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Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh…..

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2Co 12:7  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.
2Co 12:8  For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
2Co 12:9  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.
2Co 12:10  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.

I was reading a brother’s blog today and noticed the topic came up about Paul’s thorn in the flesh.  Often, I would say the majority of the time, I hear people say that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was his sickness.  Most often people say it was Paul’s eyesight…that he had poor vision.  I don’t doubt that Paul might have had poor vision, though I’m not really convinced of it, but I personally don’t believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh was poor eye sight or sickness.  I believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh is the same thing God’s says the “thorn” is in the Old Testament….persecution…attacks from the enemy.

Num 33:55  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.

Jos 23:13  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.

Notice in these verses the “thorn” for the Israelites was not a physical sickness but persecution from their enemies.

That was certainly the case with Paul.  (Though the Israelites where persecuted/attacked for disobedience..Paul had his “thorn” because of his revelations received.) Paul was continually persecuted by the Jews.  So much so that they traveled to different cities stirring up the people against Paul.  Paul was also persecuted by heathen as well.  In fact Paul say’s in 2 Cor 11 all the different ways he suffered for the gospel.

2Co 11:24  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.
2Co 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
2Co 11:26  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;

Not to mention all the time that Paul spent in jail.  So again, I don’t believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a sickness, illness, or bodily condition.  If Paul had an eye problem  or some bodily ailment I think that is all together a different thing.  Notice that Paul was sent a “messenger from Satan”:

2Co 12:7  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 (buffet) me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
2Co 12:8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
2Co 12:9  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.

The messenger from Satan was sent to “harass/buffet” Paul (most likely an evil spirit sent to stir up strife and persecution against Paul).  Having poor eyes is not harassment.  Being persecuted, hunted down like a criminal, being beat to a pulp with rods is certainly “harassment”.

Notice what Paul says in the verse following his statement on the messenger of Satan that was sent to harass him:

2Co 12:10  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities (weakness), in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

He says THEREFORE…   So..therefore..because God sent a messenger to harass/buffet me…and because God’s grace is sufficient… I can therefore take pleasure in infirmities (weakness), in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses..etc.  Notice the theme in verse 10 has an overall focus on persecutions and trials.  Also, the word infirmities can also means weakness which does not always mean sickness or a physical disability.  It’s the same thing Paul says to the Corinthians:

1Co 2:3  And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

The scriptures also say Christ was crucified in weakness.

“2Co 13:4  For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. ”

Weakness in this verse is the same word used as infirmity in Corinthians.  We know Christ wasn’t crucified in sickness but his body was crushed through physical persecution.

So.. I’m persuaded that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was the abundant persecutions and trials that God allowed Paul to have.  If you look at Paul’s life he was in some sort of distress or persecution at almost every turn.  Continually being put in those type of situations would certainly humble a man, make them rely on God’s grace, and give a man an opportunity for God to be strong as they are made weak.  ONLY God’s grace could carry one through the trials and distresses that Paul so often found himself in.

I think the amazing part of it all is not that Paul went through everything he did.  Nor the fact that God gave him grace to endure these things (though that is wonderful).  The amazing part of it all is Paul’s attitude through it.  Paul had come to the place where he took “pleasure” in these things.  I believe another translation says Paul “rejoiced” when these trials came upon him.  Paul knew these trials were something he couldn’t handle in and of himself.  Paul knew these trials were God’s ways of making him weak and dependant so that God could be strong through Him and ultimately be glorified.  How few Christians truly have this attitude towards trials and persecutions.  In fact, most believers, whether they realize it or not seem to order their lives to avoid these very things at all cost.   Their lives are so comfortable and their walk so lukewarm that they would never, or very rarely, experience persecution or trials for their faith.  The sad thing is they are resisting and shielding themselves from the very means that God uses to conform us to the image of Christ.  They never allow God to put them into a place of weakness to where they really have to depend on God and allow God to show Himself strong.  Yet the very things that most believers don’t want in their lives are the very things Paul took pleasure in and rejoiced in.  How much our perspective can change when we finally come to see things through God’s eyes!

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Written by Sean Scott

September 3, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses

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  1. For what it’s worth, I agree with your interpretation.

    As far as taking joy in [God-ordained] suffering: I had a long season like that; in spite of the pain in my soul, I had joy in my heart because the Lord draws close to those who partake of His sufferings.

    My sufferings were emotional …. not physical.

    I had suffered so much, for so long, that I no longer needed hope for an improved natural condition: my hope was in Christ, against that day when His glory will be revealed and my body redeemed.

    I was content in my sufferings–for my joy was in Christ.

    But He wanted me to receive His hope; so, I did.

    Peace,

    Mark

    Mark and Vicki Finger

    September 4, 2010 at 4:47 am

  2. Agree with you.

    Natasa

    September 5, 2010 at 2:09 am

  3. Hi brother, here’s another perspective on it:

    PAUL’S THORN IN THE FLESH

    Gal 4:13 You know how through weakness of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.
    Gal 4:14 And my trial which was in my flesh you despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
    Gal 4:15 Where is then the blessedness you spoke of? for I bear you witness, that, if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

    It seems the THORN gets narrowed down to 2 possibilities: either it was persecution or a physical ailment.

    He certainly had an extraordinary amount of persecution.

    I don’t believe, though, that he prayed 3 times that the persecution would cease. At his conversion the LORD showed him how many things he must suffer for Jesus name.

    Also, the fact that he was persecuted was not a shameful or embarrassing thing for him before the church: just the contrary. In the prophetic tradition, to be persecuted for the truth is a badge of honor.

    None of the believers Paul knew would think less of him bcos he was persecuted for the truth.

    What was a struggle for them to accept, yet they DID accept it, was, it seems, his eye condition.

    It must have been something worse than poor vision. It was something humiliating. Poor vision is not a humiliation, it is something quite normal. Therefore its likely his eyes were infected and pussed : something revolting to look at.

    The humiliation was that Jesus taught that the eye is the window of the soul. Therefore, for a saint to have bad eyes would cause people to question, is there anything spiritually wrong with Paul that he has such eyes?

    Gal 4:13 You know how through weakness of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.

    This could not be persecution. Its clearly a weakness of his flesh. Persecution is not a weakness of our flesh. And again, persecution was understood to be a great honor, not a humiliation.

    Gal 4:14 And my trial which was in my flesh you despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

    There’s no chance the believers would have despised Paul or rejected him bcos of his persecutions.

    As it was a humiliating condition, they COULD have judged him by his appearance, but they didn’t.

    Gal 4:15 Where is then the blessedness you spoke of? for I bear you witness, that, if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

    This clearly identifies his eyes as the weakness of his flesh and the trial he is talking about.

    2Co 12:7 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.

    Actually, the fact that Paul endured his persecutions, and was delivered out of them, even left for dead after being stoned and then supernaturally stood up and walked away: these are a glory to Paul, not a humiliation, and everyone knew that. Meaning, these things actually could contribute to him being exalted above measure.

    http://ianvincent.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/a-theology-that-doesnt-allow-sickness/#comment-4288

    ian vincent

    September 6, 2010 at 11:05 pm

  4. Christ knew better than any the things which He would suffer–that these things were to His glory–and yet, He prayed, asking the Father to remove that bitter cup from Him, if it were possible.

    In fact, He prayed 3 times, asking that the bitter cup be removed, if it was possible (Matthew 26:36-44).

    So, I don’t see anything wrong with Paul asking for deliverance when he is tormented by demons ….

    Plus, the thorn is defined in the verse in which it is mentioned as ‘a messenger of satan.’

    However, it is interesting what you point out about Paul’s comments in Galatians …. never noticed that before!

    Apparently, Paul had BOTH a physical ailment and a messenger sent to buffet him.

    Probably explains why there has always been so much disagreement among saints about which it is ….

    Thanks for pointing that out, Ian.

    Mark and Vicki Finger

    September 7, 2010 at 5:45 am

  5. Whether we believe the thorn was persecution, or sickness, it doesn’t change our fundamental understanding of the Gospel or the Kingdom, eh. It’s good to have the freedom to discuss these things.

    ian vincent

    September 8, 2010 at 12:29 am

  6. Amen Brother.. sorry I haven’t been able to respond. We just drove to Dallas and are now in East Texas. On Friday we leave to CA for about a week and a half. But I agree brother…it’s good that we have the freedom to discuss these things. I’ll try to write more later on what you wrote. God bless you brother!

    Sean

    September 8, 2010 at 6:20 pm

  7. Good article, brother. And Paul can’t say God didn’t let him know what lay ahead:

    16 “…I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9::16)

    Braden

    September 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm

  8. That’s a good contribution, Braden ….

    And I appreciate the wisdom of the Spirit in Ian’s response and Sean’s similar focus upon the Lord.

    Peace!

    Mark and Vicki Finger

    September 10, 2010 at 3:02 am


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