Chapter 42: 2 Corinthians 6–13

New Testament Student Manual, 2014

Introduction and Timeline for 2 Corinthians 6–13

Second Corinthians 6–13 can be divided into three main sections. In 2 Corinthians 6–7, Paul continued to explain his conduct during his ministry. He expressed joy at having received word that the Saints in Corinth had accepted his counsel in an earlier epistle and had repented (see 2 Corinthians 7:4–8). This provided an occasion for Paul to write what have become timeless teachings on “godly sorrow.” In chapters 8–9, Paul continued his ongoing exhortation of the Saints to give donations to members of the Church in Jerusalem, emphasizing the principle of caring for the poor. In chapters 10–13, Paul defended his apostolic authority against some in Corinth who opposed him. Paul contrasted his own actions and teachings with those of men he labeled “false apostles,” and he encouraged the Saints in Corinth to prepare themselves for his upcoming visit so they could discern between true servants of God like himself and false teachers. In all of Paul’s counsel, we see his love for the Saints and his earnest desire for them to act righteously.

lesson 41 timeline

Commentary for 2 Corinthians 6–13

2 Corinthians 6:1–2. “Now Is the Day of Salvation”

After describing how all mankind may be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17–21), Paul exhorted the Corinthian Saints to be faithful, teaching that “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). The Book of Mormon contains similar teachings about the importance of repenting and remaining true to gospel covenants in this life (see 2 Nephi 2:21; Alma 34:31–33; 42:4). Individuals who do not honor their gospel covenants in this life should not assume that they will have a second chance in the life to come (see D&C 76:79; 88:20–24).

2 Corinthians 6:3–10. Ministers of God

In 2 Corinthians 6:3–10 Paul described the way he and his missionary companions endeavored to serve as ministers of God and alluded to many of the hardships they had faced. Paul’s description of his ministry can be seen as a list of attributes of effective ministers that we can strive to emulate in our own service—attributes that are best exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ. Similar lists are found in Doctrine and Covenants 4:5–6 and 121:41–44.

2 Corinthians 6:12. “Ye Are Straitened in Your Own Bowels”

As used in scripture, the word bowels often refers to the inner source of pity, love, and kindness, because when we feel love or compassion we often experience strong internal feelings. In 2 Corinthians 6:12, the idea of straitening (narrowing) one’s bowels means to restrict or withhold love. When Paul said, “Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels,” he was telling the Corinthian Saints that there was no lack of love on his part, despite the fact that some of the Saints were apparently withholding their love from him. Similar uses of the word bowels in the New Testament are found in Philippians 1:8; 2:1; Colossians 3:12; and 1 John 3:17.

2 Corinthians 6:14. “Be Ye Not Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers”

Paul used the image of animals yoked together as he discouraged Church members from being “yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). The law of Moses forbade the yoking of an ox and an ass together (see Deuteronomy 22:10) so that the weaker animal would not hold the stronger one back and the stronger animal would not inflict pain or discomfort on the weaker one.

Latter-day prophets have applied Paul’s teaching to be “not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” as a guiding principle in forming relationships with others, including deciding whom to marry. For example, President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) discussed why it is important for Latter-day Saints to marry within their faith:

“You are taking a desperate chance if you say, ‘Well, maybe he will join after we are married. We will go ahead and try it and see.’ It is a pretty serious thing to take a chance on. …

“Over the years many times women have come to me in tears. How they would love to train their children in the Church, in the gospel of Jesus Christ! But they were unable to do so. How they would like to accept positions of responsibility in the Church! How they would like to pay their tithing! How they would love to go to the temple and do the work for the dead, to do work for themselves, to be sealed for eternity, and to have their own flesh and blood, their children, sealed to them for eternity! …

“No implication is here made that all members of the Church are worthy and that all nonmembers are unworthy, but eternal marriage cannot be had outside of the temple, and nonmembers are not permitted to go into the temple. …

“Paul said: ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?’ (2 Cor. 6:14). Perhaps Paul wanted them to see that religious differences are fundamental differences” (“The Importance of Celestial Marriage,” Ensign, Oct. 1979, 3–4).

Church leaders have also applied 2 Corinthians 6:14 to preparing for marriage by developing ourselves in such areas as education, employment, and spirituality in order to bring strength rather than weakness to the “yoked” relationship of marriage.

wooden yoke

A yoke is used to join two draft animals. Paul used the imagery of yoked animals in his counsel regarding personal relationships (see 2 Corinthians 6:14–18).

2 Corinthians 6:14–18. “Be Ye Separate, … and Touch Not the Unclean Thing”

Paul compared the Corinthian Saints to “the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16). He then discouraged them from entering into relationships with idol worshippers or participating in their “unclean” practices (see Isaiah 52:11). With these teachings, Paul reiterated a promise made to God’s people of old—that if they would “come out from among” the wicked, God would dwell among them and be their God (2 Corinthians 6:17; see also Exodus 25:8; Leviticus 26:11–12; Jeremiah 32:38; and Ezekiel 11:19–20).

2 Corinthians 7:2–7. Paul Had “Wronged No Man”

In 2 Corinthians 7:2–7, Paul continued his defense against those who sought to discredit him. He assured the Corinthian Saints that he had not wronged or defrauded anyone. He pointed out that news of their well-being had brought him such joy that he was able to endure serious trials in Macedonia (northern Greece). For more information on Paul’s detractors, see the commentary for 2 Corinthians 10:7–18.

2 Corinthians 7:8–11. “Godly Sorrow Worketh Repentance”

One of Paul’s purposes in writing earlier epistles to the Saints in Corinth was to call certain individuals to repentance. It is evident from 2 Corinthians 7:8–13 that his correspondence had been well received, because according to Paul, the Saints had “sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner” (2 Corinthians 7:9). For more scriptural teachings on godly sorrow, see 2 Nephi 2:7; Mosiah 4:1–3; and Alma 42:29–30.

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) taught: “Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit.’ (See 3 Ne. 9:20; Moro. 6:2; D&C 20:37; 59:8; Ps. 34:18; 51:17; Isa. 57:15.) Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance” (“A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, Oct. 1989, 4).

bishop and young woman

Godly sorrow is different from worldly sorrow because it includes the workings of the Spirit in our hearts and causes real and lasting change. Worldly sorrow is a feeling of regret over being caught in a misdeed or having to face unpleasant consequences (see Mormon 2:12–14). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed out: “Pride prefers cheap repentance, paid for with shallow sorrow. Unsurprisingly, seekers after cheap repentance also search for superficial forgiveness instead of real reconciliation. Thus, real repentance goes far beyond simply saying, ‘I’m sorry’” (“Repentance,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 31).

2 Corinthians 8–9. Welfare Efforts in the Early Church

One of Paul’s ongoing efforts during his missions was to gather a collection for the poor in Jerusalem (see Acts 24:17; Romans 15:25–32; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4). Paul wrote about this collection in 2 Corinthians 8–9. The churches in Macedonia had given generously to the cause, and Paul encouraged the Saints in Corinth to do likewise (see 2 Corinthians 8:1–7). Paul later wrote that the Corinthians had responded favorably to his request (see Romans 15:26).

Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 8:12 that the willingness to give what one can is more important than being able to give in great abundance (see also Mosiah 4:24). In 2 Corinthians 8:14, Paul may have implied that the Corinthian Saints enjoyed great temporal abundance, which they should have been willing to donate in gratitude for the generous spiritual supply they received from Jerusalem (see Romans 15:27). When Paul spoke of “equality” among the Saints (2 Corinthians 8:14) he was not speaking of complete sameness. Latter-day revelation clarifies that in matters of temporal welfare, equality is determined in consideration of each person’s needs, wants, and circumstances (see D&C 51:3; 82:17).

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency taught about the obligation that Church members have to assist the poor:

“In the Lord’s plan, our commitment to welfare principles should be at the very root of our faith and devotion to Him.

“Since the beginning of time, our Heavenly Father has spoken with great clarity on this subject: from the gentle plea, ‘If thou lovest me … thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support’ [D&C 42:29–30]; to the direct command, ‘Remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple’ [D&C 52:40]; to the forceful warning, ‘If any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment’ [D&C 104:18]. …

“… While it is important to have our thoughts inclined toward heaven, we miss the essence of our religion if our hands are not also inclined toward our fellowman. …

“… Our spiritual progress is inseparably bound together with the temporal service we give to others. …

“This very hour there are many members of the Church who are suffering. They are hungry, stretched financially, and struggling with all manner of physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. They pray with all the energy of their souls for succor, for relief.

“… Please do not think that this is someone else’s responsibility. It is mine, and it is yours. We are all enlisted. … In the Lord’s plan, there is something everyone can contribute” (“Providing in the Lord’s Way,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 53–54).

2 Corinthians 8:16–24. Paul Sent Brethren to Collect Donations for the Poor in Jerusalem

In 2 Corinthians 8:16–24, Paul spoke to the Corinthian Saints about the brethren who were being sent to collect charitable contributions for the Saints in Jerusalem. He mentioned Titus (verses 16–17) and two other brethren (verses 18 and 22). While speaking of one of these brethren, Paul spoke of his confidence in the Corinthian Saints. Joseph Smith Translation, 2 Corinthians 8:22–23 clarifies this confidence: “And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent. Therefore we send him unto you, in consequence of the great confidence which we have in you, that you will receive the things concerning you, to the glory of Christ.

2 Corinthians 9:6–13. “He Which Soweth Bountifully Shall Reap Also Bountifully”

Paul noted that those who sowed (donated to the needy) bountifully would also reap (receive) bountifully from the Lord. On the other hand, “he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly” (2 Corinthians 9:6).

In 2 Corinthians 9:9, Paul quoted Psalm 112:9, referring to “a good man” who “hath given to the poor” (Psalm 112:5, 9). In verse 10, Paul referred to God’s abundant blessings to those who give generously. In verses 12–13, Paul said that two good things would result from the Corinthians’ unselfish giving—the needs of the Jerusalem Saints would be met, and those Saints would in turn give generous thanks to God.

In modern times, one way members of the Church make donations for the poor is through fast offerings. President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) of the First Presidency taught about the blessings that accompany generous fast offering donations: “‘I am a firm believer that you cannot give to the Church and to the building up of the kingdom of God and be any poorer financially. I remember … when Brother [Melvin J.] Ballard laid his hands on my head and set me apart to go on a mission. He said in that prayer of blessing that a person could not give a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return. That’s been my experience. If the members of the Church would double their fast-offering contributions, the spirituality in the Church would double. We need to keep that in mind and be liberal in our contributions.’ (Welfare Agricultural Meeting, 3 Apr. 1971, p. 1.)” (in L. Tom Perry, “The Law of the Fast,” Ensign, May 1986, 32).

fast offering envelope and donation form

2 Corinthians 9:6–7. “God Loveth a Cheerful Giver”

Paul taught that individuals who give cheerfully will receive greater blessings than those who give grudgingly. The Book of Mormon prophet Mormon understood this: “God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness” (Moroni 7:6–7).

2 Corinthians 10:3–6. “For the Weapons of Our Warfare Are Not Carnal”

In 2 Corinthians 10:4, Paul taught that though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. In our spiritual war against Satan, we do not use “carnal” weapons, meaning the weapons used in worldly battles, but rather we use spiritual weapons. Paul taught that in this spiritual warfare, we must be careful of what and how we think (see verses 5–6). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Thoughts are the material from which belief is built, and to be saved men must believe and therefore think the right things. We are, therefore, expected to govern our thoughts. ‘Let thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord.’ (Alma 37:36.) ‘Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.’ (D. & C. 121:45.) ‘Our thoughts will also condemn us.’ (Alma 12:14.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 2:438).

To read about the “weapons” of spiritual warfare that Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 10:4, see Ephesians 6:11–17 and the commentary for Ephesians 6:14–18.

statue of Apostle Paul

Statue of the Apostle Paul, by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. Paul is depicted holding a sword, which symbolizes his martyrdom. In scripture, the sword also symbolizes the word of God (see Ephesians 6:17; Revelation 1:16; D&C 6:2).

2 Corinthians 10:7–18. Paul Defended His Physical Weaknesses

In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul defended himself against those who opposed him. Some of the criticisms leveled against Paul were personal in nature and were related to his physical appearance and his speaking ability (see 2 Corinthians 10:10). Such attacks on Paul’s physical shortcomings demonstrate the weakness of his detractors’ character. The scriptures contain many examples of the Lord using individuals with perceived physical weaknesses to accomplish His work. For example, both Enoch and Moses struggled with physical challenges (see Exodus 4:10; Moses 6:31). The Lord stated that “the weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones” (D&C 1:19; see also 1 Corinthians 1:25–27).

Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1915–94) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the mistake of judging people by the wrong criteria:

video icon“We also tend to evaluate others on the basis of physical, outward appearance: their ‘good looks,’ their social status, their family pedigrees, their degrees, or their economic situations. …

“When the Lord measures an individual, He does not take a tape measure around the person’s head to determine his mental capacity, nor his chest to determine his manliness, but He measures the heart as an indicator of the person’s capacity and potential to bless others” (“The Measure of Our Hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 15).

2 Corinthians 10:8, 13–17; 11:16–18. Paul’s Use of the Word Boast

As Paul defended his position as an Apostle, he acknowledged that it may have seemed to some like he was boasting of his authority. The word boast in 2 Corinthians 10:8 means “to glory or exult” (see also 2 Corinthians 10:13–17; 11:16–18). Paul’s “boasting” when speaking of his missionary service should not be understood as being prideful; instead it may be seen as similar to Ammon’s expression in the Book of Mormon: “I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things. … Who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men?” (Alma 26:12, 16).

2 Corinthians 10:10–13, 18. “Comparing Themselves among Themselves”

Paul wrote that he might be physically weak compared to some other people; however, he pointed out that it is not wise for people to measure themselves through comparisons to others. Rather, we should measure ourselves “according to the rule [standard] which God hath [given] to us” (2 Corinthians 10:10–13). The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) encouraged Church members to measure themselves through a comparison to God: “Search your hearts, and see if you are like God. I have searched mine, and feel to repent of all my sins” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 72).

Sister Patricia T. Holland, former member of the Young Women general presidency and wife of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shared her personal insights about the importance of not comparing ourselves with others:

“My greatest misery comes when I feel I have to fit what others are doing, or what I think others expect of me. I am most happy when I am comfortable being me and trying to do what my Father in Heaven and I expect me to be.

“For many years I tried to measure the ofttimes quiet, reflective, thoughtful Pat Holland against the robust, bubbly, talkative, and energetic Jeff Holland and others with like qualities. I have learned through several fatiguing failures that you can’t have joy in being bubbly if you are not a bubbly person. It is a contradiction in terms. I have given up seeing myself as a flawed person because my energy level is lower than Jeff’s, and I don’t talk as much as he does, nor as fast. Giving this up has freed me to embrace and rejoice in my own manner and personality in the measure of my creation” (Jeffrey R. Holland and Patricia T. Holland, On Earth as It Is in Heaven [1989], 69–70).

young men and women in lunchroom

Paul taught that those who “compare themselves among themselves are not wise” and should instead seek the Lord’s commendation (see 2 Corinthians 10:12, 18).

2 Corinthians 10:12, 18. “Some That Commend Themselves”

Paul said of his detractors that they “commend themselves” and are therefore “not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Paul suggested that we should not praise ourselves but should instead seek the Lord’s approval. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency taught about the pride that is related to self-commendation:

video icon“At its core, pride is a sin of comparison, for though it usually begins with ‘Look how wonderful I am and what great things I have done,’ it always seems to end with ‘Therefore, I am better than you.’

“When our hearts are filled with pride, we commit a grave sin, for we violate the two great commandments [see Matthew 22:36–40]. Instead of worshipping God and loving our neighbor, we reveal the real object of our worship and love—the image we see in the mirror.

“Pride is the great sin of self-elevation. …

“This sin has many faces. It leads some to revel in their own perceived self-worth, accomplishments, talents, wealth, or position. They count these blessings as evidence of being ‘chosen,’ ‘superior,’ or ‘more righteous’ than others. This is the sin of ‘Thank God I am more special than you.’ At its core is the desire to be admired or envied. It is the sin of self-glorification” (“Pride and the Priesthood,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 56).

2 Corinthians 11:1–5, 13–15; 12:11–12. Warnings against False Apostles

In 2 Corinthians 11–12 Paul issued a warning about false teachers among the Corinthian Saints who were not the righteous ministers they appeared to be. He used strong terms as he compared them to the “serpent” who “beguiled Eve through his subtilty” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Paul reasoned that just as Satan himself can appear as an angel of light (see 2 Nephi 9:9; Alma 30:53; D&C 129:8; Moses 5:13, 28–30), the “false apostles” in Corinth had the appearance of “ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:13, 15). These individuals preached “another” Christ. Although it is unclear what specific doctrines these false apostles were teaching about Jesus Christ, we know that on another occasion Paul had to refute claims in Corinth that Christ had not risen from the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:13–19).

In contrast to the false apostles in Corinth, Paul testified that he was an authentic Apostle, who was in no way inferior to “the very chiefest apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11). In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul invited the Corinthian members to consider if his works among them were signs of a true Apostle that authenticated his ministry (see also Mark 16:17–18).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie described some differences between true and false apostles in our day: “In the general sense, a true apostle is an especial witness of the Lord’s name, one who knows by revelation that Jesus is the Lord. A false apostle is one who pretends to be a teacher and witness of true doctrine without having the requisite personal revelation. In the specific sense, a true apostle is one who has been ordained to that office in the Melchizedek Priesthood and who normally serves as a member of the Council of the Twelve, and who therefore has power and authority to govern the Church. A false apostle is one who professes to have power to govern the affairs of the Church on earth, but does not in fact have the requisite endowment of divine authority” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:440).

2 Corinthians 11:7–9; 12:13–17. What Did Paul Mean by Not Being “Burdensome” to the Saints?

While ministering in Corinth, Paul relied somewhat on contributions from Church members in Macedonia (see Acts 18:3), but he also labored to support himself financially. He did not want his own temporal needs to be burdensome to the Church (see also Mosiah 2:11–15).

2 Corinthians 11:23–33. Paul’s Trials Are Evidence of His Commitment to Declare the Truth of Jesus Christ

In 2 Corinthians 11:23–33, Paul listed many of the sufferings he passed through as he ministered as a loyal disciple of Jesus Christ. Paul’s ministry covered three decades, during which time he traveled well over 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers), much of it on foot. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, Paul willingly endured a remarkable number of hardships, many of which are recorded in Acts (see Acts 14:19; 16:22–40; 21:31; 27:13–44). The five beatings of “forty stripes save one” (see 2 Corinthians 11:24–28) that Paul received from Jewish authorities were the severest form of whipping Paul could have received under Jewish law (see Deuteronomy 25:1–3).

Despite the repeated beatings, Paul continued to visit synagogues to proclaim the gospel to his fellow Jews as well as to Gentiles (see Romans 1:16; 9:1–5). The combination of these trials is staggering to contemplate. Without apostolic authority and a deep commitment to Jesus Christ, it is unlikely that Paul could have endured such extreme difficulties. In contrast to those whom Paul labeled as “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13), Paul had proper authority (see 2 Corinthians 11:5, 22–23), and his ministry was evidence of his sincere, devoted discipleship.

2 Corinthians 12:2–4. Who Was the Man “Caught Up to the Third Heaven”?

Employing a common rhetorical device of his day, Paul was referring to himself in the third person when he spoke of “a man” who was once “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2–4), which is the celestial kingdom. The Prophet Joseph Smith received revelations giving further understanding of “the third heaven” (see D&C 76:50–112; 88:22–31), and he explained: “Paul ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder—the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms, where Paul saw and heard things which were not lawful for him to utter” (in History of the Church, 5:402; see also the commentary for 1 Corinthians 15:39–44). By sharing this experience—one that neither his detractors nor the “false apostles” in Corinth could match—Paul reinforced his authority as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

sun in sky

The third heaven, or celestial kingdom, is symbolized in scripture by the sun (see 1 Corinthians 15:40–41).

2 Corinthians 12:4. “Not Lawful for a Man to Utter”

Just as Paul heard “unspeakable words” that were “not lawful for a man to utter” when he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4), we too may have spiritual experiences that we should share only when directed to do so by the Spirit. President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

“I have come to believe … that it is not wise to continually talk of unusual spiritual experiences. They are to be guarded with care and shared only when the Spirit itself prompts you to use them to the blessing of others. I am ever mindful of Alma’s words:

“‘It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.’ (Alma 12:9.)

“I heard President Marion G. Romney once counsel … , ‘I do not tell all I know; I have never told my wife all I know, for I found out that if I talked too lightly of sacred things, thereafter the Lord would not trust me.’

“We are, I believe, to keep these things and ponder them in our hearts, as Luke said Mary did of the supernal events that surrounded the birth of Jesus. (See Luke 2:19.)” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53).

2 Corinthians 12:7–9. “A Thorn in the Flesh”

The Greek word translated as thorn in 2 Corinthians 12:7 originally referred to anything pointed, such as a sharpened stake, a surgical instrument, or a fishhook. By Paul’s day it came to denote a thorn or splinter that causes significant irritation. The term “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) is a metaphor suggesting an infirmity that was troublesome to Paul. Many commentators have speculated on what Paul’s infirmity might have been, proposing that perhaps it was epilepsy, a serious visual impairment (see Galatians 4:13–15), or malaria. It appears that one of the positive results of this affliction was that it helped Paul avoid becoming proud (see 2 Corinthians 12:7). Weakness can lead to humble reliance upon the Lord (see Jacob 4:7; Ether 12:27, 37).

tree branches

Thorns measuring about 2 inches (5 centimeters) on the branch of a tree in Israel

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles commented on what we might learn from these teachings of Paul: “Recognize that some challenges in life will not be resolved here on earth. Paul pled thrice that ‘a thorn in the flesh’ be removed. The Lord simply answered, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness’ [2 Corinthians 12:7–9]. He gave Paul strength to compensate so he could live a most meaningful life. He wants you to learn how to be cured when that is His will and how to obtain strength to live with your challenge when He intends it to be an instrument for growth. In either case the Redeemer will support you” (“To Be Healed,” Ensign, May 1994, 7).

2 Corinthians 12:8. Healings Are Subject to the Will of God

One lesson we can learn from Paul’s repeated petition that the Lord remove his “thorn in the flesh” is that faith is not the only requirement for healings to take place. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “Although the Savior could heal all whom He would heal, this is not true of those who hold His priesthood authority. Mortal exercises of that authority are limited by the will of Him whose priesthood it is. Consequently, we are told that some whom the elders bless are not healed because they are ‘appointed unto death’ (D&C 42:48). Similarly, when the Apostle Paul sought to be healed from the ‘thorn in the flesh’ that buffeted him (2 Corinthians 12:7), the Lord declined to heal him” (“He Heals the Heavy Laden,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 7).

2 Corinthians 12:8–10. Taking Pleasure in Infirmities

As he spoke about his physical weakness or thorn in the flesh, Paul stated that he could “take pleasure in infirmities” because his reliance upon the Lord allowed “the power of Christ” to rest upon him (2 Corinthians 12:8, 10). Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained some of the blessings he received while experiencing an extended period of poor health:

video icon“In the past two years, I have waited upon the Lord for mortal lessons to be taught me through periods of physical pain, mental anguish, and pondering. I learned that constant, intense pain is a great consecrating purifier that humbles us and draws us closer to God’s Spirit. If we listen and obey, we will be guided by His Spirit and do His will in our daily endeavors.

“There were times when I have asked a few direct questions in my prayers, such as, ‘What lessons dost Thou want me to learn from these experiences?’

“As I studied the scriptures during this critical period of my life, the veil was thin and answers were given to me as they were recorded in lives of others who had gone through even more severe trials.

“‘My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

“‘And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high’ (D&C 121:7–8).

“Dark moments of depression were quickly dispelled by the light of the gospel as the Spirit brought peace and comfort with assurances that all would be well.

“On a few occasions, I told the Lord that I had surely learned the lessons to be taught and that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to endure any more suffering. Such entreaties seemed to be of no avail, for it was made clear to me that this purifying process of testing was to be endured in the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s own way. It is one thing to teach, ‘Thy will be done’ (Matt. 26:42). It is another to live it. I also learned that I would not be left alone to meet these trials and tribulations but that guardian angels would attend me. …

“The experiences of the last two years have made me stronger in spirit and have given me courage to testify more boldly to the world the deep feelings of my heart” (“The Covenant of Baptism: To Be in the Kingdom and of the Kingdom,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 6).

2 Corinthians 12:12. “Signs of an Apostle”

Paul taught the Corinthian Saints that they should recognize his apostolic authority because he wrought the works of an Apostle. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that the signs of an Apostle “are healing the sick, casting out devils, raising the dead; they are preaching and teaching and suffering in the Cause of Christ; they are walking uprightly before all men and being adopted into the family of God as his sons, becoming thus joint-heirs with his natural Son. They are precisely the same divine endowments which should rest upon all the elders of the kingdom, upon every person who has received the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:450).

ruins of ancient Corinth

Ruins of ancient Corinth

2 Corinthians 13:5. “Examine Yourselves, Whether Ye Be in the Faith”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

“Jesus issued the challenge ‘What think ye of Christ?’ (Matthew 22:42). The Apostle Paul challenged the Corinthians to ‘examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith’ (2 Corinthians 13:5). All of us should answer these challenges for ourselves. Where is our ultimate loyalty? Are we like the Christians in Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s memorable description who have moved their residence to Zion but still try to keep a second residence in Babylon? [see A Wonderful Flood of Light (1990), 47].

“There is no middle ground. We are followers of Jesus Christ. Our citizenship is in His Church and His gospel, and we should not use a visa to visit Babylon or act like one of its citizens. We should honor His name, keep His commandments, and ‘seek not the things of this world but seek … first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33, footnote a; from Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 6:38)” (“Teachings of Jesus,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 93).

2 Corinthians 13:12. Greet One Another

Joseph Smith Translation, 2 Corinthians 13:12 replaces the word “kiss” with “salutation” (in 2 Corinthians 13:12, footnote a).

    Points to Ponder

  • What is the difference between “godly sorrow” and “sorrow of the world”? (2 Corinthians 7:10).

  • Have you ever been falsely accused and had to defend your own character? What can you learn from Paul about how to deal with false accusations? (see 2 Corinthians 10–12).

  • What are some personal “thorns in the flesh” that might lead you to turn to the Lord for relief or strength to endure? How might the Lord use these to bless you? (see 2 Corinthians 12:7–10).