Continuing his theme of boasting and humility from the previous chapter that we examined, Paul discusses a vision that he had been given and then contrasts this glorious moment with a messenger of Satan that he had been given also to make sure that he remained humble. These are recorded in 2 Corinthians 11:1-10: “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
We have already explored numerous occasions in the Bible where Satan’s reflexive hostility to mankind serves the interests of God and not ultimately the best interests of Satan himself. That this puzzling pattern re-appears over and over again in different contexts ought to cause us to pause and reflect upon the futility of opposition to God, in that we cannot avoid being used for God’s purposes whether we appreciate or approve of it or not. Here it is clearly God’s purposes that Paul not be too boastful about his mystical experience in seeing the third heaven, which Paul frames rather modestly as if it happened to someone else before making it obvious at the end that he was merely referring to himself in the third person so as not to boast in an unbecoming fashion. As we noted above in our comment on the previous chapter of 2 Corinthians regarding boasting, Paul wished to provide an example to the brethren of Corinth of glorying in God and not boasting about his own supposed excellence. Many people would boast of having such a rare mystical experience, but Paul found it to be a responsibility and did not want to take credit for having it. And more to the point, God made sure that Paul would not view himself too highly by making sure that he had to deal with an affliction that would humble him and keep him from being too proud, ultimately for his spiritual benefit.
Since it is to the benefit of Paul that he was thus humbled through the “messenger of Satan” that was sent to buffet him, whatever it was, why would Satan go along with it? It is strategically in Satan’s best interests to encourage people to be proud and boastful and arrogant and so disqualify themselves from the body of Christ, whatever office they may possess, as a result of their arrogance and presumption. It is not the destruction of the bodies of Christians that corresponds with Satan’s best interests, but with the corruption of their souls. And the problem that kept Paul humble kept his soul from being corrupted through overweening pride and arrogance, something the best of us struggle with frequently, and a struggle which many are even unaware that they need to wage. Why did Satan go along with tormenting Paul in a way that kept him humble and thus allowed for his salvation in the face of the temptation to be proud and to fall like Satan did? Why did his hostility to humanity over and over again serve the interests of God, whether it was in improving the character of Job, or in allowing for the sin-bearing sacrifice of Jesus Christ, or whether it was in softening the heart of the incestuous disfellowshipped brother in 1 Corinthians 5 for repentance? To see this once would be unusual but to see it over and over again is a particularly striking problem that must be accounted for. The most obvious implication is that Satan’s strategic sense is frequently overwhelmed by his desire to harm and kill, and that Satan is a murderer and liar rather than a mastermind strategist.