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Weakness In Spiritual Experiences

2 Corinthians 12:1-6
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. (NIVUK)

There is no doubt that unusual experiences attract attention. God's mighty acts of power are a continuous narrative through the Bible from creation, the exodus and battles won - to Jesus' miracles, the resurrection and promised return in glory. God's interventions in the lives of kings and prophets, widows and beggars, are faithfully recorded for us to understand that He is all powerful, righteous and awesomely holy (Exodus 3:1-6). But some believers assume that if God intervenes in their life, that must mean that they are more righteous or holy than others. Not so.

In contrast to the false teachers in Corinth, Paul had astonishing revelations from the Lord but refused to take any credit for them. 14 years previously, Paul was left utterly awestruck by what the Lord showed him. That personal glimpse of the power and glory of God was indescribable. But it did not give him any superior spiritual status; indeed, it reminded him of his weak sinfulness. He refused to boast about what he saw and heard. He was glad to tell of how God humbled him on the Damascus road, and the apostolic commission he received; also, his sufferings in gospel ministry – but no supernatural experience could prove his virtue. He knew he was a sinner saved by grace (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).

Paul did not want the churches to think that God gave that revelation because he was holy. He knew his own heart, and called himself 'the least of the apostles'. His ministry was not about advertising himself, but Jesus. He was only a messenger from Jesus, an ambassador (2 Corinthians 4:5; 5:20). Paul rejected the idea of people following him or any other apostle (1 Corinthians 1:12-13), and following false teachers was worse, because the gospel is all about giving up your prime position so that Jesus can be Lord of your life (Matthew 16:24).

We need this lesson today. Some leaders claim to have had a special encounter with God and attract crowds hungry for experiences. Some church members gather people around them to hear of divine manifestations. Spiritually eager people may go from church to church, or seek supernatural power or insights through celebrity speakers at conventions or on the internet. However sincere their search, it is profoundly misguided to seek something supernatural from God rather than seeking to submit their sinful hearts to the authority of God (James 4:7-10). Genuine revelations from God are not wrong, but seeking the experience rather than the Lord Himself is immaturely dangerous (Acts 8:18-23). Boasting about such events owes more to pride than obedient zeal. If you are attracted to that kind of spiritual ego-boasting, repent.

Almighty God. Thank You for being able to do far more than we can ever imagine. Forgive me when I seek spiritual experiences to boost myself instead of seeking Jesus so that He may be praised. Please help me to seek You with all of my heart, so that I may lead people to You, and not attract attention to myself. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams