Summary: Like a splinter barely under our skin, circumstances can be painful. But how can we tell if it's just life or God?
Have you ever got a splinter in your finger or your foot? It sticks out just enough to be irritating but not far enough to pull it out. Every time you brush against something, it sends pain through out your body.
I know when this happens to me I try to ignore it. I hope against hope that some how it will work its way out. Because the alternatives are it will become infected or my wife will take the biggest needle, she can find to dig it out. I finally opt for the last choice. While she unmercifully digs into my skin, I am screaming as if someone is removing my appendix without any anesthesia.
Today we will learn about the splinter in Paul’s life. Paul shares his story in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.
“I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.”
Paul is telling the church in Corinth about his trip to heaven.
He refers to it as “the third heaven.” He tells us that the heavens are layered. There is the first heaven that we see with our naked eyes as we look upwards. Then there is the second heaven that we are still exploring with telescopes and satellites. Then there is the third heaven that is not visible because it is beyond all these physical realms. Paul called it “paradise” which meant God’s garden.
He further states that what he saw was unexplainable. He could not find words to express the beauty and the wonder of what he heard. Furthermore, no one would be allowed to tell of the glory of this place. Later the apostle John would have the privilege of making the same trip that Paul did and would be allowed to record what he saw. We find that glimpse of heaven in the book of Revelation.
Let us continue with Paul.
2 Corinthians 12:6-7 “If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.”
Paul had a lot he could boast about. In a letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote, “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.” (Philippians 3:5-6)
And earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote concerning others who were accusing Paul of not being an apostle, of taking advantage of them, and of being weak, “You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face. I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too ‘weak’ to do that!
But whatever they dare to boast about—I’m talking like a fool again—I dare to boast about it, too. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” (2 Corinthians 11:20-27)