2 Corinthians 12:7 (KJV)
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
It is needful to remember that Paul was writing a letter; a letter to address a series of circumstances that have taken place in the church at Corinth. Like any letter that you or I would write to a dear friend, it would consist of a series of sentences and paragraphs that all flowed together to express our thoughts on one or more topics. Each topic that we would present in our message could only be understood correctly by the reader by keeping the context of each part.
Without commenting on the traditional, carnal explanations of this statement by Paul, I will address it using Greek interpretation of words provided by the Strong’s Concordance and the context of the written letter of Paul to the Corinthian church. I will refrain from pulling sentences out of the context of Paul’s letter. I will not allow any one segment of his letter to stand alone nor use any one sentence (or group of sentences) to try to build and substantiate a preconceived belief system.
Following is Paul’s letter in our modern day vernacular, in context, and using the Strong’s to interpret the meaning of the Greek words.
2 Corinthians 11:1 through 2 Corinthians 12:19
I truly wish for you to bear with me for a little while in what may seem to be foolish conversation; so then, please bear with me. For I am jealous of you, but in a godly way: for just as a father presents his pure and unblemished daughter to the man to which she will be forever joined in marriage, I present you with great zealousness, to Jesus the Christ. But I am greatly alarmed, just as the serpent deceived Eve by craftiness, that by chance, in the same way that Eve’s thoughts were corrupted (in that she turned away from the singleness of heart toward God) that your singleness of heart has been diverted from the boundless generosity that is in Jesus, the Christ. By this I mean that if anyone comes to you preaching and presenting another or different Jesus, different from the Jesus whom I and those who serve with me have presented to you; or if you accept a spirit that differs from the Spirit of God Whom you have accepted in accordance with our preaching; or if a gospel that is different from the gospel that you once received from us is presented to you, I fear that you might full well allow such deception to influence your thinking.
For I for do not consider myself in any way less important than the most important apostolic messenger, whether he be truly sent from God or one who speaks with deceitful and crafty words. Even though I may seem ignorant in the art of eloquent speech, but not ignorant in revelation knowledge; for I and all of those who labor with me for you have completely exposed our lives, our thoughts, our intentions, and in fact all things to you.
Have I sinned by restraining and greatly humbling myself, so that you may be lifted up, because I preached to you the gospel of God without holding back any effort and without any underlying motives for gain on my part? I actually used the funding from other churches (in reality I felt as though I robbed them although they gave freely) in order to serve you. And when I was in your midst and in need, I was burdensome to no one, for my needs were supplied by the brethren of Macedonia. In all things and in all ways I have kept myself from being a burden to you, and it is my intention to remain so. As sure as the truth of Jesus, the Christ is in me, no one shall stop my boasting of this fact even throughout the region of Achaia. Why have I acted so as to not take monetary support from you? Is it because I do not love you? God knows that I do! But I have lived this way among you and will continue so that I may cut off or hinder any opportunity for those who have taken the occasion to boast in your providing of livelihood to them. In doing this I will provide no evidence that would give them the ability to even compare themselves to me or those who labor with me. For if there was such evidence it would enable them to falsely claim that they and I are of the same godly intent. But those who desire such occasion are false apostles and teachers. They are deceitful workers who do their best to present themselves as the true apostles of Jesus, the Christ. And this method of deceit is not something that is new or to be considered as unheard of; for Satan himself has and does even today present himself as a messenger of bright and shining light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers (these false apostles) also try to present themselves as ministers of righteousness. In the end they will pay the cost of their deceitful, foolish works.
I say again, that no man should think that I am foolish or unwise in these matters, but allow me to act foolishly for a time so that I can brag on myself a little. Now this that I am about to say should not be considered as infallible prophetic words from the Lord, but should be considered as foolish boasting (although it is boasting in a good way) in order to present and support a point. So here I go: I know that many people brag about themselves and their carnal, fleshly accomplishments. So, I also can brag to you in such foolish ways since it is evident that you gladly accept the foolish and yet believe yourselves to be wise. Again, you accept the fools with gladness. For you accept and forbear it if a man brings you into bondage (through false teaching), or if a man devour you, or if a man take of you (and of your possessions), or if a man exalt himself (as a sent one from God), or if a man even smite you on the face (which is the insult that you have accepted from these false apostles). I say these things with a feeling of indignity within myself because I, and those who labour with me for you, have been too weak to do such things to you. However, anyone who boldly claims the authority to act in this way because of who they claim to be, (remember I am speaking foolishly) let me add that I can also boldly proclaim such rights.
Are they that deceive you Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I! Are they ministers of Jesus, the Christ?!! (I now will again be speaking foolishly in that I will be bragging on myself) I am more! I have labored and toiled unto weariness more abundantly than they. I have received beatings beyond measure, been imprisoned very frequently, and in life and death situations many times. More specifically, I have received forty lashes upon my back five times from the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned and left for dead. Three times I have endured shipwrecks and a night and a day I have been stranded in the sea. I have spent much time traveling through perilous waters, with the dangers of thieves and robbers waiting at many parts of my journeys. As I traveled I was even in danger from my own countrymen and kinsmen, not to mention in peril that waited by way of the heathen countrymen also. I have lived with the threat of danger from the wilderness, from the sea, and even from those who pretended to be brothers in the faith but were in truth only pretending to be associates with me in the gospel.
I have persisted through weariness and many painful situations where I could not sleep due to standing guard. I have persisted through times of hunger, thirst, lack of all types, and through times when I was without necessary clothing in very cold weather.
And to add to all of these things that I stated, which only affect the body, I have had the care and concern for all of the churches press upon me every day. Which of you is weak or feeble in any circumstance and I am not affected by that weakness with a desire to make you strong? Which of you is trapped or led into situations that could cause you harm and I am not enflamed with anger as one who wishes you the best in all things?
If it is necessary for me to brag on myself (to win your acceptance) then I will only brag on all of my physical weaknesses and all of the undesirable physical and mental conditions that have tried to overtake me. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for evermore, knows that I am speaking the truth and that there is no deceit in what I am saying. In Damascus, the governor under Aretas the king, kept the city of the Damascenes with guards throughout who were watching for me in order to arrest me. I had to be hidden in a basket and let down through a window onto the outer wall of the city in order to escape. (Chapter 12) Now, I know that it is not really profitable for me to brag about these things, so I will come to the visions and revelations of and from the Lord.
I know a man, who beyond fourteen years ago, in and through Jesus, the Christ, was taken up in an instant to the third or highest heaven. Whether this was a complete body and spirit experience or only a spiritual vision I do not know: only God knows for sure. Again I say that I know this man (and again I can only say that whether the experience was in the body or out of the body, only God knows for certain) who was taken to paradise, the place that is filled with God’s blessings. And while he was there he heard words and conversations that cannot even be expressed or spoken; words that are not even right to, or allowed to be spoken by mere human beings outside of that wonderful place. Of a man like this I will brag upon: yet of myself I will not brag, except for in what I have already said to you, in “my physical weaknesses and all of the undesirable physical and mental conditions that have tried to overtake me.” For certainly I would prefer to, and even delight in boasting; and I could very well boast without the concern of speaking foolishly, because I need only to speak what is true and it certainly would be astounding enough. But for now I will restrain from doing so. I do not want anyone to think of me more highly than what they now see or hear from me. (In other words let my life that has been laid out before you be the testimony of my call to the apostleship and of my loving care for you.) And moreover, to keep me from exalting or bragging upon myself to the point that I would obtain a high and lofty position in your thoughts because of the abundance of these revelations (which are true and have truly been revealed to me), there was assigned a messenger under the influence of Satan, which I refer to as only a thorn in my flesh (or something that constantly annoys me with situations and circumstances that present persecutions wherever I go). This messenger, whose only intent was to stir up and incite maltreatment of me through physical infliction and bodily persecution, was for the purpose of preventing me from raising myself to a lofty point of glorious acceptance. Three different times I asked the Lord Jesus to remove this agitating thorn from me and His instruction and further revelation to me was, “My grace (what I have accomplished in the earthly and heavenly realms through the completed work of the cross) which I have supplied to you is able to provide all that you need to rise above any attack or influence of the evil one. You see, My strength (which is My grace) and miraculous power is made perfect and can bring an acceptable and complete end, to every situation that is designed to use your own physical limitations against you.”
Because of this I will, with great pleasure, brag to you about the things that I have previously stated to you, of my physical weaknesses and all of the undesirable physical and mental conditions that have tried to overtake me; so that you may see the power of the grace of God abiding with and around me. Therefore I will take pleasure in the times that I have been attacked, due to the influence of this messenger, in my physical body through injury and insult; I will take pleasure in the times that I have had little to meet my physical needs; I will happily brag about the times that I was persecuted and in distress for Christ’s sake: for in these times I am strengthened by the miraculous, powerful, miracle providing grace of our Lord Jesus, the Christ.
Oh my! I have been foolishly bragging! But you have caused me to do such: for I should have not needed to do so, for you should have stood with and by me in my calling as an apostle to you. You see, I lack nothing in any way in credentials when being compared to even the most highly elevated apostles, yet I am no better than any of them in the sight of God. Yes, and in truth the signs of an apostle were made evident while I was so patiently with you, such as all types of miracles and manifestations of the Holy Ghost that were very mighty. What was not provided in my ministering to you that I ignored and ministered to other churches? The only difference is that I maintained my own necessities and did not let you assume that burden. So I suppose I must consider this to be wrong on my part and that I must ask you to forgive me for such a thing (I speak sarcastically of course).
So hear this clearly! I intend to come to you for the third time and again I will not require you to supply my needs or be a burden to you in any way. You see, I do not desire what you can give me, but I so desire only you and not your possessions. Just as in the world every parent seeks what is good for their children by providing for their children’s needs, I expect to give of myself to you and not for you to give to me. I will very gladly give everything that I have and everything that I am to you even though it seems that the more that I express my love for you (through such actions) you respond by seeming to love me less and less. OK. So you agree that I have never burdened you or taken of your possessions in any way. But the case may be presented that it was through trickery and craftiness that I have snared you and convinced you to follow me? Let me ask you again, did I take advantage of you through any of whom I sent to you? At one time I called upon Titus and sent him with another brother in the faith to you. Did Titus take any type of unfair advantage of you? Didn’t we both act the same way towards you and did the same works without requiring anything from you? Don’t think that we are trying to defend ourselves as someone who has done wrong and is in search of ways to cover their wrong doing. We speak before God and in Jesus the Christ that this is true: we have done and will do everything in order to edify you, as ones who we hold as beloved.