Dealing with a thorn that has been embedded in your hand or foot can be a very difficult, if not an excruciating experience. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, we can learn some valuable life lessons as we read about Paul’s thorn:
7) Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself! 8) Concerning this, I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9) And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10) Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
What exactly was Paul’s thorn? Some of the more popular theories include a temptation, a difficult relationship, a chronic eye problem, and a speech impediment. God does not tell us the exact nature of the thorn. If we knew, then we might not think this verse applies to our own unique and specific thorn. Turning from what we do not know about Paul’s thorn, there are several things we can know.
1) The thorn does not come during or after a low point in Paul’s life (i.e. – a tragedy or defeat), but after a high point, a great experience (as described in the preceding verses – 2 Cor. 12:2-4). Likewise, the failures of Israel described in I Corinthians 10 came after having experienced some of the most incredible miracles and manifestations of God recorded in scripture (their deliverance from Egypt, God’s provision in the wilderness, etc.). We do not usually drop our guard during a time of testing. But after the trial has passed and the victory is won, it is human nature to let down our guard. That is when we are vulnerable. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – I Peter 5:8.
2) The thorn is a messenger of Satan. Just as God allowed Job to be tested by Satan, so also God allowed the thorn in Paul’s life. No amount of rebuking Satan in the name of Jesus would have removed this thorn. Sometimes God intends for us to exercise faith to move mountains. Sometimes He intends us to exercise faith to trust Him for His power to work in us to climb the mountain.
3) Paul discovered the power of this divine paradox and he embraced it, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” As a Christ follower, I should want God’s purpose to be fulfilled in and through my life…for my good and His glory. The only wat to achieve this is to operate in His strength, not my own.
4) We don’t know if this was the last word regarding Paul’s thorn. People often refer to Paul’s thorn as if it were an operative condition throughout Paul’s life. However, 2 Corinthians, written in 58 AD, was one of Paul’s earlier letters. He wrote 8 more letters before his martyrdom in 66 AD. He never again mentioned the thorn. God’s purpose in allowing the thorn was to keep Paul from exalting himself. If Paul learned how to depend on God’s grace and power to walk in humility and thus keep his pride in check, the thorn might have become unnecessary. If the thorn was no longer necessary, then it would be inconsistent with God’s character for Him to allow it to continue.
Do you have a thorn or thorns in your life? What is God saying to you about this? What is His purpose for the thorn(s)? Are you embracing that purpose?