Visions And The “Torn In The Flesh”

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

The people of Corinth were more apt to listen to a speaker who had these credentials.

— They were effective speakers.

— They were dressed in a stylish manner.

— They had “secret” knowledge that came from visions, dreams, or special experiences with God or the gods.

— They were supported by a patron, so that they didn’t have to work with their hands or beg like the Cynics.

How did Paul measure up to the standards of Corinth?

— He was a great writer, but apparently was not an effective speaker.

— The only interest Paul had in dress was his condemnation of using clothing and head-coverings as a means to draw attention to oneself.

— Paul refused the patronage system of Corinth and was criticized for it. He wanted to be free to share the message of God’s love without being influenced by a wealthy patron.

He supported himself by making tents, which was also a source of conflict from church members who thought it was beneath the dignity of a speaker to do so.

— Paul did speak in tongues (see 1 Corinthians 12-14 for his treatment of speaking in tongues).

— Paul also had visions, but wrote this section of the letter to put visions in proper balance.

Spiritual Pride and Special Knowledge

The “super-apostles” in Corinth, who were actually false-apostles, used visions, dreams, and other experiences of the spiritual realm as a way of persuading people to accept their teaching.

The use of visions, dreams and other spiritual experiences have two core problems.

(1) The speaker claims to have special knowledge that is given to them by God.

I believe that God does communicate through dreams and visions. On occasion, I have experienced this kind of communication from God.

One night I was awakened from sleep with the voice of a missionary friend of ours. I heard her voice as clearly as if she were in our room saying, “Bob, pray for me.”

I got up from bed and spent some time in prayer. Later, when we talked I found out that she was going through a very intense time in her life and was in need of prayer.

The danger of obtaining special knowledge from dreams and visions is that God is not the only one who can communicate to us in our sleep. Visions and dreams can be deceptive.

Jeremiah highlighted this problem. “See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord, and who tell them,

“And who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 23.32).

(2) Any “special” knowledge can fill us with spiritual pride.

Most of my knowledge comes from a love of the Bible and books. Having knowledge that other people lack can be a source of spiritual pride.

Paul was quite insightful when he wrote, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8.1).

When we operate in the wisdom of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18-25), we will prefer to use the power of self-giving love over specialized knowledge to communicate the truths of Jesus Christ.

Paul experienced visions and revelations, but he refused the temptation to engage in spiritual pride.

He wrote, “It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12.1).

Paul had to defend his ministry, so that he could defend the message he had brought to Corinth. He could easily match the “super-apostles” with special knowledge, but he chose to use it in a different way from them.

In a very humble manner he described a remarkable vision. He related it this way:

“I know a person 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 such a person — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows —

“Was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.

“On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12.2-5).

Notice how there is no spiritual pride in Paul’s words. If people are qualified to be speakers because of secret knowledge gained by visions, he was most certainly qualified. Yet, he was seemingly without pride.

The Thorn in the Flesh

Paul experienced something that has been reserved for few people on earth. It is interesting what he did with that knowledge.

— He didn’t raise funds for his ministry on the basis of his vision.

— He didn’t use his vision to elevate his status among the churches.

— He did elevate Jesus by revealing the constant need he had for Jesus in his life.

— He did call on people to live in complete devotion to Jesus.

Here’s how Paul wrote about his experience.

“But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it,

“So that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.

“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.

“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’

“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12.6-9).

It is believed by many that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” had to do with his eyesight. If it was an eye condition, it may have also made his appearance unattractive.

Even though we don’t know the exact nature of his “torn in the flesh,” we do know that his weakness made him transparent. People looked through Paul’s exterior and saw Jesus.

Visions and Dreams Today

God still uses visions and dreams today. However, we need to be careful with them. Here are some common guidelines.

(1) God’s most mature direction to his followers is a simple “nudge” by the Holy Spirit. When we are living in close contact with God, we will respond to every slight direction of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Spiritual pride must be avoided. Paul taught us that knowledge puffs people up with pride, but love builds people up.

Whatever knowledge we have must be conditioned by the wisdom of the cross, which is self-giving love.

(3) Just as in A.D. 50 Corinth, people use the knowledge they have to take people captive to their cause.

If you feel someone is attempting to manipulate you or use you through some kind of special knowledge that they have, but you don’t, beware. Ask the Lord to give you discernment concerning the message and messenger.

(4) Does this person aim at being seen, or does this person desire to show Jesus and his love?

Above all, let’s be devoted to Jesus and live in self-giving love with others.

May We Pray for You?

The prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church is honored to pray for you. Please email me at bsprad49@gmail.com or private message me on Facebook. We will pray for you.

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