The apostle Paul continues in this chapter to vindicate himself and his ministry against the false preachers, taking notice of a very remarkable and unusual experience with which God favoured him and of the method God used to keep him humble and to keep him from being exalted. Yet for all this, he chose rather to glory in his infirmities and hardships for the sake of the gospel.
(Vs. 1.) It is neither comely nor is there anything to he gained by our boasting in our works, our gifts, or our accomplishments (Jer. 9:23, 24), nor would Paul do it except when it was necessary for the glory of God and the overall good of the church. Having spoken of his hardships and great sufferings for Christ, he comes to visions and revelations which God gave to him. His conversion was the result of what he called a "heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19). At Troas a vision appeared to him, in which a man of Macedonia called him there to preach (Acts 16:9). The Lord spoke to him in a vision, revealing to him that he should remain in Corinth, for God had much people there (Acts 18:9, 10). These visions were for his instruction, direction and encouragement in the ministry of the gospel. We have no need of special visions and voices from heaven, for we have the completed Word of God. All that we need in order to know Christ and have eternal life is revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God (Rom. 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23).
(Vs.2, 3.) Paul speaks of himself in the third person instead of the first. The men whom God used to write the Scriptures often did this. Verse 7 clearly indicates that he referred to himself. He says, "I knew a man in Christ," that all the glory and honour might be to Christ, for no heavenly blessing nor heavenly revelation can come to any man except in, by and for the glory of Christ (Eph. 1:3). Paul was taken up to "the third heaven", the seat of divine majesty, the abode of holy angels, where the glorified Christ is and where departed believers go following death. In verse 4 he called it "paradise" (Luke 23:43). Some say the third heaven is above the heaven where the birds fly and above the starry heaven which is adorned with stars and planets. Whether he was taken there in body and spirit, or in spirit only, he did not know - only God knows!
(Vs. 4.) Paul did not speak of what he saw there but only of what he heard, calling the language and words unspeakable (either impossible for a man to utter, or impossible for men in the flesh to comprehend, or both). Though they were spoken in the presence of a man, yet they could not be spoken by him! Not that it would be sinful for him to speak these heavenly words, but that it was impossible for him or for any earthly creature to understand, enter into, or participate in this heavenly state until they are changed to his likeness (1 Cor. 15:50, 51). This exposes as falsehood the testimonies of people today who claim to have died and who come back telling what they saw and heard. Heavenly glories are as impossible for the human mind to comprehend and express as music, art and science sure above the understanding and communication of a dog. Only glorified people can speak of or understand the true glories of heaven.
(Vs. 5.) In this experience the Lord greatly exalted and honoured Paul, and though he might and did lawfully glory and rejoice in the Lord who had so highly favoured him, yet he knew that it was not owing to any merit or worthiness found in himself. He found all grace and mercy in Christ and only for the glory of Christ. If he gloried in anything of himself in his present state, it would be in his infirmities and weaknesses, those things which he had suffered for the glory of God. He had been faithful to the gospel even under the most difficult circumstances (2 Tim. 4: 5.8).
(Vs. 6.) Again the humility of the apostle shines forth in this verse for he says, "Should I have a mind to boast or glory in this unusual experience, I would not be a. foolish braggart (as some might interpret it); for I would be telling nothing but the truth - a true account of what really happened. But I forbear, suppress any desire to relate all of the revelations and visions God has given me, lest anyone should take me to be more than I am a sinner saved by the grace of God" (Eph. 3:7, 8; I Tim. 1:15; Rom. 7:24).
(Vs. 7.) God took care of any tendency in Paul to be proud or puffed up over the greatness of his gifts and revelations by giving him a thorn in the flesh. Pride is naturally in every man's heart and believers are not without it; therefore, to prevent this sin, which God hates (Prov. 6:16, 17; 16:18), God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him. We know that God permitted this affliction; we know that it had to do with Paul's flesh (human nature). Whether it was sickness, weakness, temptation, lust, or appearance, we do not know, but we know that it was a messenger of Satan, or, as God was pleased to put Job in the hands of Satan, he was pleased to allow Paul to be tried sorely and afflicted by the angel of hell. The plain and evident purpose for this severe trial in the flesh was to keep Paul from becoming proud, puffed up and exalted above measure. Instead of being a hindrance, this thorn was a help to the apostle, as our infirmities, afflictions and trials are for our eternal good (Rom. 8:28; 1 Peter 1:6, 7).
(Vs. 8, 9.) Three times in definite, dedicated and sincere prayer, Paul asked God to deliver him from this affliction, to remove it from him, but the Lord refused, telling Paul that his grace was sufficient to support him, strengthen him and uphold him under any trial or circumstance. Besides, God's strength and grace are never more glorified or appreciated than when we realize our own weakness and inability! Therefore, Paul said, "I will all the more rejoice in and accept my weaknesses and infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon and be revealed in me" (2 Cor. 4:7).