New Testament Week 37: “Caught Up Into the Third Heaven.” – 2 Corinthians 8-13

Today, I gave a talk in church and I will be posting it as a second post instead of a conclusion for those who would like to read it. I don’t think it is a surprise that it incorporated many of the themes we have been studying in the New Testament this year.

As for our chapters of study this week the second part of 2 Corinthians reads pretty quickly, but it has some very interesting things in it, especially for Latter-Day Saints theology. I hope this lesson is helpful in your study and that you can find something useful in the talk I posted at the end.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 37 – 2 Corinthians 8-13

– Giving of our resources is an essential part of Christian discipleship.

– Just because someone claims to be an authority, and even has knowledge of Christ does not make them reliable for our relationship with Christ.

– There are differing levels of heaven, and the presence of God is indescribable.

Context and Timeline:
– There was a famine of “biblical” proportions in Syria and Judea from 46 AD – 47 AD. The effects of that famine, however lasted for decades afterward and many saints, being refugees and outcasts, were still suffering in poverty from the famine.

– Titus, who we discussed last week, was actually sent to Corinth to oversee collections for the saints in Judea and Syria.

– Appointed in the translation actually means consent through a vote of raising hands.

– “Service to the saints” mentioned by Paul was the collection for the poor in Judea and Syria.

– Achaia is another name for what we know as Greece.

– The Corinthians had no experience with charitable giving of this manner, and many of them may have been feeling extorted by the perceived greed of Paul and others.

– Sickly would have meant weak in bodily appearance.

– “Other Apostles” was referencing false messengers and teachers that had been to Corinth refuting the teachings of Paul and his other missionary companions. Remember that there was no official written doctrine, scriptures, or policy at this time in the church.

– The beginning of 2 Corinthians 12 is written in the third person account, but it is Paul’s vision.

– Paul’s patience is thin by this point with the saints in Corinth, and there will be repercussions on his next trip if they do not change.

History around Epistle:
2 Corinthians is a tough epistle to analyze for its history and structure. Many scholars think the letter is actually a few different letters combined into one later by scribes. However, there are just as many who believe it to be one letter, just written off the cuff and in a less organized fashion than typical for Paul. This could be because of the circumstances around the situation in Corinth.

To recap, Paul lived in Corinth for at least 18 months and had tremendous success in building the church. After he left, he wrote a letter (we have no lasting record of the letter) that was not well received by the church. Chloe sent an alarming letter in return, to which Paul replied with what we know as 1 Corinthians. Paul then visited Corinth again during his third missionary journey to help reconcile the situation there. Paul refers to this visit as his “painful visit.” After leaving them, he wrote a third letter (also has not survived) which was delivered by Titus. Some time after the delivery Paul met up with Titus and after receiving a report, Paul sends the letter we know as 2 Corinthians to the church.

The complexity and context of all of the visits and letters makes 2 Corinthians tough to understand. He is likely responding to many different situations where he was there physically, a report from Titus, and communications through letters we do not have.

2 Corinthians is split into 3 Sections:
Chapters 1-7 – Apology, Reconciliation, and Encouragement
Chapters 8-9 – The Famine and needs in Judea
Chapters 10-13 – Stern Rebuke and Exhortation

Doctrinal Teachings:

  • Generosity and Giving to the Poor (Chapter 8-9)
    • Paul tells those in Corinth that the other churches of Greece have been way more generous in their assistance to the saints in Judea and Syria.
    • He begs the Corinth saints to give more, as they have more to give than most saints and asks that they give their offerings to Titus.
      • If we have more to give, then we should give more. Paul uses the analogy of reaping what we sow in terms of giving more offerings.
    • God will bless us when we are generous to others.
  • Paul Refutes Claims Against Him (Chapters 10)
    • Paul defends his character from those who have attacked him as sickly and prideful.
      • Appearance is not as important as words and faith in the Lord.
      • The Lord will help us if we help ourselves.
    • Being viewed positively by the world is not as important as having the trust of God.
    • Paul does not come to Corinth to live off their resources and does not want them to think he wants them to take care of him.
  • Beware of False Apostles (Chapter 11)
    • Paul trusts that the Corinth saints can determine what is right in regards to faith in Christ, but he is worried that they might be taken advantage of by false teachers.
    • Satan and falsehoods will often masquerade as light and truth. Saints will be susceptible to deception if they wander off the foundation of Christ.
    • Paul is saying his authority comes from his suffering and his commitment to Jesus Christ and the gospel truths.
  • Paul’s Vision of Heaven (Chapter 12)
    • Paul has a vision of heaven in which he sees the Celestial Kingdom (third heaven) and paradise. What he sees he is unable to describe either because there are no words, or because he is forbidden.
    • Grace is how we receive the power of the Lord and we receive grace when we admit our weakness and need the Lord.
    • Paul plans to come to Corinth again if he can, but not so he can live off their resources, so he will come when he can.
  • Examine Yourselves in Humility (Chapter 13)
    • Three times to the Corinthians should be enough for them to have the message sink in. If not then it is because they want proof instead of looking into their souls.
    • We must all examine our faith, what it needs, where it is strong and then seek Jesus’s help in strengthening what is weak.
    • Rejoice, put things in order, and have peace. I love the order of that statement. Be Happy, Do the Best Things First, and have peace the rest will work out.

Key Moment or Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:2-9
I know a man 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 this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 
and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 
On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 
though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

In the scriptures, we have precious little information about heaven. There are illusions to heaven with angels and the glory of God, but in this scripture passage Paul introduces the idea of a third heaven. In 1 Corinthians 15:40-42 Paul also talks about three different glories of resurrected bodies. Having multiple levels of heaven is not unique to Latter-day Saint theology, but I did some searching and found that there were some early Jews and Christians that believed and talked about a Third Heaven, where the Tree of Life was located and the abode of God existed.  It is referenced in many early scriptures that are not apart of the Canon, particularly the Book of Enoch.

Paul is unable to talk in more detail about what he sees in his vision of heaven, apparently to keep the focus in our lives on living and growing. However, in verse 9 the Lord teaches Paul an important thing that I do not want to miss. He says that His grace is sufficient for all of us. That His power is made perfect in our weakness. Our humility and faith brings the power of the Lord to us. If we saw the glory of heaven clearly, I wonder if we would be sufficiently humble and in need of grace to receive the Lord’s power and redemption.

Final Thoughts:
See my post called “The Way”