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October 9, 2016

"VISIONS AND THORNS"

TEXT: 2 Corinthians 12: 1-10
READING:
 Isaiah 35: 1-10

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SUBJ: Paul’s example to us in the matter of those things that might tend to make us feel exalted above measure and in drawing strength from the Lord in weakness.

AIM: That we might consider that which we have received by faith and know ourselves to be privileged but to recognize that our lot in life may keep us anchored in humility.

INTR: Excerpts of this passage are often quoted in that it emphasizes the present reality of Heaven while calling attention to a good example in dealing with suffering and trial.
1. Much that is believed concerning Heaven is a matter of speculation, but here some precious aspects of it are here set forth.
2. There is also much speculation as to the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh – men love to turn things stated into clues – Paul stated what it was.
3. The message to us is one of seeing that there is reason to feel exalted as we consider the wonders of salvation and attachment as citizens of the Kingdom and heirs to Heaven and earthbound sufferings that promote humility and a patient waiting for Christ.

THESIS: As did Paul, we are to strive to behold the glory of Christ in any circumstance while recognizing that the lot we are appointed in life has the effect of properly involving the grace of God in all ways – even suffering.

I. A reason to glory not claimed (vv. 1-4)
1. The experience that Paul related and its dual purpose
1) A matter of no expediency (for him personally) but serving the purpose of God in relating it.
2) His uncertainty as to his state when this occurred
3) Some clues as to Heaven and its accessibility
i. The third Heaven indicating the dwelling place of God and the heavenly host.
ii. Contrasted with the “airy” heaven and the “starry” heaven.
2. It is important to note that he acknowledges that it was in Christ that this happened and that he doubles the statement as to his own uncertainty.
3. He did sense certain things
1) He knew it was paradise
2) He knew that he had an identity with it in that it was in Christ
3) He knew that it was infinitely far removed from the manner of fallen human existence
4) He knew that the language spoken and understood was not compatible with human communication.
5) He sensed the presence of God.
i. We are reminded that Christ had audibly spoken to Paul at his conversion and was heard.
ii. At Corinth the Lord had spoken to him and assured him of his presence
iii. And it may have been the Lord that appeared to him as the man of Macedonia.

II. A God-honoring desire expressed (vv. 5-6)
1. The experience had left a lasting effect that was expressed in his desire to depart and be with Christ which was far better – “For to me to live is Christ, but to die is gain…”
2. It would have been easy for him to dwell on the fact that he had been so singled out.
3. But, he chose to rather direct attention to that which could be common to all.
1) His infirmities and the manner in which he dealt with them would be readily understood by all and especially by them that suffer.
2) He, like others was able to celebrate that he had been counted worthy to suffer for his Lord.
4. So, he would suppress the tendency to remind himself and others of that precious experience for fear that some might think him as anything other than the man they saw him to be (Paul was horrified at Lystra when some perceived them to be gods).
5. His intent was to be heard as he delivered up the Gospel and exalted Christ above all else.

III. A divine method for humbling (7-8)
1. God’s ways are often not those we would have chosen but they are far more effective:
1) It was not a put down for Paul that the Lord so dealt with him – it was to protect Paul from being diverted away from his devotion to Christ and the Gospel
2) It was not that this thing was forced on him; it was rather perceived by Paul as a gift!
i. Many have conjectured as to what this “thorn” was, thinking it to be some debilitating disease of infirmity.
ii. Paul calls with what it is regardless of the form it was “the messenger of Satan” to buffet him. Paul spoke, in other places, of his own self-discipline.
iii. Surely he was reminded at this time of the thorns that our blessed Lord wore as He went to the cross and Paul’s only glorying was in the Cross!
2. It accomplished the purpose of driving Paul to prayer and the privilege of coming “boldly to the throne of Grace” far outweighs any suffering here. He knows our limits and sustains us.

IV. A faith enhancing and securing experience (vv. 9-10)
1. The answer to Paul was all encompassing as it should be to us.
1) That Lord’s grace is sufficient is not limited to fleshly difficulty
2) This is that which has been procured and secured by the blood of Christ
3) It not only insures our identity with all that is in Christ and our heavenly home but all that lies between.
4) He is after all the God of all Grace (But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. 1 Peter 5:10.)
2. The reaction of Paul is exemplary as he was enabled to take pleasure in the things that men dread and consider a curse.
1) He saw them as being for Christ’s sake and
2) He saw unbelievable strength in weakness!