Paul’s Thorn in The Flesh

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!]


Love Believes All Things!

(Love)… believeth all things… 1 Cor. 13:7

One of the most incredibly precious people that God has placed in my life is a young man by the name Elinty Ibrahim. Recently when I was in Dar es Salaam, this brother came to visit me in my house, and we spent the better part of the evening reminiscing about the first few days when our paths first crossed.

In the course of our conversation, this young friend said something that opened my eyes to see a very astonishing aspect about our God. What God revealed to me through Elinty’s words astounded me beyond belief. It is incredible how we can be saved for decades and somehow think we know God and then one day the Lord opens our eyes to see something so ‘basic’ about Him which we had no idea about! That was exactly what the Lord did with me. Elinty (or ‘Ibra’, as he is popularly known) said something that opened my eyes to see something that had been under my nose all along, but which I had never seen clearly in my spirit.

But before I continue let me first provide a background of sorts…

Three years ago we at CTMI began publishing Brother Miki Hardy’s teachings about the cross and the grace of God in a local Christian weekly called ‘Msemakweli’. Soon after people began reading our articles, a young man in Dar es Salaam called me on the phone and asked to see me. We met at a busy intersection in the city and we just stood there with the traffic swirling about us and I opened my mouth and started sharing the gospel of the cross right there with him. Our meeting was so powerful that none of us contemplated the thought of moving even an inch from where we were standing. I could feel the presence of God all around us.

The young man’s name was Elinty Ibrahim, and he was an undergraduate student at a local university. He was also a member of one of the biggest charismatic churches in the city. Soon after we met, however, he began attending our church services and hearing the gospel of the cross. But his experience was akin to that of a drug addict who is trying to kick the habit. He had been raised on a constant diet of high-powered charismatic teachings (his room was filled with Christian books and publications); and although he now could see something in the gospel of the cross, still he struggled to accommodate it in his heart.

He struggled so much that on more than one occassion he walked up to me after service and told me he would not be coming to our church again. But I loved ‘Ibra’ dearly and I could not bear the thought of losing him. I knew since the day he called me that he had grasped something of the precious treasure to be found in the gospel of the cross.

Throughout this very shaky period of our relationship somehow the Lord gave me grace and I clung to Ibra in every way possible. Sometimes he would claim he did not have bus fare to attend the next service; I would make sure he got the bus fare. Other times I organized for teams of young people to go visit him at the single rented room he was living in. He was my prized possession and I had no intention of losing him.

Today, thankfully, all that is history. The Lord proved faithful and and Ibra finally saw things clearly, and when he did, it was full steam ahead! Today Ibra has grown in his perception of the gospel and he has become one of the most dependable young people in the church. This was demonstrated to me recently when I was in Dar es Salaam and I learned that the local church board had selected him to represent the youth in the upcoming East African regional CTMI youth conference to be held in Mugumu, in the Serengeti. He has become an indispensable part of the church.

I have written all this as a background to what I intend to write in this post, because it is so important…

On this day that he came to visit me Ibra said, “During the days when I was struggling with the gospel what I remember above everything else is your trust in me. You believed in me completely. It was like you could see something in me which I could not see. I had never seen anyone put so much trust in me, and because of that I purposed in my heart that I would not let you down! I know you are not aware of it, but that was the reason I held on.”

Now, my readers must understand that this post is not a PR stunt on my part, nor am I trying to raise my popularity ratings. Actually, I had never even considered the issue in the light that Ibra saw it. I cannot recall ever “believing” in anyone to the extent that Ibra spoke of; I probably did things very much out of a formal routine!

But it was what God revealed to me through Ibra’s words that truly knocked me over. The thought came, ‘If old, rotten me can believe in someone, how much more does God believe in us?’ I had never seen it this way, but on this day I saw it clearly: God believes in us. But I also saw something else. I saw that God does not believe in us the way we believe in people. On the contrary, God believes in us the way a child would believe – with absolute trust. In other words, God has child-like faith in us. And the really awesome thing about it is not that God is stupid, no; but God has faith.

The more we get to know God the more God surprises us – by His simplicity.

In 1 Corinthians 13:7 the Bible says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. What an absolutely incredible scripture! What incredible strength this love has! Here I can actually see God believing in us fully despite our weaknesses and our failures.

Did you ever realize how difficult it is to believe in people? In fact, the more ‘enlightened’ and the ‘stronger’ we become, the less inclined we are to trust others!! We get to know their weaknesses and their failings, and our trust in them sort of begins to fade away. That is how weak the flesh is. In our human strength we are the weakest of men!

But God is nowhere close to that scenario. Though infinitely much more knowledgeable and stronger than we, yet God comes down to our level, He even gets beneath us and favors us with this incredible trust which we do not even come close to deserving.

And even after He comes to check on us and finds we have blown our chances, He does not say, “How stupid can you get?!”

Instead He says, “Don’t worry, I will clean up the mess. Let’s try this once more.” And He will do that a million more times, as long as we keep out hearts open.

This is grace! This is spiritual maturity. This is love. And that’s who God is because God is love.

I would give anything to be able to have the simplicity – the grace – of God in me. That’s true liberty, that’s true strength. The truly strong man is the man who can believe in all things, as God does, even the weak things.

No wonder the Apostle Paul would preach no other gospel than the gospel of the cross (1 Cor. 2:2). For it is at the cross that such grace can be found. At the cross we learn to put off our body of the flesh, the single stumbling block to living the God kind of life. At the cross we get to know Christ more – the crucified Christ. That is how we get closer to true freedom and true spiritual victory.

[Below: I am proud that Ibra (to the right) is a part of our family]

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