7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10
I remember in my early days after I became born-again, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. As foggy as my memory is, I do seem to recall that no preacher seemed to have a grasp on this one, nor did I receive much help from the many books that I read. Looking back now, I find that to be incredibly strange because the answer to this question is right there in these very verses. Paul says in verse 10, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake”.
These things, “infirmities… reproaches… necessities… persecutions… distresses”… these were what constituted Paul’s thorn in the flesh.
By infirmities Paul is not referring to physical illnesses, no. He is referring to something far more profound, a forfeiture in the inner man.
In this post, however, I want us to go beyond there and attempt to see why God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh, and why this thorn would accompany him throughout his earthly life. It is clear from the scriptures that God allowed this thorn in Paul’s flesh for just one purpose: so that Paul could serve God the way God wanted him to serve Him. These are the kind of things that make me root for God – that God is God and that He will always work things to the end that He alone receives the glory.
God made it clear to Paul that the minute that thorn was removed from his flesh, he would cease to serve God in exactly the way God wanted him to serve Him. And so God put Paul permanently “in the stocks”, so to speak.
That is a far cry from how many of us serve God. Yes, we serve God all right, but without the thorn in the flesh. We serve God with too much freedom in the flesh. Which translates to the fact that we do not serve God effectively.
But the things that Paul endured in the flesh enabled him to serve God more effectively than any of the other apostles: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” 1 Cor. 15:10
You don’t want to think that something for which a man like Paul prayed three times to have removed from his life was a small irritation. No sir. I can say with all confidence that Paul most likely was involved in a life-and-death situation every day of his life. And God told Paul he would have to endure this state of affairs all his life here on earth.
To paraphrase God’s words to Paul: “Paul, I cannot allow you to be not without this thorn. This thorn is what will confine you to Me. It is impossible for you to serve Me without this thorn. If I allow you to serve Me without this thorn, you will easily boast in your achievements for Me, and not only will I not receive the glory, but you will lose your reward in heaven.”
And so God sent a messenger of Satan to buffet Paul.
“in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses…”
In Paul, God had found a willing servant. Having accepted this thorn as God’s will in his life, Paul was ready for God to invest in him the fullness of His revelation of the cross of Christ.
Many people are in church today, not to partake of the thorn in the flesh, but to seek reprieve for the flesh!
Many people are in church today because they want God to put food on their table, to help them pay their bills, to prosper their businesses, to heal their bodies, to provide them with a marriage partner; the list is endless. In short, many are in church to have God solve the many problems they are facing in the flesh.
The single reason there are so many un-Godly doctrines in church today, including the doctrine of prosperity, is because people went to church in the first place to seek for something other than the life of Christ. But Christ’s church has only one thing to offer: the cross. But men do not want to hear of the cross. The minute men saw the cross, they fled Christ’s church and started another church right across the street. And there, they comfortably allowed in every doctrine that would cater to the flesh. As they sang, “Glory, Hallelujah!” they consoled themselves that they were in the perfect will of God!
Every doctrine in church, apart from the singular doctrine of the cross that the Apostle Paul preached, is there because men have a hunger for things other than the righteousness of God.
But praise be to God for men like Paul who, in the face of God’s thorn in his flesh, said, “I rejoice!”
God had told him, “There is only one way you can serve me: it is by carrying this thorn in your flesh!”
That is a question we should all seriously ask ourselves. Where is the heart of Christ in Christian ministry? It can only be there when there is that thorn in our flesh.
[Below: Despite the thorn in Paul’s flesh, yet he was the happiest of men!]