Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 1 * PART 3 * BOOK 32
2 CORINTHIANS 11:22
Remember we were talking in our last lesson about Paul’s thorn in the flesh (which we do not claim to have the only answer). But a logical one for me is that it was a common eye disease in that period of time and it was repulsive in his appearance. It was painful and it limited his eye sight and, consequently, I think that is the reason that he dictated all of his letters, seemingly, except the Book of Galatians. And that’s what I closed with in the last lesson, how that he had to write the whole letter in huge block letters for his own sake so that he could read it himself.
So as we come on down in Chapter 12 again let’s start at verse 8. Here God gives him the reason for keeping the man humbled and evidently putting him through all the trials and sufferings.
II Corinthians 12:8,9a
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, (three times) that it (this thorn in the flesh) might depart from me. 9. And he (the Lord Jesus Himself) said unto me, `My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect (or complete) in weakness….'”
Again I have to take us back to I Corinthians because this is the whole concept of Christian service. I don’t mind a bit when, once in a while, someone will say to me, “Les, the Lord is blessing your ministry so don’t get the big head.” Because that’s always a danger in any ministry, and don’t think we don’t know that. The moment we think that we can do it ourselves we’re all done. It has to be done as a weak vessel that God has seen fit to use.
I Corinthians 1:26
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:”
Now that says it all doesn’t it? God doesn’t go to the kings and queens of world, nor does he usually go to the ivy covered halls of universities for his servants. He never has. All you have to do is go back into the Old Testament economy and look. Don’t think for a moment that there weren’t more highly polished people to be used than Amos, Gideon, and Ezekiel and some of these people. They were just common ordinary members of the Jewish nation, but that’s what God saw fit to use. So Paul is really an exception to the rule. Paul was highly educated and no doubt had a lot of polish because he certainly moved in the upper echelons of Judaism. This is why he constantly puts himself down as nothing, because he realizes that God cannot use somebody unless they are nothing.
Do you know the prime example for that situation in Scripture is Moses. Do you remember back there in Exodus. Moses, at the end of his first 40 years, having lived in Pharaoh’s palace (and was the second top man in Egypt), what did he think he could do? Well, he thought he could take the children of Israel out of slavery because of his own power and pomp and circumstance, wisdom, and leadership, so he went out to the children of Israel and as the Book of Acts says:
“For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.”
But you see God had to get Moses in the right position before He could use him. See he was leaving God out of the picture, and was using his own position, and what did God have to do to Moses? He took him out on the back side of the desert and of all the things that the man could have done to make a living, what does God put him in? A sheep herd. Which, in the eyes of an Egyptian, was an abomination. That’s what Moses had to become before God could use him. For 40 years, living with those smelly sheep with almost no contact with any number of humans, and so he became a nothing. And when God finally approached him there at the burning bush, what was Moses’ first excuse? “Hey I can’t talk.” Well for 40 years of practically being silent he’d almost forgotten how to talk. But you see how far God had to take him before He could use him. Now the same way with the apostle Paul. Remember he was highly educated, and had studied at the feet of Gamaliel, the chief rabbi of that day, and of a wealthy Jewish family. But what did God have to do? He had to take him down to a nobody. Now reading verse 27. Instead of God choosing the noble one or the highly educated:
I Corinthians 1:27,28
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.”
I still remember a long time ago, when the lady called after seeing our program for the first time, and her first question was, “Well who in the world are you anyway?” Well, this humbles you and don’t think it doesn’t. I’m a nobody and I still claim that, and that’s why I feel God has seen fit to use us. God does not use that which the world thinks is proper and has been rightly fitted for service. Now verse 29, and here is given the same concept to why Paul was given the thorn in the flesh.
I Corinthians 1:29,30
“That no flesh should glory (boast, or brag) in his presence. (God won’t have it.) 30. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:”
Those are things that God accomplishes and no man can take credit for it. Now coming back to II Corinthians Chapter 12. So rather in Paul’s weakness under the effect of this thorn in the flesh, whatever it was – under the effect of constantly being misused, beatings, shipwrecked, in prison, cold, miserable, hot, thirsty, you name it because the man went through it all, and only for the sake of taking the Gospel to a lost world. That’s all he could think about. Now finishing verse 9:
II Corinthians 12:9b
“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, (his weaknesses) that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Do you see what he’s saying? Paul wasn’t wishing for power and circumstance, and political clout, he cared for none of that. But as long as he could be a nobody, who could use him? God could. You know, the more I’ve been studying with regard to these two letters to the Corinthians (and I hope I’m bringing it home to you), the more I see the insurmountable odds that this man was facing when he went into the absolutely strange territory of pagan Gentiles who knew nothing of the God of this Bible. Oh the little Jewish communities of these cities did, but the Jews never evangelize; the Jews never took their knowledge out to the pagan Gentiles.
So when Paul comes into the cities that we talked about earlier as he traveled on his missionary journeys, every one of these cities were abject pagan idolaters who knew nothing of the God of creation. And on top of that, they weren’t even good people, they were rotten morally. You have no idea how morally corrupt most of the cities in the Roman Empire were, it’s unbelievable. And yet it was into that kind of environment this man walked with no pleasant appearance, with nothing physically going for him. All he did was preach Christ crucified, and risen again, and those people turned from their idols and became believers.
They were so staunch in their faith that they were willing to be martyred by the hundreds, and they never wavered as Paul has shown over and over in his writings. In spite of everything that those early believers went through, they didn’t give up, and how in the world did it happen? Well, it was the power of God when the Gospel was preached. I think it’s the same way today. Oh, I know we’re living in times when it seems like our moral fabric is just rotting away, but when I read how things were in the Roman Empire, hey we’re not that bad yet, I believe that there is still hope. At least most of our American people have a concept of God. I read recently that 2/3 of the American people are sure that one day they’re going to stand before God, now that’s hard to believe isn’t it?
Remember Paul didn’t have that kind of an advantage. He didn’t approach people who know that there was a God. He didn’t approach people who had any concept of Biblical morality. They were abject immorally, I mean blatantly immoral pagans. And all he did was preach faith in the Gospel and they came out of that kind of lifestyle. I was told by a gentlemen several years ago who had come out of a pretty fast lane lifestyle (and he has been one of my students for at least 15 years now), “Les, do you realize that you never say a word against drinking, smoking, cursing, gambling or illicit sex? You have never said a word against any of that.” I said, “Well, I didn’t realize it.” He said “Well, you don’t but you brought me out of all of that.” How? By teaching the Word of God. That’s all it takes. You get people into the Word and you don’t have to get on them about whatever sins they may have committed because the Word takes care of it. We’re trying to somehow legislate all these problems, and trying to bring people in on a guilt trip, and yeah, they’ve got to be found guilty, but by realizing what the Word says. And this is exactly what Paul is after. Now looking at the verse again.
II Corinthians 12:9b
“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Paul wasn’t looking for some gimmick to get people’s attention. He wasn’t looking for some Madison Avenue approach to get the masses to come and hear him. But when he preached, in all of it’s simplicity, people were convicted. And as he said when he wrote to the Thessalonians (and this is what he experienced everywhere he went. Simply because he preached Christ crucified, buried, and risen from the dead. That’s the power of the Gospel, and even though we can’t understand it, God in His own way will bring people to a knowledge of the truth):
I Thessalonians 1:8,9
“For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. (do you know what was happening? As soon as Paul saw these people converted out of paganism what did they do? They shared it wherever they went. They couldn’t shut those people’s mouths.) 9. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;”
Isn’t that amazing? Here Paul could come into a pagan city with all of its pagan statues and their gods and goddesses, and he would preach how God came in the flesh and went to that Cross, and was raised from the dead, and they believed it. Wonder of wonders. but they believed it. So, consequently, he had so many converts that they accused him of turning the Roman world upside down. Like one pastor I had years ago said, “Well it’s just the other way around, he turned it right side up.” Anyway, there was such an impact from this one man preaching the Gospel that the world in general said, “That man is turning the empire upside down.” And we know he did. Now coming back to II Corinthians Chapter 12.
II Corinthians 12:12
“Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. 13. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches,(assemblies) except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.”
Remember when Paul was asking for offerings? This is the one church that he did not really come out and put any pressure on them to give. But rather he tried to intimidate them by showing them that all the poor people up in the mountains had already made collections for the poor saints in Jerusalem. And from these Corinthians (many of whom were quite wealthy), he hadn’t even asked for a dime, and this is what he’s coming back to. Then he tells them to, “forgive me this wrong.” That’s a different way of approaching it isn’t it? He says, “It’s really my fault. I should have made you aware that you should give of your material wealth.
II Corinthians 12:14a
“Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you:…”
Paul wanted believers sold out to Christ. I dare say, myself included, that we would all like to be totally sold out to God. But you see it is almost totally impossible, it seems, for a man to be totally, completely sold out to God. But this is what God is looking for. Now he won’t demand it, He won’t force us, but oh, how God is looking for men and women, boys and girls who can be literally be sold out to Him.
I think the apostle Paul probably did. You want to remember that he left all of his material wealth behind him. He counted it but dung in order to take the Gospel to the Gentile world. I’ve always said that I was sure that Paul had a wife and family because he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and in order to be a member of the Sanhedrin you had to have a family. You had to know how to deal with family problems. As a result of this tremendous apostle being sold out to Christ, he probably lost his wife. She probably turned against him (remember he had been a high man in Jewish religion). Anyway Paul turned his back on everything in order to take the Gospel to these pagan ungodly, immoral Gentiles. Now verse 15.
II Corinthians 12:15
“And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.”
Does that sound familiar? Oh does it ever. The more he loved those Corinthians the more they turned against him and said, “We’re not going to listen to that man, now we’re going to listen to Peter.” After all Peter was with Christ, where Paul never was. I showed this verse several months ago and had some calls from people who said they never knew this verse was in their Bible. It might be appropriate to stop and look at the verse again in II Timothy Chapter 1. You know this must have been a heartache for the man. After all the sufferings, beatings, imprisonment, and the shipwrecks, to simply take the Gospel to people who had never heard it. He saw them established in it, saw Churches established, but look what he says in this verse.
II Timothy 1:15a
“This thou knowest that all they which are in Asia (primarily what is today Turkey) be turned away from me;…”
Now isn’t that something? What had happened? Well I think that it wasn’t that they had pitched Christianity overboard, but I think they turned their back on the apostle Paul’s teaching of pure Grace and went back under so much of the legalistic teaching and influence of Peter, James, John and the Jewish community, as we’re going to see when we get into the Book of Galatians. So, what a heartache: all these little Churches that he suffered for and had spent so much time with, and had been encouraged that they were growing in Grace and knowledge – and yet as he now writes from prison in Rome just before he’s martyred that he has to make a statement like this. “…that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me;…” They had rejected him. to what extent I don’t know. But remember the Scripture is true. They had not remained true to the apostle who had brought them out of their paganism. Now back to II Corinthians Chapter 12.
II Corinthians 12:16-18
“But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile. (Paul did use some strategy and he caught them in places where they were failing ) 17. Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? (did they squeeze every dollar they could out of you? No.) 18. I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?”
In other words Titus didn’t beg for money any more than Paul did. Now let’s wind up Chapter 12.
II Corinthians 12:21
“And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.”