“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” (2 Corinthians 12:5-6).
Paul the Apostle faced a dilemma in his effort to be heard as an apostle of Christ within the Corinthian church. For instance, Paul could have spoken at length regarding the visions and revelations he received from God. While that would help to validate his authority, the issue was how to communicate that information in a way that didn’t exalt him.
Paul’s solution was to deflect attention away from himself by referring to these visions and revelations in the third person. That served to acknowledge the reality of those experiences but distanced Paul from the kind of personal association that might glorify him in the eyes of others.
However when it came to the subject of his infirmities, Paul’s approach was quite different: “…I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses” (NIV). By emphasizing his frailties, deficiencies, and human limitations, Paul again turned the focus away from himself and placed it upon the God who enabled him to succeed despite his weaknesses. In fact, this topic will serve as Paul’s primary theme over the next few verses of this letter.
So Paul’s report of these visionary experiences placed him on an equal footing with the false apostles in Corinth who were surely boasting of similar “revelations from God.” But unlike those who sought to capitalize upon their alleged experiences, Paul did not want his life and ministry to be measured by such things. Instead, he preferred to be evaluated by his words and actions.
You see, a “spiritual revelation” may be nothing more than the product of a fertile imagination. In a similar manner, a “vision from God” may not originate with the God of the Scriptures. This is one reason why the New Testament book of 1 John tells us, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV).
This may explain why Paul wanted others to evaluate him on the basis of what he said and did, for such things can be tested and authenticated for their fidelity to Jesus’ teachings.