For an introduction to this series, click here.
Paul continues his boasting, telling the Corinthians a special story that we can only find in this book:
"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (12:2-10)
If you read the whole passage, it is clear that the "man" he "knows" is himself. You can read all kinds of opinions regarding when Paul saw the vision of heaven. I guess most will say this happened when he was stoned and left for dead, but the timeline seems wrong to me. Unless this book was written much later than most people think, it couldn't have been then. Maybe it was when he spent three years in the desert right after he was saved.
You can also read much about what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was. There are some who think it was his eyesight, perhaps his appearance, maybe something or someone else. Probably the Corinthians who received this letter knew what it was.
Paul brings up the comparison with the "super-apostles" again:
"I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!" (12:11-13)
This is a sad commentary on the Corinthian church, but it is an easy trap to fall into. This church was founded by Paul, but they were more excited by these false teachers than they were about Paul's return. We humans tend to fall for the flashier, more charismatic person than the old dependable person who will always do the right thing.
This chapter ends with a strange statement by Paul:
"For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish— that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced." (12:20-21, ESV)
This seems strange, but it is a sign that Paul loved these people. He wanted to come and find them all serving the Lord and doing a great job. But they knew and Paul knew that he would not hold back if he found sin in the church. He was too concerned about the glory of God to let sin go unreproved. Even though it would hurt him to do so, he would take on the problem and try to get it corrected. Now those "super-apostles," they were fun, because they would come in and put on a big show. It wasn't always fun when Paul came around.