A Thorn In the Flesh

By Randy Blackaby

The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that he had a “thorn in the flesh,” some sort of physical malady that was most aggravating but which the Lord saw fit not to remove.

Do you have one of those? Perhaps an ailment, a physical weakness, an impairment?

Guesses at what Paul’s “thorn” was have filled the gamut from vision problems created by his Damascus road experience to sexual temptation connected with his unmarried state. We aren’t told what it was.

But, the fact of the matter is that Paul’s ambiguity regarding the nature of this “thorn” enhances the message he conveyed, because each of us can apply the principles to be learned to our own physical hindrances.

Paul identifies the source of the problem when he calls it “a messenger of Satan to buffet me.” Whatever the problem was, it no doubt annoyed, harassed, perhaps even depressed the great preacher unto the Gentiles.

However, despite this, three petitions to the Lord to remove it were denied, suggesting the Lord saw some value in leaving Satan’s annoyance in place.

This is not so surprising to the Bible student who has observed how many times God has taken Satan’s attacks and transformed them into educational, strengthening tools.

Look at the case of God’s own Son. Facing imminent torture and execution, Jesus prayed three times to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane to relieve him of what was about to happen  if there was any alternative.

The Father did not relieve him of the cross but did give him the strength he needed, not only to persevere with one thorn but a crown of them. And, Hebrews 2:10 says Jesus was perfected by the things which he suffered.

What purposes do our “thorns” serve?

First, they serve as an antidote for pride. And pride, like fat, causes men to swell larger than they ought and is very painful to remove and keep removed.

Second, such thorns nurture our dependency upon God, humbling us and helping us recognize our need for God’s help.

Third, these physical problems build strength. A person builds strength purposefully only when he recognizes his weakness. Strength and endurance come only at the price of some suffering. Ask any athlete.

Our suffering in the flesh develops character, temper control and better dispositions, to name just a few things.

We must never forget that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. God is glorified most when our personal weakness is evident and his strength shines through in our life despite our personal impotency.

What is your thorn? Is it a sickness when you want to be well to serve the Lord? Or, might it be poverty, when you could wish to have money to help the Lord’s cause? An unbelieving spouse? Limited education or abilities?

Remember, God’s ways are not our ways. He has at times used the most unlikely men to accomplish his purposes. So, let us recognize that sometimes we may be praying for the removal of something from our lives for which God has a purpose.

Taking the burden away may be our answer but God’s answer may be giving us the strength to handle the burden, thus increasing our faith and that of others.

Don’t pray for an easy life. Pray for strength. Don’t pray for easy tasks. Pray for strength to do more.

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 13, p. 21
July 7, 1994