Let’s think together for a few minutes about the experience of the apostle Paul and the way his body and soul were made the theater of unparalleled revelations of God, lifelong pain, demonic harassment, and the glory of Christ. And then let’s apply this to the next sixty years of your life — or whatever you have left. We are going to focus on 2 Corinthians 12:7–10.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations . . .” So here’s the situation: God has granted to Paul the absolutely extraordinary experience of special revelations of himself in heaven. Paul says in verses 3–4 that he “was caught up into paradise . . . and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”
Tempted Toward Conceit
So the situation is that God had caught Paul up into paradise — whether in the body or out of body Paul didn’t even know (verse 3) — and had revealed things to Paul that were so glorious and so wonderful, he can’t even talk about them.
What a spectacular privilege. What an unspeakable — literally unspeakable — joy. And God gave Paul this privilege and this joy, knowing that he was putting Paul at the risk of conceit — pride, self-exultation. Now that’s mind-boggling at multiple levels. First, I thought seeing more of God would make us humble and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18). And now we’re told that seeing more of God runs the risk of making us conceited.
And the other mind-boggling thing is, I thought God cares for us and does not lead us into temptation (Matthew 6:13). And here he is giving Paul these spectacular revelations, knowing Paul will now have to deal with the temptation of pride and conceit in his life. One of our aims at Bethlehem College & Seminary is to guide students out of simplistic reading of the Bible, through the swamp of cynical questions about the Bible, and out into a wise, deep, coherent understanding of the Bible.
God Gave the Thorn