2Co 12:1-4 “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
In the previous chapter of Corinthians, Paul spoke as though he were foolish. He boasted of his natural lineage. He spoke of his many physicals torments and of his infirmities. He did all of this to put to silence the claims of the false teachers at that time.
Paul’s claims in chapter eleven were all based around the physical aspects of his life. These things were relatively easy to prove. In this chapter he begins to deal with things that are not so simple to prove by outward means. Here Paul begins to deal with matters of a more spiritual nature, but still in the vein of boasting so as to further quiet the impact of the false teachers.
Paul acknowledged in this first verse that there was no benefit in boasting, yet he felt compelled to do so because of the situation. He had already boasted of the physical aspects of his efforts to bring them the gospel. Now he was coming to things spiritual. He was ready to speak of things the Lord had shown him.
We get the feeling that Paul desired to lessen the appearance of his boasting when it came to sharing these spiritual matters. He began to relay his experience in the third person (as though he were speaking of someone else). How humbling and glorious the thought is that “I knew a man in Christ!” It is a great blessing to realize that if the Lord has revealed Himself in us, we can make this same claim.
Paul is no longer concerned with the physical. He now points us to his relationship with our Lord and Savior by sharing a very personal and powerful experience. It is not clear whether Paul was referring here to his experience on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-22), when he was in a trance in the temple (Acts 22:17), or some other time entirely. What is clear is that the experience was so real and so powerful that Paul was never sure if he was even still in his physical body at the time.
Another thing that is very clear about Paul’s experience was the he did not care what his physical state was at that time. He was content to know that God knew his condition and was in control of the situation. There are many conjectures about what or where this third heaven Paul was caught up into was. I take this to mean that it was more than being in God’s kingdom here and more than being caught up into the atmosphere.
Paul described this place as paradise. Perhaps it was this experience that Paul had in mind when he wrote in First Corinthians that eye had not seen, ear had not heard, and the heart of man had no concept of what God had in store for those that love Him, but that God had revealed it unto us by His Spirit. What Paul did understand was the he heard things that he did not have language to express.
Those who attempt to share the gospel of Christ have a measure of understanding about Paul’s experience. We can live the best life we know how, express the gospel of Christ with the best words we know, and still realize that we can never truly utter all that our hearts feel. The love and grace of God in Jesus Christ and revealed to us by His Spirit have depth and height and breadth that our language is insufficient to tell.
May we be blessed to always feel the wonder of the might truth of God that no mortal tongue will ever convey!