Mrs. Cheryl O’Quin hosted the Nov. 14th meeting of the Wednesday Bible Study Club at the Black Horse Restaurant. Mrs. O’Quin opened the meeting with prayer.
Mrs. Lynn Waddy presented the lesson from 2nd Corinthians, Chapter 12. This chapter continues recounting of Paul’s missionary travels. He has continued to encounter criticisms concerning his credentials. Barclay states that in verses 1-10 Paul lays bare his heart and shows us at one and the same time his glory and his pain. Thus this passage is referred to as the “Thorn and the Grace.”
Paul tells of his experience that is so difficult for us to understand. Paul says that he “knows a man.” Paul is that man! He actually seems to stand away from himself and look at himself. In Persian, the word Paradise refers to a walled garden. A Persian King wishing to particularly honor one who was especially dear, would invite that person to be a companion of the garden.
That honoree was allowed to walk in the garden and was entitled to the closeness of companionship with the King. Barclay writes, “In this experience, as never before and never again, Paul had been the companion of God.” This was Paul’s glory.
The Thorn is most difficult to discern. Ideas that have been put forth as to what “The Thorn” was include the following:
• John Calvin thought it to mean spiritual temptation such as the temptation to doubt and not follow through with the tasks of the apostolic life.
• Martin Luther viewed it to be the opposition and persecution that Paul had experienced.
• Others have interpreted it to mean sexual temptations.
Barclay rejects these theories for three reasons: 1) the Greek word skolops is used for thorn, but it most likely means stake. And stake suggests an almost savage pain; 2) the whole picture described as the thorn is one of physical suffering; 3) and, lastly, this thorn is seen as intermittent and although it devastated Paul at times, it never totally kept him from his work.
Other theories exist as to the cause of this pain: a weak bodily presence due to some sort of disfigurement. Epilepsy is also suggested as well as headaches. Eye trouble was also put forth due to his blinding encounter on the Damascus Road.
Barclay proposes that the most likely explanation is that Paul suffered from chronically recurrent attacks of a certain virulent malarial fever which was quite prevalent along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean. Persons suffering from this malady have described it like a red-hot bar thrust into the forehead. It is also likened to a grinding, boring pain in the temple. This truly deserves the description of a “thorn in the flesh.”
Paul prayed that this “thorn” be taken from him. However, God’s answer was to give Paul the strength to endure. As in our lives today, God does not take away the “thorns,” but gives us the ability to conquer them.
God then passes on the all-sufficient Grace to Paul:
• It was sufficient for physical weakness. Paul was able to continue his missionary travels.
• It was sufficient for physical pain. It made Paul able to bear that “thorn in the flesh.”
• It was sufficient for opposition. Paul encountered opposition all during his life and he never gave in.
It was sufficient to face slander. Paul’s letters tell of the slander with which he was confronted. The all-sufficient Grace enabled Paul to face the misinterpretation and cruel misjudgment.
To quote Barclay directly: “It is the glory of the gospel that in our weakness we may find this wondrous grace, for always that which is the greatest challenge to our strength is God’s opportunity.”
In verses 11-18, Paul is coming to the end of his defense. These verses reflect a man who has made some tremendous effort and is now weary. As we have seen previously, Paul finds this defense and justification extremely distasteful. He is not concerned about himself, but he cannot abide the thought of the gospel being rendered ineffective.
Paul claims that he is just as effective an apostle as his opponents – the super-apostles. These super-apostles are defined as false preachers. Paul’s claim is based on only one measure: effectiveness of his ministry. Thus, Barclay writes, “Effectiveness is the proof of reality. The reality of a church is not seen in the splendor of its buildings or the elaborateness of its worship or the wealth of its giving or even the size of its congregations; it is seen in changed lives; and if there are no changed lives, the essential element of reality is missing.” And this is the standard by which Paul wants his apostleship judged: changed lives!
The Corinthians had such difficulty in understanding that Paul did not do this work for money. He tells them it is not their money he wants – he wants them!
The final charge hurled at Paul was the accusation that some of the money collected for the poor in Jerusalem had been taken by Titus and another one of Paul’s emissaries and that Paul had obtained money through them. However, Paul was always absolutely loyal to his friends and was quick to defend them. Barclay writes, “It is not always safe to be friends with great men and women.”
One might think that Paul – with all that he is saying in his defense and the justification of his ministry – is concerned with what others think of him. He absolutely has enough confidence in his being right with God that he did not concern himself with what others thought of him. In verses 19-21, Paul lists what can be called the marks of an un-Christian church:
• Strife – discord in the church.
• Envy – the characteristic of a mean and small-minded person.
• Outbursts of anger – meaning sudden explosion of anger or rage. Some say that this is a characteristic of animals rather than human beings.
• Factious Spirit – here the word is used to describe work done for pay with no other motive than self-centered or selfish ambition.
• Slanderings and Whispering – Slanderings refers to loud-mouthed attacks where insults are hurled at the public, particularly toward someone with different views. Whispering is even worse. This is an attack done in secret and with maliciousness.
• Conceit – We are to do good works in the name of the church. It is selfish to promote one’s importance. Good works are to glorify our Father in heaven.
• Disorder – Uproar – anarchy! The ideal is to function in a manner where people enter into a fellowship that promotes interdependent togetherness.
• Uncleanness (akatharsia) – this means anything that would separate us from God – a life muddled with wallowing in the world’s ways
• Immorality – succumbing to the baser instincts of human nature.
A second word for Uncleanness (aselgeia) – Wanton insolence – absolutely no discipline within one’s life. An insolence that knows no boundaries with no regard for common decency.
Barclay’s concluding discussion cites the basic Greek sin of hubris. Hubris is that flamboyant insolence which has no respect for God or other people. A literature professor I had defined Hubris as overweening pride. Often, this overweening pride is the underlying flaw in heroes and heroines in ancient Greek literature—and it still resides in lives today.
Barclay closes his commentary with this quote: “Abraham Lincoln and his counsellors had taken an important decision. One of the counsellors said: ‘Well, Mr. President, I hope that God is on our side.’ Lincoln answered: ‘What I am worried about is not if God is on our side, but if we are on God’s side.’”
President Nikki Murphy conducted the regular business meeting. Members joined in silent prayer to remember those in need. The meeting was dismissed with the Closing Prayer.