Humility: A Prerequisite for Ministry (2 Corinthians 11:22-12:10)

Lesson series 2001
Tags: 2 Corinthians; Ministry; Paul; Humility
Excerpted from Paul on Ministry: Lessons from 2 Corinthians
Related Resources: New Testament Perspectives on Boasting


  1. To demonstrate the need for Christians in general, and ministers in particular, to exhibit humility.
  2. To encourage participants to recognize the value of “thorns” in their lives.
  3. To encourage participants to cultivate humble dependence on God.

Text (NKJV)

Chapter 11

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
23 Are they ministers of Christ?--I speak as a fool--I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness--
28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.
31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.
32 In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me;
33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.

Chapter 12

1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
2 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.
3 And I know such a man--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows--
4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities.
6 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.
7 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.
8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
9 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.
10 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.


People typically exhibit pride in relation to assets such as possessions, accomplishments, power, beauty, and intelligence. It is simply not natural to boast of one’s weaknesses. Yet this is exactly what Paul advocates in today’s text. How and why might one be proud of liabilities? What relation does humility bear to ministry? These questions are addressed in 2 Corinthians 11:22-12:10.

The Challenge of Humility (11:22-33)

Humility is a balance that is difficult to strike. We are prone to two extremes in our self-perception: pride and inferiority. Paul’s own assets (11:22-33; cf. Phil 3:4ff) might have seemed to warrant boasting on his part. As we serve the Lord, we are likely to experience some measure of success, and we will be tempted to pat ourselves on the back as a result. On the other side of the coin, we will face some defeats as well, tempting us to see ourselves as inadequate.

The Wisdom of Humility (12:1-6)

Though Paul had made great sacrifices to serve Christ, he refused to allow his accomplishments to drive him to pride. Though God had chosen him to receive incredible revelations, he realized he would have been wrong to boast. God had taught him a difficult lesson in humility.

The Cultivation of Humility (12:7-10)

God was interested in keeping Paul confident yet humble. God did not wish for Paul to become high-minded in response to being chosen as His minister. As a result, God allowed Satan to afflict him with “a thorn in the flesh.” Paul never specified what this thorn may have been, though his weakness may have been obvious to the Corinthians.

The thorn was a constant reminder of Paul’s need for God’s grace. He had pleaded three times for God to remove it, but his request was denied each time. Paul finally learned that his suffering was profitable, for it drove him to greater dependence on God. God’s strength could only be perfected through his weakness. As a result, Paul literally boasted of the liabilities in his life; he knew that they illustrated best the grace of God toward him.

The Effect of Humility

Humility brought about several positive results in Paul’s life. It enabled him to obtain God’s grace in the face of adversity. He knew greater spiritual strength through humble dependence on God. Humility also advanced his ministry. Unlike his opponents, he could not rightfully be accused of self-aggrandizement. Pride did not prevent him from ministering to those who were unattractive in the eyes of the world.


Humility is essential to effective ministry. It is not a matter of putting ourselves down. Rather, it has to do with seeing ourselves from God’s perspective--neither taking credit for our successes nor beating ourselves up on account of our failures. God wants us to have a healthy sense of self-esteem. When we have a distorted self-image (in either direction), our ability to minister is diminished. Paul learned to take pride in his liabilities--his weaknesses--so that Christ could reveal the fullness of His power in him. God has given each of us one or more “thorns” that remind us of our need to depend on Him for strength. As we learn to trust in His grace, we will become better suited to serve Him.