Summary: What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and what can we learn from it?

Paul’s thorn- power in weakness. 2 Cor 11:30-12:10 WBC 10 July 5am

How many people do you know who, when they are challenged as to their credentials, as to whether "God is with them" respond

- "actually, I’m an utter coward. I’ve had to cry off with my tail between my legs. (… ’take time out’… wimp out)

- I have huge weaknesses and character flaws"

That’s what Paul does, here. It ’s incredible, actually

- while the other ’apostles’ are boasting about what they’ve achieved, their heritage, their flash cars, burgeoning ministries, good looks, oratory ability, special knowledge (gnosis), pearly smiles and how ’supposedly’ God has used them

- Paul just says ’I’m really a broken man’

o Had to escape in a basket. How undignified, humiliating

o Have got a major weakness

Why does he do this?


It’s not because he wants to.

- He speaks about this man who has a vision and uses such hidden/cryptic language you have to read it a couple of times to realise he’s talking about himself!

Why?- because it shows who must have done these incredible things: God

- he certainly couldn’t have done them. V12: signs, wonders, miracles, perseverance

- it wasn’t the power of ’his spirit’ that impressed, fooled, tricked or even helped people

o it was God’s Holy Spirit

o Jn 3:21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

It shows where the power comes from. In fact- the brokenness BRINGS the power

Take this in! This is a topsy turvy principle of the Kingdom of God

- it undermines the super-apostles of his day

- it blows to bits the theories of our day about goals, achievement, power, drivenness, success

- God’s power is made manifest… perfect… in weakness

o Not human strength

It’s one of the great surprises of the way God works

- of course, it’s exemplified in Jesus

PHP 2:6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

PHP 2:7 but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

PHP 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death--

even death on a cross!

PHP 2:9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

PHP 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

PHP 2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

- to the glory of God the Father.


Please note; he’s not revelling in it. Not at all. Not making a meal or the most of it

- what he is delighting in is the fact that God’s real power rests on him. And this is all part of it

So- what is it? what happened?

So as to defend his ministry he goes back 14 years

- to a low point, I reckon. As far as I can tell Paul takes two ’times out’ in the desert. One is soon after his conversion, when he goes to Arabia. Then in acts 9:30, after stirring up an absolute hullabaloo in Jerusalem, the brothers send him off to Coventry (Tarsus!) for 10 years

- while there, learning quietly, God confirms His call to him and gives him an incredible vision of heaven. Lifts him up

And to keep him from becoming useless or conceited- God allows him a pain. (in fact, even to make him useful!

- something sent by Satan. Allowed by God. Used by God

- (here’s an interesting thought- Satan’s schemes serve God’s purposes. That’s very clear in the Bible)

We have no idea what it was. It was obviously something very personal to Paul as he doesn’t elaborate on it.

- the expression is just ’thorn’, ’prick’

It could have been

- something inside. Some inner or spiritual limitation, weakness or temptation. Some besetting sin that he just couldn’t beat. Spiritual barrenness or depression of one kind or another

o (put that in your theological pipe and smoke it, all you triumphalists!)

- a person: a thorn in the flesh being a ’pain in the neck’.

o Someone he had to work with.

o Someone who opposed him. Maybe it was Hymanaeus or Alexander (who he describes to Timothy as having ’shipwrecked their faith’ 1 Tim 1:10 and done him a lot of harm 2 Tim 4:14)

" Though chronology may not fit, there

- Some feel it is more likely to be a physical ailment (seeing as it is a ’thorn in the flesh’). It’s possible, but truth is we don’t know what the term refers to!

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