We have all heard about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. For centuries, theologians have done everything from postulating theories to taking wild guesses about what it was.
The sad part is, many teachers have used Paul’s thorn as a means of demystifying why bad things happen to good people.
Let’s take a look at today’s text:
(2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV) 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me
Now, the first thing we have to ask is what is Paul’s assessment of the thorn? After all, we weren’t there. Paul tells us that he believed the thorn was there to keep him from being conceited about the revelations he’d been given — I mean, he wrote most of the New Testament.
The second thing we need to ask is did God told tell him this? And the answer to that is no.
God doesn’t get around to speaking to Paul about this until verse 9, when He speaks of His Grace. I’ll get back to that in a minute…
Here’s the meat of the matter: The thorn was a messenger from satan.
Messenger — a human or a spiritual being. Not sickness. Not pain. Not lack. And this individual is sent to harass you (in the KJV it says, “buffet,” which is a way of saying “hit”). Anytime you receive a revelation from God you can expect opposition as sure as sunrise!
The devil knows he is defeated so he wants to make sure as many people are as defeated, powerless, and destined for eternal separation from God as he is.
Nearly everywhere you look in Scripture, thorns refer to people:
Thorns are meant to bring pain.
(Genesis 3:17-19 ESV)17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return
Thorns will invade your world…
(Numbers 33:55 ESV) But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.
Thorns will trap and enslave you…
(Joshua 23:13 ESV) know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.
(Judges 2:3 ESV) So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
Thorns will waste your time…
(2 Samuel 23:6-7 ESV) 6 But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away, for they cannot be taken with the hand; 7 but the man who touches them arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear, and they are utterly consumed with fire
Thorns will bring about the spirit of fear…
(Ezekiel 2:6 ESV) 6 And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.
Thorns threaten your harvest…
(Hebrews 6:4-8 ESV) 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
Some people have suggested that Paul’s thorn was some sickness that impacted his eyesight in such a way that he was forced to write in poster-size script.
Nope. Nowhere in scripture has a malady been called a messenger. To suppose as much is, at best, a bad inference.
So, we can safely conclude that the thorn was not some malady.
The second thing we need to see is that this messenger did not come from God — it was from the devil. Oh, how the devil loves to bring doom and despair to our doorstep and credit it to God. When we are submitted to God (born-again) we have the ability to resist the devil and he will flee from us.
This is where God’s Grace comes in! Paul asked for God to take the messenger away from Him but God said His Grace was sufficient to give Paul strength to resist even though he felt weak against it! Grace is sufficient to not only overcome but to prevail against any obstacle.
When you are being buffeted by the devil or his messengers, know that you have the full measure of God’s Grace to sustain any attack!
The third thing we have to see is that God did not “allow” the messenger to buffet Paul.
People often criticize Grace preachers by saying we give people a license to sin but I tell the detractors that people sin just fine without a license. A criminal doesn’t obtain a license to commit crime and satan is the original criminal! He loves to ignore God’s commands.
That said, God did not permit anything. Just like in the case of Job, there is no permissive clause where God grants permission! Because of Paul’s revelation, the devil was coming after him just like he came after Job. But Paul had the Holy Spirit and the blood of Jesus, so God was able to tell him that Grace was more than enough to overcome his trouble! I believe Grace gave Paul the ability to speak against his tormentor because, through his words, he showed us how to overcome ours.
The Bible says that when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Lord will raise a standard (flag, line in the sand) against him (Isaiah 59:19). That standard is Jesus — His unconditional Love and Grace. When the enemy comes in against you, remind him that Jesus has been lifted against Him.
You have Grace. You have victory!
© 2015 – Derrick Day (www.derrickday.com)