Paul’s Thorn in The Flesh Never Disclosed For Good Reason

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)

You can’t help but wonder what this “thorn in the flesh” was, but we know from Scripture that it kept Paul humble. It also ensured that his prayer life remained active.

Theologians have offered a number of possibilities.

Many have argued that Paul was talking about a speech impediment. There is some historical evidence that Paul was not a good speaker. Maybe he did suffer from stammering speech.

Perhaps it was an eye infection. The Bible records that eye infections were fairly common in southern Galatia when Paul visited the area on his first missionary journey. In fact, Paul told us in Galatians 4:13 that he had been having some problems with his eyes. “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you…Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn…you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” (Galatians 4:13-15)

Others have suggested that Paul had an eye problem alright. Maybe his problem was with a wandering eye, not an infected eye. The problem with that claim is there isn’t a shred of evidence that Paul struggled with the sin of lust.

I’m glad that Paul never felt led by the Spirit to tell us exactly what his “thorn in the flesh” was because his admission would enable us to rule out any spiritual lessons from all those other thorns in the flesh that nag us today. In other words, if Paul had told us that it was an eye infection, a speech impediment, lust, or whatever, then those of us who have other thorns in the flesh wouldn’t pay such close attention to what God was trying to teach us through Paul’s experience.

The truth is we can grow and learn spiritually from any thorn in the flesh. That’s part of what God is trying to get across. These thorns that plague us often produce patience and humility. These are virtues that none of us can get too much of.

Here’s the point: God refused to remove Paul’s weakness, but he never said that he wouldn’t demonstrate his power through Paul. What he said to Paul after he had repeatedly asked God for deliverance is one of my favorite verses: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The fact that God’s power shows up in weak people should give us courage. It’s only when we recognize our limitations that we stop patting ourselves on the backs. That’s an important moment because we are finally beginning to understand who’s really in charge.

Our weaknesses not only help us to develop Christian character, they can also deepen our worship. When we begin to acknowledge our weaknesses, the door then opens for God to affirm his strength in our lives. It’s another opportunity to let his glory shine right through our problems.

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