heaven, usually during a traumatic time of injury. Here are several books that make the claim of having actually gone to heaven — and come back!

Each of these books have been carefully read and evaluated by Bible-believing followers of Jesus — and found wanting! I evaluated Mary Baxter’s book (as well as her A Divine Revelation of Hell) in my book entitled Heaven: Thinking Now about Forever. Tim Challis, a Toronto pastor, wrote an article entitled “Heaven Tourism” which may be accessed here.

I just read through Challis’ article and I believe it is worth adding it to today’s post. Please read it through!

Heaven Tourism  # #
Travelling to heaven and back is where it’s at today. Don Piper spent ninety minutes there and sold four million copies of his account. Colton Burpo doesn’t know how long he was there, but his travel diary has surpassed 6 million copies sold, with a kids’ edition accounting for another half million. Bill Wiese obviously booked his trip on the wrong web site and found himself in hell, which did, well, hellish things to his sales figures. Still, 23 Minutes in Hell sold better than if he had described a journey to, say, Detroit, and he even saw his book hit the bestseller lists for a few weeks. There have been others as well, and together they have established afterlife travel journals as a whole new genre in Christian publishing–a genre that is selling like hotcakes, or Amish fiction, for that.

I’ll grant that the cost of this type of journey is rather steep (you’ve got to die, though only for just a few minutes), but it’s a sound investment when you factor in the sales figures. I can think of quite a few authors who would trade a few minutes of life for 50+ weeks on the bestseller lists and a few appearances on TBN.

The most recent heaven tourist is Mary C. Neal. Much like Todd Burpo, who is responsible for taking his son’s adventures to print, Neal only decided to write about her experiences many years after the fact, after all those other “I went to heaven” books began to sell in the hundreds of thousands. But that’s definitely just coincidence. She initially self-published her book To Heaven and Back, but once it started generating buzz (i.e. selling lots and lots of copies), Waterbrook Multnomah stooped down and scraped it off the bottom of a shoe somewhere, and promptly re-issued it. With the extra marketing nudge, it has now made its debut on the New York Times list of bestsellers. I gave it a skim–I just couldn’t bear to read it all the way–and found that it is much the same as the others. In fact, it may be worse than the others in that it contains even less Christian theology, less gospel and far more New Age, sub-Christian nonsense. That a publisher of Christian books would even consider taking this to print is appalling.

I am not going to review To Heaven and Back. It’s pure junk, fiction in the guise of biography, paganism in the guise of Christianity.But I do want to address a question that often arises around this book and others in the genre: How do I respond to them? How do I respond to those who say they have been to heaven? When a Christian, or a person who claims to be a Christian, tells me that he has been to heaven, am I obliged to believe him or at least to give him the benefit of the doubt?

No, I am under no such obligation. I do not believe that Don Piper or Colton Burpo or Mary Neal or Bill Wiese visited the afterlife. They can tell me all the stories they want, and then can tell those stories in a sincere tone, but I do not believe them (even when they send me very angry and condescending emails that accuse me of character assassination). I am not necessarily saying that these people are liars–just that I am under no obligation to believe another person’s experience. Here’s why:

In the first place, we have no reason to believe or expect that God will work in this way–that he will call one of us to the afterlife and then send us back to our old bodies. The Bible says that it is for man to die once and then to experience the resurrection. There are many experiences we can have in a near-death state I am sure–dream-like experiences that may even seem real–but the Bible gives us no reason to believe that a person will truly die, truly experience the afterlife, and then return. Those who have a biblical understanding of life and death and heaven and hell will know that for a person to die and visit heaven, to experience sinlessness and the presence of Jesus Christ–for that person it would be the very height of cruelty to then demand that they return to earth. None of these books are at all consistent with a robust theology of heaven and hell, of the work of Jesus Christ, of the existence of indwelling sin. On the surface they may seem compelling, but in reality they raise far more questions than the few they may appear to answer.

You dishonor God if you need this kind of outside verification. In the second place, the very idea of God calling a person to heaven and back and then having that person share his experience in order to bolster our faith is the exact opposite of what the Lord desires for us. We have no reason to look to another person’s experience of heaven in order to prove that heaven is real or hell is real. The Bible promises blessings on those who do not see and yet believe. Our hope is not to be in the story of a minister or toddler or doctor or anyone else who insists they have been to heaven; our hope is to be in Jesus Christ as God has graciously revealed him to us in the Bible. Faith is believing that what God says in his Word is true and without error. You dishonor God if you choose to believe what the Bible says only when you receive some kind of outside verification. You dishonor God if you need this kind of outside verification.

A question remains: How do I respond to a Christian who has read these books and who finds great joy or comfort in them? You point that person to what is true. You will need to be careful with tone and timing, but ultimately, it will be a blessing for any Christian to direct his faith to the worthy object of faith. Faith will be strengthened by reading the Bible and believing it. Faith will be weakened by reading the Bible and believing it only after reading 90 Minutes in Heaven. You can serve any Christian by directing him to the Bible and helping him to see that we are called to believe God on the basis of what he says in his Word, not on the basis of another person’s experience. 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is For Real and all the rest are not books that beautify the doctrine of heaven, but books that attack the doctrine of Scripture. The Bible insists that it is enough, that it is sufficient, that we have no need for further special revelation from God; these books insist that it is not.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 7, 2019 in 2 Corinthians 12

 

Tags: , ,

Living Now in Light of the Future (A Series of Messages on 2 Corinthians 12) Part 2

Friends: As Linda and I look forward to being with the supporters of Camp Elim in Colorado September 23-24 for their “Heritage Retreat,” I will be speaking on one of my favorite passages, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. I want to begin fleshing out those four messages on this blog.  Let’s take another look at the text first:

We’ve seen in our previous post that boasting is a prominent theme in 2 Corinthians (you did read through 2 Corinthians chs. 1-10, right?).

There is, of course, godly as well as ungodly boasting. Notice in our text that Paul uses the term “boast” five times (vv. 1, 5 [2x], 6, & 9). Paul feels the need to defend his apostleship, so he pulls out what we might call his “trump” card (that used to be a perfectly good word. Just saying).

What’s Paul’s final evidence of his apostleship? He has either had a VISION of heaven or he has actually TRAVELED there! Let’s make a few general observations on this passage before we look at four major themes in this text.

1. Paul  pulls out this experience from FOURTEEN YEARS AGO! Why did he wait so long to tell us of his trip (or vision) of heaven? Perhaps it was because this has brought him a world of trouble!
2. It is fascinating how he speaks of his experience. He begins talking about a man he knew who got “caught up to the 3rd heaven.” But Paul switches from 3rd person (“he”) to 1st person (“I” or “me”) in verses 5 and following.
3. We are given some extremely brief (and tantalizing) details about heaven: “heard inexpressible things” (v. 4) + “surpassingly great revelations” (v. 7).
4. We learn what Paul got for his experience — not book deals and TV appearances, but a THORN in his flesh!
5. Paul serves as our example when it comes to PRAYER and responding to OUR WEAKNESSES!

We will unpack each of these points in subsequent posts. (to be continued)

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 5, 2019 in 2 Corinthians 12

 

Tags: , ,