Exaltation and Infirmity, part 1
In our text today, Paul mentions two experiences that he’s had. He’s continuing his “foolish” boasting about himself in order to convince the church to remain loyal to him and not follow the false teachers. He doesn’t enjoy talking about himself, but he feels that he has to distinguish himself from the false teachers, who are boasting about their visions and dreams.
In this passage, Paul mentions two particular experiences: the first one, heavenly, the second one, satanic. The first experience was Paradise. The second experience was almost hellish. In the first, he approaches the throne of God. In the second, he’s brought down to earth by pain, suffering, and loss. The first experience was unique to Paul; very few people have an encounter like that. The second experience is rather common; many people have a “thorn in the flesh” of one kind or another.
Our experiences are not quite like Paul’s, yet we too may have spiritual highs and lows. Whatever our experience might be, we can respond like Paul did in vss. 9-10. We can see our weaknesses as an opportunity to experience more of God’s grace and strength. That’s the kind of experience we should be seeking—more grace and more power to serve and honor God, more dependence on God and less on ourselves.
Paul tells us about his experiences and his responses to them. Like Paul, we usually cannot control the experiences, but we can control our response to them.
12:1 Note that the author begins this section by repeating the fact that his boasting is “not profitable.” He knows that this boasting about his experiences and comparing himself to others is foolish and not Christ-like. He didn’t want to talk about his personal supernatural experiences. But he’s doing it in the hopes that his readers will listen to him instead of the false teachers—they were boasting about their supernatural experiences, and so Paul here describes one of his transcendent experiences.
.12b “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord” – that’s his next topic; now he’s going to talk about a remarkable experience that happened to him.
Let’s consider Paul’s exaltation and infirmity.