2 Corinthians 12: The Problem of Spiritual Pride

First Car
First Car in 1974

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29 NIV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In our passage today, the Apostol Paul addresses the church in Corinth which has a problem with spiritual pride. We get a hint of this problem in the many references that Paul makes to boasting—about half (27/57) of the references to boasting in all of scripture arise in the two letters of Paul to the church in Corinth. In only these ten verses of our passage today, he uses the term, boast, 4 times.

So, what is spiritual pride? What is boasting? (2X) In our passage today, Paul uses the Greek word, καυχάομαι, which means: to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride in oneself, brag (BDAG, 4171.1). Spiritual pride consists of bragging about our relationship with God.

So what does Paul say? Paul says:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.

Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know– God knows. And I know that this man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell (vv 2-4).

But then he comments on this ecstatic experience and says: Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. (v 1). Nothing! In fact, he goes on to say: I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses (v 5). Further, he says: Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me (v 7).  But Paul does not stop there. Paul prayers to God 3 times to relieve him of this thorn in the flesh. And God gives a surprising answer to Paul’s prayer:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (v 9). In other words, God refuses to heal Paul of this thorn in the flesh, but instead offers Paul His presence—God’s grace. And Paul is content with this answer, saying:  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10).

Has God given you a thorn in the flesh?

Most of us struggle with spiritual pride in one form or another. Our pride tells us that we are special even when it is not true.  What brings together as a church is not our strengths, but our weaknesses. For not all of us are experts in the same things, but we are all in need of God’s forgiveness for our sins. So in my own case, my weakness in understanding and speaking Spanish allows me to find room in my life for God. Returning to the words of Paul: For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10). Not in myself, but in Jesus Christ.


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