What does it say?
We have learned that Paul has enemies in Corinth, some of them even within the church. In chapters 10-11 Paul turns his attention to addressing some of the attacks leveled against him. Chapter 11 makes application of these conflicts and warns the Corinthians against false teachers with personal agendas. He follows this with an intensely personal description of some of the ways that he has suffered for Christ’s sake.
Chapter 12 describes a personal encounter with God that resulted in God giving him a “thorn in the flesh” to prevent him from pride. Again he lays claim to his apostolic authority and expresses his love for the Corinthian church. Chapter 13 prepares them for his coming visit and exhorts them to examine themselves and the state of their spiritual reality.
What does it mean?
Chapter 10 shows Paul’s understanding that the conflicts he describes are merely physical manifestations of a deeper spiritual struggle, and that his objective is not to win arguments and protect his position and authority, but rather to find all glory in his relationship with God. Chapter 11 reminds us that our best defense against the attacks of others is the life that we live.
We have no idea of the nature of the vision that Paul receives and describes in chapter 12. In fact, he has questions about it himself. What he does understand is that God often allows struggles in our lives to protect us. We do not know the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, but we can all relate to struggles that are continual in our life. The key to the entire section is what we read in 12:9 about God’s grace being sufficient. All these personal insights from Paul should motivate us, as the Corinthians, to examine ourselves.
How will I respond?
What is my thorn in the flesh? Do I have one? What is my greatest weakness? How can this weakness be the occasion to trust God’s grace even more and cooperate with God’s desire to grow me to maturity?