LESSON 12
STRENGTH FOR MINISTRY
(2 CORINTHIANS 12:1--13:14)

Copr. 1998, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All Scripture references are to
the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984
International Bible Society,  unless otherwise noted. Quotations
from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes
the teacher uses a blackboard.

INTRODUCTION: You remember last week Paul told us it was
foolishness to boast (2 Corinthians 11:17, 21), but he felt
compelled to boast to the Corinthians because it appears they were
dazzled by all of the boasting done by his opponents.  This week
Paul treats us to some amazing boasting of his own. Let's dig in
and be amazed!
 

I. TRIP TO THE THIRD HEAVEN

     A. Read 2 Corinthians 12:1.  Paul has just gotten through
     telling us about all of his hardships, what new topic is now
     the subject of his boasting? (Visions and revelations from the
     Lord.)

     B. Read 2 Corinthians 12:2-5. Paul writes, "I know a man...who
     was caught up to the third heaven."

          1. Who is this man?

          2. How can Paul boast about the visions of someone else?

               a. Assume you were interviewing me for a job.
               Because you need someone with the administrative
               skills to run a large company, you ask me, "Do you
               have experience running a large company?"  What
               will you think if I answer, "Let me brag little bit
               about my administrative background.  Fourteen years
               ago I knew a man who ran a Fortune 500 company."

               b. Are you impressed or what?

     C. Let's read on. Read vv. 6-7. Notice v. 7. Why does Paul say
     he was given a "thorn in [his] flesh?" (To keep him from being
     conceited about these revelations.)

          1. Is Paul getting a "big head" because he knows someone
          who had this revelation?

     D. Is Paul the man who had the "third heaven" revelation?

          1. What reasons do we have for thinking Paul is the
          "third heaven" traveler?

               (a. The "thorn" was given to Paul (not someone else)
               because of the revelation.

               b. Paul talks of "the man" hearing things that
               cannot be expressed and that must be kept secret.
               How would Paul know about this unless he was "the
               man?"

               c. It would make no sense for Paul to boast about
               the vision of some unnamed man!)

     E. Why does Paul talk like this?

          1. Why would Paul say (v.2), "I know this man..." when he
          is the man?

          2. Why would Paul say (v.5), "I will boast about a man
          like that, but I will not boast about myself....?" (Paul
          is already worried about foolish boasting. I think he
          refers to himself in the third person to make his
          boasting appear less boastful.)

     F. Where was Paul?  What is this "third heaven?"

     G. Is heaven like a downtown high-rise: the higher you go, the
     more desirable the location?

          1. Seriously, why was Paul told (v.4) not to tell about
          this "third heaven?"

               a. Does the fact that God does not reveal to us more
               information about this "third heaven" tell us
               something about whether we should spend time
               speculating about it? (Yes. I think this is a poor
               use of our time.)

               b. Then why was Paul shown the "third heaven?"

               c. Do you think it had anything to do with Paul's
               terrible list of hardships that he experienced?

                    (1) If so, what does that tell us about God?

II. POWER IN A THORN

     A. Let's look at this "thorn" issue in more detail. Read vv.
     7-10.

     B. Explain the logic of what Paul writes: how would having a
     "thorn in the flesh" keep Paul from being conceited based on
     these revelations?

          1. Answer this from the perspective of a parent. Read
          Matthew 7:9-11.

               a. If you did something very special for your child,
               would you then "give him a thorn" to "make up" for
               being so nice before?

                    (1) Would you (2 Corinthians 12:7) torment your
                    child?

               b. Who does Paul say gave him the thorn? (2
               Corinthians 12:7 tells us Satan gave him the
               thorn.)

               c. Does the fact that Satan gave Paul the thorn take
               God "off the hook" for it?

          2. 2 Corinthians 12:9 gives us the key to these answers
          about the thorn. Paul specifically gives us God's
          thinking on the subject. Let's read it again.

               a. God makes two points, what are they?

                    (1) My grace is sufficient for you.

                    (2) My power is made perfect in weakness.

               b. What does God mean when He says, "My grace is
               sufficient for you?" (When I think of "grace," I
               think of the cross. The answer to all pain,
               sickness and sorrow caused by Satan is the eternal
               life made possible by the cross.)

               c. In the meantime, how is God's power made perfect
               in our weakness or suffering?

                    (1) Do you remember God's conversation with
                    Gideon about the number of Gideon's troops
                    when they were planning the attack on the
                    Midianites? (In Judges 7:2 God tells Gideon he
                    is not weak enough, he has too many soldiers.
                    Why? Because at the end of the victory God
                    wants everyone to know that it was God and not
                    "the troops" who won the victory!)

     C. In light of this "power in weakness" idea, are we ever
     justified in saying that we cannot do some task for God
     because we are not properly equipped to do it?

     D. How many times did Paul ask to have the thorn taken away?

          1. How many times would you ask?

               a. How many times have you asked?

          2. Did Paul only ask three times because he understood
          God's "power in weakness" philosophy?

     E. Let's skip ahead for just a moment. Turn to 2 Corinthians
     13:2-5.
 

          1. What approach did Christ take when He lived with us:
          power or weakness? (Verse 4 says Jesus was crucified in
          weakness, yet lives by God's power.)

          2. I love a song which has the refrain, "Next Time
          Around." (It is sung by a group I think is called "East
          to West.") The song refers to Christ's Second Coming.
          Will He come in power then?

               a. What is Jesus approach right now? Power or
               weakness? (Paul says in v.4 "He lives by God's
               power.")

          3. Look at verse 5 again. Should we test ourselves?

               a. Should the "weakness" test be part of our
               examination?

               b. What does it mean to see if "Christ is in you?"
               Is that the "power" part of your life?

                    (1) Do you see evidence of that power in your
                    life?  Or do you see evidence of your own
                    power in your life?

                    (2) Do you rely on His power or your power?

                    (3) When the "Midianites" in your life get
                    defeated, to whom do you give the credit? Your
                    "power" or God's power?

                         (a) If you have a habit of congratulating
                         yourself for these victories, would it
                         make sense for God to allow even more
                         weakness in your life?

III. AIMING FOR PERFECTION

     A. Of all of the Bible writers, who is the strongest proponent
     of righteousness by faith? (Without a doubt, Paul.  We
     probably would not even understand the concept without Paul's
     writings.)

     B. Let's move down and read 2 Corinthians 13:11-14. What part
     of Paul's letter is this? (The conclusion.)

     C. If you send someone instructions, what do you put in the
     conclusion? (The conclusion is often a summary or a recap of
     the most important points.)

          1. What are Paul's summary points?

               (a. Aim for perfection;

               b. Listen to Paul's appeal;

               c. Be of one mind; and,

               d. Live in peace.)

          2. Why would someone who is the foremost advocate of
          righteousness by faith make his first summary point "Aim
          for perfection?" (The two ideas are perfectly consistent.
          We are saved by grace, but the goal of our life is
          perfect living. If that is not the goal, we have not yet
          "caught the vision.")

          3. Thinking back over this letter, was the Corinthian
          church "of one mind?"  How about our local church?

               a. Did they live in peace?  How about our church?

                    (1) If the answer for your church is "no" or
                    "maybe not," what is Paul's solution to this
                    problem?

                    (2) Does that solution begin with you?  And not
                    the "other guys?"

IV. NEXT WEEK: We will recap the high points of the book of 2
Corinthians which deal with God's promises for our ministry. Study! bsp;         (2) Does that solution begin with you?  And not
                    the "other guys?"

IV. NEXT WEEK: We will recap the high points of the book of 2
Corinthians which deal with God's promises for our ministry. Study!