Summary: God calls us to accept, own and use our thorns to extend His grace to others.
GOD USES THORNS
Years ago in the northeastern United States codfish was a big commercial business. There is a market for eastern cod all over, especially on the West Coast. The demand posed a problem to the shippers. At first they froze the cod, then shipped them elsewhere, but the freezing took away much of the flavor. So they experimented with shipping them alive, in tanks of seawater, but that proved even worse. Not only was it more expensive, the cod still lost its flavor and, in addition, became soft and mushy. The texture was seriously affected. Finally, some creative person solved the problem in a most innovative manner. The codfish were placed in the tank of water along with their natural enemy--the catfish. From the time the cod left the East Coast until it arrived at its westernmost destination, those ornery catfish chased the cod all over the tank. And, you guessed it, when the cod arrived at the market, they were as fresh as when they were first caught. There was no loss of flavor nor was the texture affected. If anything, it was better than before. Each one of us is in a tank of particular and inescapable circumstances. It is painful enough to stay in the tank. But in addition to our situation, there are God-appointed "catfish" to bring sufficient tension that keeps us alive, alert, fresh and growing. It’s part of God’s project to shape our character to be more like his Son. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul had a catfish in his life:
2 Cor 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The greatest gift the church can offer the world today is GRACE. For some that means saving grace. For others it is the grace God gives to live out the Christian life as He wants us to. Our greatest asset is not programs or even our preaching but the grace of God lived out before the world in everyday life.
In this passage it says that Paul was given a thorn. I know you have all seen thorns before. A thorn is something that causes you pain. The actual Greek word used here is the word SKOLOPS which meant a stake or sharp piece of wood. Paul’s thorn was probably not an actual piece of wood stuck in his body but represented a problem he was struggling with. Many authors have had different ideas about what the thorn that Paul was talking about actually was:
Some think it meant temptation – that Paul lived with a secret temptation in his life that, if left unchecked, would have consumed him. This is alluded to:
2 Cor 11:29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Some think it was his suffering and persecution. Certainly he faced incredible trials in his ministry.
2 Cor 11:23 I … been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked , I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Some think the thorn was bad eye sight brought about by frequent cases of malaria which was common to many people who lived in the Tarsus area.
Gal 4:15 "…you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me"
Gal 6:11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
Some think that Paul had a different physical problem other than his eyesight which affected his appearance. We read in 2 Corinthians that people said that Paul was ASTHENES or weak in his body.