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Aug 28 2012

Paul’s thorn in the flesh?

There has been a lot of guessing and speculation as regards Paul’s thorn in the flesh.  A great amount of Christian energy has been spent  writing, debating, and arguing over the exact nature of Paul’s thorn. Since Paul described his thorn as being “in the flesh”, the general consensus and belief among speculators is that Paul had some type of physical ailment. There is also  disagreement over that, but we seem to have this need to know specifically what ailment Paul suffered from so severely that he pleaded to God numerous times to remove it.

2Cor 12:6:10 — Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 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. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The most popular belief as regards the nature of Paul’s thorn seems to be that he  had some type of eye disease and/or vision problem. If we read the above passage and focus on Paul’s *thorn*, however, we  miss the forest for the trees, because Paul’s focus is on *Christ*.

The bottom line as far as to what Paul’s thorn actually was is that God chose to not reveal that detail to us. We don’t even really know for sure if it was a physical thorn or some type of spiritual thorn.  If God had wanted us to know exactly what Paul’s thorn was, He certainly would have inspired Paul to mention it. Instead of wasting our energy trying to guess what Paul’s thorn was, it may be more profitable for us to speculate on why God chose to leave it open-ended.

To gain some perspective on this, we could play devil’s advocate and pretend that God did inspire Paul to tell us exactly what his particular ailment was. Let’s say that instead of Paul writing, “a thorn was given me in the flesh”, Paul had written, “@#$%^&* was given me as a thorn in the flesh”.

It doesn’t take much imagination to envision that if Paul had mentioned his specific ailment,  we would have numerous “Paul’s Thorn” support groups on the Internet, where Christians with @#$%^&* could gather together for mutual support, and feel special and unique in that God gave them the same thorn as Paul.  Our nature being what it is, I’m fairly certain that this scenario is not too far-fetched.

Paul lived to share the gospel of Christ. I suspect that he did not plead with God to remove his thorn for selfish reasons, or even  personal comfort, but rather because he felt that his thorn hindered his ministry and service to Christ. Perhaps Paul prayed to have his thorn removed because he felt that he would be a more effective Christian without it.

Is it possible that God left the exact nature of Paul’s thorn open-ended so that we would be able to plug *our* thorns, no matter what they may be, into this teaching? Paul stopped pleading with God to remove his thorn when he finally realized that it was God’s will that He would not remove it. On the surface, it does not seem very loving that God would give or allow us to have thorns and then refuse to remove them even after we plead with Him repeatedly, but we do not serve a superficial God. We serve a God who is infinitely deep in His knowledge and wisdom. He knows that our strength is in Him, and that our weaknesses keep us dependent on Him. God knows that we would lose our dependence on Him and stray away from Him if He removed our thorn(s), but He loves us and always does what is in our best interest. It is always in our best interest for us to lean and depend on God’s infinite strength instead of leaning on our finite and limited resources.

Prov 3:5-6 — Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

There seems to be no end to the number of insignificant things that the body of Christ can argue about and divide itself over, one of them being the nature of Paul’s thorn, but there are a myriad of other insignificant issues we argue about. Not only do we waste a lot of time and energy arguing about  things that could be better spent on more worthwhile endeavors and service, such as helping to spread the good news about Jesus, but by focusing on unimportant details, we can easily miss the central lessons and truths that God desires to teach us.  The central message in this Bible passage addresses the spiritual paradox in that it is in our weakness that we find our strength. It is in our weakness that we become dependent on God and lean on His infinite and unlimited resources and strength.

Perhaps, like Paul, we also have a thorn that we have pleaded with God to remove, but God has given us the same answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The thorns we so badly want to be rid of could be the very thing that God uses to humble us and keep us dependent on His power.

Children of God, do we have a thorn that our Father will not remove?  Are we thinking that we would be stronger Christians without it?  Maybe we need to reconsider.  Our thorns are painful, yes, but like the Shepherd’s staff, they poke us in the right direction, towards God.

Phil 4:13 — I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

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