In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul took the opportunity to boast a little about the things he had experienced while preaching the gospel. Paul started out by saying that it was foolish of him to try and impress the Corinthians with a bold display of his spiritual credentials (2 Corinthians 11:16) and then, added a disclaimer that the Lord had not given him permission to share his personal story (2 Corinthians 11:17). Among the many dangers Paul credited himself with were imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks, and starvation (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Paul concluded with a special revelation he had of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said:
I have to talk about myself, even if it does no good. But I will keep on telling about some things I saw in a special dream and that which the Lord has shown me. I know a man who belongs to Christ. Fourteen years ago he was taken up to the highest heaven. (I do not know if his body was taken up or just his spirit. Only God knows.) I say it again, I know this man was taken up. But I do not know if his body or just his spirit was taken up. Only God knows. When he was in the highest heaven, he heard things that cannot be told with words. No man is allowed to tell them. (2 Corinthians 12:1-4, NLV)
After sharing this fantastic experience, Paul stated, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul seemed to be saying that he was physically disabled as a result of his heavenly excursion. What isn’t perfectly clear is how Satan’s messenger came into play in inflicting Paul with this disability. The Greek phrase Paul used hina (hin’-ah) kolaphizo (kol-af-id’-zo) me (meh) which is translated “to buffet me” is also translated as “to harass me” (ESV) and “to hurt me” (NLV), but a better translation might be “to beat me up” because Paul was talking about being kept in a position of humility.
Paul’s objective in sharing his personal experience was to show that he was equal with the apostles that were present during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Paul recognized that it was foolish of him to boast about his accomplishments and admitted to the Corinthians, “I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Corinthians 12:11-12, ESV). Paul’s position as a super-apostle didn’t seem to gain him any favor with regard to suffering for the ministry of Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul indicated that he was expected to suffer more because of the authority that had been given to him. Paul asked the Lord three times to take away his thorn in the flesh, but his request was denied. Paul explained, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).