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These Early Thorns

The Bible Study Hour / James Boice
The Truth Network Radio
September 1, 2021 8:00 am

These Early Thorns

The Bible Study Hour / James Boice

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September 1, 2021 8:00 am

As the young church in Corinth grew in size, its membership faced new struggles on the path toward holiness, just as believers and churches do today. The Apostle Paul sent the letter we know as II Corinthians to encourage these believers to grow up in their faith. Dr. Boice illuminates all of Paul’s key points, including God’s comfort in affliction; forgiving people who have hurt us; the blessings of generosity; and why God allows thorns in our lives.

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Welcome to the Bible study our radio and Internet Ministry of the alliance of confessing Evangelicals featuring the Bible teaching of Dr. James Boyce for more information please contact us by calling toll-free one 804 88 18 and now the alliance is pleased to present the Bible study our preparing you to think and act biblically last Sunday evening we were starting the second half of second Corinthians 11 in which the apostle Paul boasts of his sufferings. Reluctantly, as I pointed out, but somewhat comprehensively in order to defend his apostleship with the Corinthian's, which was at the same time, we saw a defense of the gospel because of his concern for them in his concern for the gospel that he did what was obviously distasteful to himself.

We saw as we looked at those things about which the apostle Paul was able to boast that in many instances, these don't apply to us. Some of these things we can find some point of contact with.

We worked hard for the Lord, we can say well we have labored, perhaps somewhat, as Paul did. If we have a concern for the churches through various responsibilities as elders for in some other way, we can say yes and we may to some extent also face daily the pressure of these concerns for the churches, but when we look down this long list of what Paul endured his persecutions in his dangers and his deliverances we have to say well, much of that just doesn't apply to us. It might be our glory, if it did here is something that the apostle Paul lived through the standards that he sat in his ministry that most of us approach just on the periphery, if at all. I think however that when we come to chapter 12 as we do. This evening we come to quite a different section there is a portion of this that we cannot identify with. It has to do with special revelations that Paul received the point of his mentioning those special revelations is to bring before the Corinthians, this matter of the thorn in his flesh. She mentions not merely here but elsewhere. In his letters and with this. Certainly all of us in some way or another and identify. I can't remember what commentator was writing about this, but as I was reading in one of the commentators in the study of this passage in particular.

Scholar said any Christian can find something in his background of experience that gives them a point of contact with Paul at this point. Some thing seems DOS to be a hindrance to be harmful to be an embarrassment.

Perhaps even an expression of our weakness, which before God with all honesty, of conscience, we would ask him to remove and perhaps have been many many instances, yet it's been our experience as it was of the apostle Paul to God for his own reason simply didn't remove it. Sometimes it's illness. We have had that Stanton still doing missionary who spent number of years in New Guinea in Bible translation work did a splendid job that seem to be aptly suited for the task and then got hepatitis on the field. Very debilitating kind of disease had to come home tried to recuperate intended to return never was quite able to get his health back up to the point where he could go back out to the field again so he's still a mission work here in this country, not where he wanted to be not as it would seem, where he was suited to serve and I am sure that he many times as prayed that God would remove that particular form and yet God is not seen fit to do it. Some of us are limited by loneliness, we think, and no doubt likely that we would be richer for happier Christians. Somehow God would overcome the lonely states in which we find ourselves whether that state of being single. While young stated being widowed while older state of being isolated from one's parents, perhaps because once Christian witness or whatever it may be, and we say, oh God, if you would only take that away why I could be so much more effective in your service. Certainly I am praying and what I desire to be your will and yet God doesn't do that sometimes it's failure we tackle a particular task. We try to do the best we can. We fail at it, we say God that's not honoring you to have me fail to have me not surging ahead in my occupation to have me as would seem constantly mocking my head against the wall of this particular barrier to spiritual advance. Certainly it would glorify your name or if you would knock down the barrier of you would overcome the failure that you would produce victory and success in my life and yet God doesn't do that and we wonder why was I say I think we can identify some major everybody can we really honestly admit our sense of need in these areas. I think we can identify with the apostle Paul when he speaks about this thorn in the flesh, whatever it may be what I am hoping as we look at this passage more thoroughly is that as we get to the end of it. You may also be able to identify with the apostle Paul in his reaction to it after he had prayed and got an answer saying no and then positively my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness. Paul said to that well all right that's what God wants. That's what I want and so he accepted that which was changeable in his case and received as being from God and for the glory of God and use it that way. Now it's an interesting 10 versus certainly filled with problems. This is a portion of second Corinthians that just puzzles the commentators low-end about everything in this puzzling someone first portion of this interesting comes in two parts. First portion of this has to do with the special vision of Revelation. But Paul received last puzzling for all sorts of reason. One cause of puzzlement. The city apparently refers to himself in the third person abstractly. I know a man in Christ was caught up in the third heaven, and even seems to separate this person from himself. He says in verse five boast about a man like that but I will boast about myself and it sounds like he's saying here. I want to tell you the story of somebody I know that's probably not what he's doing, because when he gets verse 17 applies it to himself.

He says to keep me from becoming conceited because of these very things he has referred to these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, although is referring to himself abstractly in the third person is nevertheless referring to himself and people say why is that why is he so abstract getting talks about being caught up in the third heaven, we save a lot in the world is lightning any what even is the third heaven, there was a lot of writings in antiquity to talk about seven heaven seven spheres of heaven as mainly got as high as the third level and there were four left is a meaningless third down from the top or is that wrong pack entirely. Generally, people think. I agree that when Paul said the third heaven event. The top the very presence of God. The first heaven would be the atmosphere the sky as we call it the second heaven would be the sphere of the stars and the planets.

What is nevertheless visible but well above the earth and then the third heaven would be the presence of God. It would probably be a synonym with paradise which she mentions later but that isn't even clear because people aren't sure when he writes like this weather is writing about one special revelation to special revelation and experience in which he was caught up in the third heaven and the second experience in which he was caught up in the paradise whether the two things are the same and is talking simply about one event in different ways, probably is talking about one event in different ways, but when he mentions in verse seven that he had received surpassingly great revelations, it's quite possible because he uses the plural that these thinking of something else. So as I say, you read that first paragraph in your filled with all kinds of questions about now. Does that mean that God was on wise not telling us all the things we'd like to know. I think there is probably no ClearCase in all of Scripture of the wisdom of God, not giving us detail. Then, in this passage because you see. Suppose Paul had given very clear specifics.

Well, then we would say we understand that that's his experience and it's all over that we think we understand we have nothing like that. I when he comes in the second paragraph to talk about is stored in the flash. If you explain exactly what this thorn in the flesh is we would say, well, that was his experience, we understand all about that we leave out on the side when it's left. They is it is left vague at this passage. It's done that way, no doubt to increase our own identification with, we may not have had an experience like this in paragraph one. Paul says it was unique to him and we can well understand why will see as we examine it we may not know what it was that he experience, particularly in paragraph two was a thorn in the flash but kind of relationship between insight and revelation and suffering or a thorn in the flesh.

On the other hand, is something that we experience and by leaving it vague, we can fit our own walk with Christ and experiences in the Christian life. In this framework to point should be made about these revelations. First of all, Paul was reluctant to speak about your known people who had what they think is a great insight or perhaps even have claimed the special revelation first thing you know they want to do speak about it because I probably want you to know what a great experience I've had a want you to know what a great insight they have now in some areas. That's good. If God is done something remarkable in our life. It's very thing we want to share. We got a great deliverance, God has worked in a marvelous way in the lives of our friends, some of come to faith in Christ there. Things like that that we can speak up we do that we do it to the glory of God or somebody comes to me and they don't come to me from time to time and say you know I had a vision and they want to tell me what their special vision is something that isn't related to Scripture and therefore has no possible basis for verifying in the word of God. I always say you know I think I'd rather not hear it because the apostle Paul who was apostle and who, because he was an apostle had every right to speak about such things and do so as an authenticated messenger of God. Nevertheless was reluctant to speak of the revelations she had so as not to be said about this special vision. The second thing to be noted about it is that Paul says that it was unlawful for him to communicate special content that he received. That is, not only was he reluctant to talk about it. He wasn't even allowed to do so.

Something very interesting about the Christian faith doesn't we've been looking at these letters of Paul to the Corinthians for some time studying first Corinthians last year in second Corinthians this year and we seen at different points in those studies as it's necessary to mention this for the sake of the exposition that there was a court apparently a kind of movement. Perhaps this is what these super apostles.

These false apostles embraced which in technical language, the language of scholarship goes by the name of Gnosticism Gnosticism was say particularly Greek heresy, it was based upon the number of Greek philosophical presuppositions and that expressed itself in that kind of religion which parallel the mystery religions that were also current in the Greek world at that time, the mystery religions had kinds of hidden knowledge which were communicated to the initiate within the mystery religion. That's why they were called mystery religions that everybody knew about the things that were done, but the initiate would be brought in a be told about a certain number of things. Every been there a while be brought a little closer in a little closer and many of these mystery religions express salvation in terms of acquiring this particular knowledge that was secret or special to the religion itself out. If ever there was an opportunity for the apostle Paul to establish something like that. In Christianity, it was certainly here.

The point special revelation.

Apostle Paul could've sent if he were fighting with worldly weapons and thinking with worldly wisdom. The apostle Paul could've said, look, these super apostles who were there among you say that the way to be saved is by acquiring the special revelation.

This special knowledge that goes by the name of good gnosis.

He said he could have said now if they think they have something special to tell you I certainly have something that is even more special. Why I have been caught up in the heaven, and I have seen these marvelous visions and that was given to me such a wonderful insight and content you to stay away from those super apostles and give me time outcome and then I'll bring you into this secret hidden aspect of Christianity worldly point of view that would have been a marvelous approach that the apostle Paul doesn't do that because Christianity is not like that thought about that Christianity doesn't have special secret hidden revelation have a little club here where if you get close enough to the center is a little something special for you makes you better than other people. I revelation she was in the pockets all spread out for everybody to read our problem is not secret. It is a secret is very public are problem is that people don't want because their hearts are evil and I don't want to come to the holy God was revealed himself and unfolded his doctrine before our eyes see, don't let people draw you into some special thing where there's a new emphasis that nobody is ever had before which sometimes is doctored up and very spiritual language. The Holy Spirit revealed to me what people draw you into that. It may be that the Holy Spirit has revealed something to them of the Holy Spirit works through the word that's the case, you say well solely where it is in the word of the Holy Spirit is given you that understanding and let's check it by the subjective standard when the apostle Paul writes, as he does. He certainly gives us a warning along those lines, we might say.

And we ought to ask the question before we move on to the second section.

Why in the world. Paul would've had such a special revelation, something that is so special so private that is not even able to talk about your sailor pragmatist. Most of us, we would say look, if he had the revelation must be some purpose and it and because were egotistical. We must inevitably think that purpose must concern me.

So if God gave them that what what's the benefit demand and how can I benefit you doesn't even tell me what it is that God told him I thing in Paul's case, we have a very clear illustration of what this was for Paul if you read the section immediately preceding this in chapter 11 suffered perhaps more in his ministry for Christ as ambassador to the Gentiles than any other apostle. I read that I say how in the world could anybody live through that they be repeatedly imprisoned, repeatedly flogged exposed to death/Eaton in danger and danger in danger and dangerous document and not get discouraged not give up. I think it's at that point that God gave him the special revelation eighth chapter of Romans, Paul is not writing by a graphically but I think perhaps he is revealing something of himself what he says in verse 18. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us saying maybe that was it.

Paul is caught up in the third heaven and the Paradise of the presence of God. He saw the glory that is going to be revealed. That's what he couldn't communicate in human language that glory vision of what we shall be were not that yet was sufficient to sustain them for all the sufferings that are mentioned in chapter 11, I applied in this way, not because you and I can match the experience of the apostle Paul, but if you're discouraged in the Christian life. If the responsibilities you have grind you down. Think of the glory which shall be revealed. You don't have good insight.

Yet the one that will be but you know it's there. The Bible talks about it. One day you're going to be like Jesus Christ are to be like him.

All these characteristics you can share in his glory.

If you can keep your mind on that I can get you through the tough times. More than that, it can make you strong and God honoring in your testimony by your life that we come. The second section of the second section concerns the sport steak is an actual translation of the Greek word always using an image he said something was given to me.

That was so bad it was like being impaled upon and he said it was suicide harmful is mortifying. It made me weak. I think he means literally week, but I pray to God again and again that it would be taken away three times specifically maybe three particular outcroppings of this disorder, whatever it may have been, and yet at the end of that God's word to me was simply no I'm not going to take it away rather, my grace is sufficient to expose that Thorne was able to read this book of second Corinthians, and wondered about that. I I suppose since the first generation which actually knew Paul understood it because I do a face-to-face you would think in all those years that if it could be uncovered. Scholars would've been able to do it. Yet they haven't been you reflect on the kind of exclamations they give you sense that the reason they settle on one particular explanation rather than another is that that particular explanation grows out of their own experience and so what they really doing is writing about themselves when they're trying to interpret what the apostle Paul endured that product is not all bad because he wanted means is that as they read this they saw themselves in this experience, which is precisely I think what God intends for us to do the earliest explanation. I know of back to the early church by people like Tertullian and others was what Paul spoke here but was poking out here is what we would call migraine. Now when you smile at that it it's shows you haven't had a real migraine headache people have this are greatly debilitated by that I worked for a year and 1/2 Christianity today and Carl Henry, who was the editor at the time suffered from the severe migraine headaches.

It was literally the case that he was incapacitated by these headaches and would speak as Paul speaks here about his sweetness and the fact that God would have to be glorified in it, rather than in the strength.

I don't know that that's the explanation, but that's one explanation which given and it may be little later in the church after the early fathers in a period that was particularly marked by persecutions. Later fathers in the latest of those, I suppose, would be St. Augustine began to explain this thorn in the flesh is outward. Persecutions. This is because Paul refers to it as a messenger of Satan word messenger suggested that these man that it was individuals, persecutors, I thought of people like those synapses start up the population against Paul. Those messengers of Satan so they said well this is what's involved please special persecutors, but as you read the explanation you think they probably were explaining along those lines because that's what they were living through in that period of church history. They were saying our experiences just like the experience of the apostle Paul's little later in church history at the time in which Roman Catholicism was developing into the full four minute talk during the Middle Ages, with its particular kind of piety and asceticism was a tendency to identify this as sexual temptations.

It says morning and see about the particular kind of piety that existed in Roman church in those days the fact that they spoke so highly of the celibate life of all of that but nevertheless that's the way they perceived it in those times. In more recent days, people attended to give more medical explanation very popular one in recent times and been the Paul was afflicted with some I disorder Rhapsody just had very bad eyesight, or perhaps an eye infection, ophthalmology, or something of that nature and there is some substance in an argument in the book of Galatians. See he speaks of a malady, something that made him distasteful in the eyes of the Galatians and at the end as he signs his book he says look with what large letters I'm writing I call my own signature as is the case of my other letters as well in people who have read that said well you see couldn't see well and so, although we added in his own handwriting. At the end of a letter which had been written by an amanuensis with his dictation nevertheless wrote with large letters because he couldn't see and I was sort of trademarking the apostle Paul. These large awkward letters. While it may be true, why I like that explanation particularly II think that makes sense, yet it's also the case that the words he uses what he speaks of large letters could mean unskilled run 200 letters which would simply be a way of saying I'm not a skilled amanuensis.

I don't write with the beautiful hand of the man is writing this letter for me.

My writing is a little bit awkward. It might mean that mother explanation one advanced by Sir Michael Ramsey in the last century as he investigated all the areas of Asia minor where Paul traveled is that Paul was suffering from malaria. Apparently, malaria is common regions of Pamphylia may well be that he picked that up in his first missionary journey nature malaria such that it doesn't go away comes back again years later, you would have attacked so, but suddenly in which the symptoms would be very similar to the kind of things that Paul writes about here and there in his letters. That's not a bad explanation, which is a that's explanation of the traveler.

One would been there perhaps one was worried about malaria himself, and you think well you know that may be, but we don't know for sure.

I suppose this is the sort of thing that could go on and on.

I found some people describing it as gallstones others, rheumatism, some is gastritis.

Some even as Lise quite sure what kind of life that would be also other explanations like that is the point isn't what particular affliction.

Paul had but we may have our preferences among those various explanations with the fact that he had something that was hurtful, harmful, that made him ashamed and which struck him at what would've seemed to him the most inopportune moments, and for which he earnestly pleaded that God would intervene and remove it from his life. Though God refused to do so when we talk about suffering, we have to remember that that is a subject that requires a great deal of wisdom and insight is no easy answer to suffering in the Christian life are answers not easy answers, and above all her art easy answers when you're dealing with the suffering of someone else on think when someone else's suffering that you can explain it just like that the disciples thought they could.

Their argument was of a person is suffering.

It must be because of sin. Sin produces suffering all kinds of suffering as a result of sins of the suffering they must've sent. While sometimes that's the case, but not always, some suffering is what I would call just the common elements of life a child falls down and scrapes its name. It's not because it was bad, necessarily, though it may have been running away from his mother when his mother said no and falls down, but not always. You can't make that kind of simplistic one on one relationship.

It's just part of life that these things happen, some suffering is correct it when we get out of the way God brings things into our lives to draw some short so we stop and say oh my doing the wrong thing here is something out of line and to cause us to look up to God and asking reveals himself that their sin in a case like that, well then there's opportunity for confession and forgiveness and cleansing.

Some suffering is to develop character. Life is easy. You don't develop character just like you don't develop muscles without working these things come in our lives in order that we might learn do the right thing in difficult situations and handle conflict in such things, some suffering is for the glory of God and no other reason. I was the case with the man born blind when the disciples said about him. What's the explanation here this man centered in his parents.

Jesus replied. Neither this man or his parents, but solely for the glory of God. In other words, that man was blind, so that when Jesus came by on that particular day he might feel them and bring glory to his own name, some suffering is like that God will glorify himself in yet you see here is even another explanation because when Paul talks about this thorn in the flesh, and it is for his mention of the thorn that is introduced a special revelation. Paul says this difficult, embarrassing, hard, debilitating thing was given to me unless I be carried away with the surpassing excellence of the vision were given to me as an apostle of Jesus Christ. So you look at that you say Paul is that really you talking Paul, great apostle, a man who acknowledges that apart from the thorn in the flesh, he would've become conceited, yes, that's Paul talking because Zoe was a great apostle hello he endured far greater things for the cause of Christ than any of us are ever going to endure. It was nevertheless a man he was human as we are to suffer suffer the same frailties and he like ourselves is capable of pride being carried away with the sense of his own importance.

So it says God brought this born and was life the humble means means of somebody suffering if something bad comes into their life and accident or disease, or loss. Don't say they must've sin. God's punishing them as possible, but it is also quite possible that they have been so blessed by God, and they have so much insight into his ways that apart from the thorn in the flesh, they would be carried away with a sense of their own importance in God is doing and actually to enhance their usefulness as a servant. Be careful you say when you react with other people who are suffering the conclusion of the section is in verse nine.

Not sure you understand that in some ways it's the conclusion of the whole book, and in fact in some ways since the salvation of all of Paul's life. We ask God to take it away, but Jesus said, my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness. That's true of us. You know, whether we recognize it or not we say well I'm glad to have the grace of God, but I want this to I have to have this to. I don't have this tool, I can't manage I have to be free of the sickness I have to achieve with this work. I have to get married I have to I have to have what we need to learn is that that is not true. We don't have to anything grace of God is sufficient for us even if we do nothing, even if we live all our lives, single and lonely. Even if we fail, my grace is sufficient for you.

More than that my power to see how it works always flare my power is made perfect in your weakness. You want to be strong. Yes, let's be strong if we can in the right sense of God makes us weak where all very weak that's accepted in order in our weaknesses, power might be seen in glory might be given to him for Christ's sake of his prior our father. We can handle the crown but it's the suffering that gets us down to give us grace sufficient grace to receive even that for Jesus sake and give us, we pray.

Is it pleases you eyes to see your power at work in glorify Jesus and his you are listening to Bible study hour with the Bible teaching of Dr. James Boyce listener supported ministry of the alliance of confessing Evangelicals. The alliance exists to promote a biblical understanding and worldview. Drawing upon the insight and wisdom of reformed theologians from decades and even centuries gone by. We seek to provide Christian teaching that will equip believers to understand and meet the challenges and opportunities of our time and place.

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