The servant of Christ is a learner of Christ. As the years tick by, Christ will reveal Himself to His disciples, His servants. In the word, through experiences, and in prayer, the servant of Christ will receive revelation regarding God and His Word. You walk with Jesus, and you learn stuff.
But how can to receive these revelations well? This question ought to be asked, for if we do not, we will be in danger of quitting our race before the finish. To run well, we must receive all we learn well.
Paul was a man who experienced intense revelation from Christ. His conversion came via epiphany — and it was only the beginning. But on one occasion, His revelation, quite literally, went into the heavenlies. In or out of the body, he did not know, but he saw heaven. Like Isaiah before him, Paul saw the throne room of God. It was too much for him. He couldn’t describe it.
Let us learn, from Paul, how to handle revelation from God as servants of God.
1 Hold Your Revelations With Humility
“I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:1–2).
Humility is everywhere in the above sentence from Paul. Consider how he humbly received the grande revelation from Christ. First, he mentions this event last, for it follows his 2 Corinthians 11 list of sufferings he’d experienced for Christ. The Corinthians were pushing him to prove he was a true apostle. Instead of leading with, “Hey, I went to heaven, man!” Paul seems to have hesitated to even bring it up. Humble.
Second, he can’t even bring himself to speak in the first person when he starts to recount this heavenly experience. Over and over again he says, “I know a man” or “On behalf of this man I will boast.” He’ll later make it clear he speaks of himself, but it is hard for him to do so. Humble.
Third, when he saw these visions it was not as an apostle of Christ or a V.I.P. in Christ, but merely “a man in Christ.” That title is one Paul got from Jesus on day one of His Christianity, just like every other believer throughout the ages. In other words, Paul thought he received this vision of heaven because He was a Christian, not because He was a super fruitful apostolic missionary who laid down his life for Christ. This vision was not a reward, but grace. Humble.
Do we allow ourselves to become conceited by what God teaches us? Do we think of our revelations as wages for a job well done or His grace upon our lives? Do we think ourselves superior for our revelations, or do they humble us?
Long For Revelations Because They Provide Fuel
“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.” (2 Corinthians 12:3–4).
Have you stopped to consider what made Paul go? He was a dynamic man with a dynamic ministry, but it was no easy work. Pains and trials and heartaches awaited him. He dealt with loneliness and poverty and bodily harm, yet he went on. The deepest reason for his motivation was his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of Christ had enraptured Paul’s heart, so much so that he had to go, had to speak. But it seems this heavenly vision was also a forceful aid for this forceful man. His revelation of God’s throne room seems to have served as a motivation, a hope of the life to come, a confidence regarding all he preached. He — in a sense — had seen God. It had floored him. Like many servants before him, a glimpse of God helped him devote himself wholeheartedly to the work of God.
Have you allowed your revelations to fuel you towards deeper and greater works in Christ? Does the beautiful reality of God work powerfully in you, propelling your forward in your work for Christ? Do you want revelations for revelation's sake, or to help move you more deeply into Christ’s service?
Know You Are Not Your Revelations
“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.” (2 Corinthians 12:5–6).
When Paul retold the story of his heavenly visit, it seems it was hard for him to connect with it. He felt a gap existed. He resonated more fully with his weaknesses, not in the vision. He didn’t want to walk around boasting as “the man who went to heaven.” He didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. He felt close to his weaknesses and far from his revelation. He knew he was not his revelation.
Many make the mistake of thinking they are their revelations. They learn a little of Christ and think they have become what they’ve learned, ignoring the gap. It is one thing to know something, but quite another to be something. The enemy wants to deceive us into thinking that if we can teach a truth or learn a truth, then we’ve mastered that truth. Not so. Paul was willing to confess, “Don’t get the wrong idea, I saw heaven, but I am weak.”
Are you tempted to feel satisfied with merely learning a truth? Can you see how truly learning of Christ would mean allowing Him to shape you? Do you see a gap between what you know and how you live?
Expect To Pay A Price For Your Revelations
“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.” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Paul had what he called “a thorn in the flesh.” It seems some type of physical pain was given to him after his revelation of heaven. We don’t really know what it was. Maybe it was persecution. Maybe it was a strong and regular temptation. Maybe it was his physical appearance. Maybe it was a constant, violent headache. Maybe it was a sickness of his eyes. Maybe it was epilepsy. Maybe it was malaria. These are some of the theories. We might not know what the thorn was, but we know what the thorn was for. Paul told us: “to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations.” He had seen so much he needed something to keep him grounded.
Perhaps we might expect the same? Perhaps God has given to you some “thorn” that helps keep you low as He reveals Himself to you?
Revelations — With Weakness — Lead To Christ’s Power
“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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8–10).
Revelations — without a sense of weakness and dependence — lead to pride, which leads to a total loss of power. But Paul remained effective after his heavenly vision. He grew in strength. How did he do this? By receiving these revelations in combination with his own weakness. He prayed for the thorn to depart, but Christ rejected his request. Christ’s grace was sufficient for Paul. It is also sufficient for us. When that is Christ’s answer to our prayers for relief, it is best to embrace the weaknesses, as Paul did, believing Christ's power will be made perfect in the face of our weaknesses. When Paul was weak, Jesus was strong, and that is the whole point. We do not need to be powerful in every area. We will have our limits — many of them. And in them, we can rejoice because Christ’s power is made perfect through them.