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Lesson 10: Dependent Living Is Powerful (2 Corinthians 12:1-21)

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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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Memory Verse #3)

The Corinthians had been putting up with the teaching of fools, contrary to the solid, biblical truth that Paul taught them. The foolish teachers claimed to be God’s leaders but were really masquerading as apostles of Christ and servants of righteousness. They didn’t look evil, but their teaching and behavior exploited the Christians in Corinth—drawing them away from following Christ more than themselves.

On the other hand, Paul chose to promote Christ, not himself. To counter the evil influence on those whom he loved so dearly, Paul is forced to talk about his own life choices and experiences, especially hardships. These are evidences of the Lord Jesus’s commendation of his work and vindication of him as an apostle (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Many of those same challenges can happen to anyone, not just those being persecuted for their faith. And, in the midst of those messy and often painful circumstances, we also have a choice of whom to promote—ourselves or Christ. On whom will we rely at those times? It is in our weaknesses that He is the strongest. He uses many things to come to our rescue and to comfort us. Sometimes all we can do is to get into the basket provided for us, be quiet, and trust the One holding the rope. Whether weak or strong, living dependently on Christ is the best way to live.

Questions To Consider This Week:

  • In the midst of your most painful trial, how have you seen Jesus’s grace be sufficient for you? How have you seen His power made complete in your weakness?
  • When people mistake your love for something contrary to your true intentions, how do you tend to respond?

Day One Study—Get The Big Picture.

Read 2 Corinthians 11:30-12:21, which includes verses from the last lesson. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

[To print, follow this link (or for the NIV, this one). Use your own method (colored pencils, lines, shapes) to mark: 1) anything that grabs your attention and 2) words you want to understand. Feel free to develop your own method of marking up a passage. Put a star  next to anything you think relates to dependent living.]

1. What grabbed your attention from these verses?

  • 12:1-10
  • 12:11-18
  • 12:19-21

2. What verses or specific words do you want to understand better?

3. What topics are repeated in this passage or continue an earlier discussion in this letter?

4. What verses illustrate or help you understand what dependent living on God looks like?

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Day Two Study

Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

What Does The Bible Say?

Focus on the Meaning: The “third heaven” probably represents the presence of God. It could be a technical description of God’s abode, above the cloudy heavens overhead, and beyond the farthest reaches of space that man can perceive. “Paradise” (v. 4) is a good synonym for the third heaven (cf. Luke 23:43; Revelation 2:7). (Dr. Constables Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition, p. 116)

5. Paul shares his vision from Christ and what he learned from that experience.

  • What happened 14 years before this letter was written (v. 2)?
  • While in paradise (heaven), what did he hear (v. 4)?
  • About what does he choose to boast (v. 5)?
  • If he chooses to boast about that experience, he would not be a fool (liar) because it was true. Why does he refrain from boasting about that experience (v. 6)?
  • In order to keep from being conceited, what happened (v. 7)?
  • Three times, Paul did what (v. 8)?
  • Write God’s answer to him (v. 9) in the space below:
  • What is Paul’s response to God (v. 9)?
  • Write Paul’s choice of how to live his life (v. 10) in the space below:
  • Did anything else grab your attention?

Historical Insight: Paul said he was caught up to heaven 14 years before the writing of this letter (56 AD). That would have happened around 42 AD. Paul was back in Tarsus ministering in Syria and Cilicia (Acts 9:30; Galatians 1:21). This was before Paul went to Antioch to pastor the church there and before He went on any missionary journey. No wonder he was so sure of his mission and his life knowing Christ.

What Does It Mean?

Looking at v. 6, we see that Paul preferred to be remembered for what he said and did in following Christ rather than for that one extraordinary experience that certainly contrasts with sneaking out of Damascus in a basket.

6. Why did Paul share this experience with the Corinthians after keeping it private for 14 years? See also v. 11.

Think About It: We love the sensational. We get excited for a miracle or a good vision or dream. … we’re infatuated with the platforms of Christian celebrities … But do we have the same level of passion for daily faithfulness? … it’s the consistent godly patterns of our lives that yield enduring fruit. (Kelly Minter, All Things New, p. 175)

7. Let’s look at the what, why, and who of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” Note: Although a lot of speculations are made, no one knows what this ailment was. Most of us can identify with having a thorn or splinter stuck in our skin at some point in our lives.

  • What does Paul mean by calling it a “thorn in his flesh” (v. 7)?
  • The Lord in His goodness allowed Satan to touch Paul’s body with this “thorn” (as in Job 2:10). For what purpose?
  • How many times did he ask for it to be removed?

8. To understand God’s answer, read 2 Corinthians 12:9 in The Message translation and 2 other Bible translations then answer the questions below.

  • God said His grace is sufficient (most English translations use this word). Paul used a word (Gr. arkeo) that means, “to be possessed of unfailing strength, enough.” Grace is God’s provision for our every need when we need it. How can God’s grace be sufficient when you have a persistent thorn?
  • God’s power is made perfect in weakness. “Made perfect” means “perfected, finished, exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or purpose.” Jesus said the same thing on the cross in John 19:30. See 2 Corinthians 13:4. How is God’s power made perfect in weakness?

9. After Paul heard from Jesus, his tone changed from pleading with the Lord to remove the thorn to what entirely new response (vv. 9-10)?

From the Greek: The word translated “rest” referring to Christ’s power means “to dwell, to take possession of and live in.” The word translated “delight” means “seems good, take pleasure in, ready to do, think well of.”

10. Why is Paul willing to delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties “for Christ’s sake?”

11. Considering the definitions above, how can it be that when you are weak (admit it, boast in it, even be glad about it), you are strong?

Scriptural Insight: Paul’s response relates back to what he shared previously about his own life. Look back at Acts 18:9-11; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 4:7-11; 6:3-10 and 11:21-33.

12. In what ways was Paul made strong in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties?

Think About It: God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need Him. Our weakness, in fact, makes room for His power. (Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire)

13. What else did you learn as you studied 2 Corinthians 12:1-10?

What Application Will You Make?

14. What could it look like, feel like, and sound like (the words we use) if we applied vv. 9-10 to our lives?

15. In the midst of your most painful trial, how have you seen Christ’s words to be true, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness?”

16. Have you been spending precious energy trying to solve or figure out “a thorn” in your life? If there doesn’t appear to be a clear answer—or at least in the near future—take a moment to entrust it to the God who knows.

17. In what other ways can you apply this lesson to your life?

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Consider using any creative means to respond to the Lord’s grace being sufficient for your every weakness—poem, song, painting, craft, prose, or other means.

Day Three Study

Read 2 Corinthians 12:11-18. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

What Does The Bible Say?

18. See how Paul picks up again on what he shared in 2 Corinthians 11:1-12 …

  • I ought to have been ___________ (v. 11) for I am not ___________ even though I ___________.
  • What things mark an apostle that were done in Corinth (v. 12)?
  • Why does Paul choose not to be a burden to them (v. 14)?
  • Like parents do for their children, Paul says he will very gladly do what (v. 15)?
  • What illogical question does he ask (v. 15)?
  • What 3 questions did he ask them about himself and Titus (vv. 17-18)?
  • Did anything else grab your attention?

What Does It Mean?

19. Focus on v. 11.

  • How was Paul “nothing” (no one, a nobody)? See also 2 Corinthians 10:10.
  • How does Paul’s “nothing” relate to what you read in 2 Corinthians 11:30 and 12:9?

20. What does he confirm about his behavior toward them (vv. 14, 16-17)?

21. Contrast the false teachers’ behavior (11:19-21) with that of Paul and his associates. See also 2 Corinthians 7:13-16; 8:22-23.

22. What else did you learn as you studied 2 Corinthians 12:11-18?

Focus on the Meaning: Paul’s focusing on the signs (evidences) of an apostle, rather than on the rights of an apostle, is helpful for all servants of the Lord to observe. We, too, should concentrate on demonstrating the proofs of our ambassadorship in our works, especially our perseverance, rather than expecting those we serve to follow us because we are “claiming” our rights. We need to earn the respect of those we serve, with our works and by our example, rather than demanding it because of our position. (Dr. Constables Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition, p. 121)

What Application Will You Make?

23. When people mistake your love for something else (especially contrary to your true intentions), that can be deeply wounding. Is that something you are experiencing right now or have experienced in the past? Look at Paul’s response in today’s passage. What can you learn from him that challenges and inspires you for dealing with this hurtful experience?

24. In what other ways can you apply this lesson to your life?

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Day Four Study

Read 2 Corinthians 12:19-21. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

What Does The Bible Say?

25. Paul had genuine concerns (fears) about his next visit to the church. Fear is a normal human emotion designed to alert us to danger so that we can take action against it. Answer the following questions based on what is in the biblical text.

  • Who does Paul say is a witness to his words (v. 19; 11:31)?
  • What does he call them in v. 19? See also 7:1.
  • Everything he does is for what purpose (v. 19)?
  • What are his fears about visiting them (v. 20)?
  • What also might happen when he visits them (v. 21)?
  • In what had some of them been indulging (v. 21)?
  • Did anything else grab your attention?

Think About It: Paul shares many things with the Corinthians. All of them are “in Christ.” Their identity in Christ is equal. But, authority is different. Paul as an apostle has authority over them.

What Does It Mean?

26. What could Paul mean by saying “you may find me not as you want me to be?” See 10:10-11.

27. What else did you learn as you studied 2 Corinthians 12:19-21?

What Application Will You Make?

What Paul describes in v. 20 sounds like some family gatherings, especially around the holidays. Does it sound familiar to you?

28. Describe a time when you had anxiety over seeing someone you hadn’t seen in a while. What were your worries? How did you prepare yourself? Did it go as you expected or were you surprised?

29. The sinful behaviors Paul mentions in vv. 20-21 are common to humans. Paul mentions these same things in most of his other letters. See Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 4:25-32; 5:3-4, and Colossians 3:5-10 for example. Are you “indulging” in any of these behaviors? If so, purify yourself now (2 Corinthians 7:1). See Lesson 6, Day Four Study application for the biblical process for dealing with sin in your life. Repentance begins with agreeing with God that what you are doing is sin against Him. Mourn your behavior because it causes Him sadness. Commit to letting the Spirit transform you in that area of your life (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Trust Him to work in and through you beginning today.

30. In what other ways can you apply this lesson to your life?

31.Review the passage for this lesson in “Day One Study.” Add reasons why God wants us to depend on Him more than on ourselves to the chart below. I’ve given a few prompts.


Reasons why God wants us to depend on Him more than on ourselves


To refrain from boasting about personal spiritual experiences


Enduring a thorn in the flesh that God chooses not to heal


Trusting Gods grace to be sufficient


Being glad about weaknesses so Christs power shines

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Dependent Living: As His child, God transforms your life by teaching you to live dependently on Him in weakness and in strength.

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