Summary: Paul dealt with a thorn in the flesh, a continual, unceasing burden. Although he had prayed specifically three times for the Lord to remove it, the thorn remained. God allowed his thorn in the flesh for a purpose.
Strength through Weakness
2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
Our text today comes from the second letter Paul had written to the Corinthian church. The church at Corinth struggled with purity and spiritual consistency. While they had embraced the Gospel, many continued to walk according to the flesh, and the church had developed a carnal mindset. The attitude and behavior of those within the church guided Paul’s letters to them.
While seeking to instill trust and devotion to the Lord, Paul recounts an encounter he had experienced some fourteen years prior to writing this letter. He offers few details, and doesn’t even acknowledge that he was actually the man involved in this glorious encounter; yet Paul describes a man being taken up into paradise to witness unspeakable glory. No doubt this forever changed the Apostle, and he continually dealt with the effects of this encounter. Clearly it had shaped his life and ministry, bringing him closer to the Lord with a renewed commitment. It also presented a challenge for Paul – he had encountered something that no other individual had encountered. Such an encounter could potentially produce pride in his heart and adversely affect his ministry for the Lord.
Using this encounter as a backdrop for the verses we have read, we will discover how Paul dealt with the effects of this glorious encounter and overcame the pride it created within his life. Through all of this Paul learned one of the great paradoxes in Christian life – strength is found through weakness. Such a statement is contrary to the philosophies being taught today, but from a spiritual perspective, this reveals great truth. In order for the believer to become strong in the faith, we must experience great weakness. One will never be strong until he is weak.
As we continue to discuss Paradoxes in the Christian Life, I want to examine the contrasts within the text as we consider: Strength through Weakness.
I. The Potential for Vanity (7-8) – As Paul continued to share about his miraculous encounter, he revealed a struggle that often develops following such an encounter. While our struggles are clearly different than Paul’s, we too deal with the potential for vanity in our lives. Consider:
A. The Temptation (7a) – And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh. The Lord knew Paul would be tempted to become vain and prideful following this encounter. This does not necessarily imply that Paul had developed a great deal of sinful pride following the encounter, but the potential was there. Satan would use this as an opportunity to create pride in the heart of Paul. It would have been easy for him to have focused more on the encounter than actually depending on the Lord in ministry.
Pride is something we all deal with in some form or another. Regardless of the position we hold or the area in which we serve, we all are tempted with pride and vanity. This is especially true the longer we serve in a particular area, and the more familiar we become with the work in which we are engaged. If we are not careful we will begin to depend more on our own abilities and past experiences than in the power and provision of the Lord.
B. The Affliction (7b) – And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. There has been much debate as to what this thorn in the flesh might have been. That debate continues today, but it is really irrelevant. Regardless of what the thorn actually was, it was given to Paul with purpose. The Lord knew he would be tempted to feel exalted because of his unusual encounter. This would have an adverse effect on his ministry. The thorn in Paul’s flesh was sent in order to prevent him from becoming arrogant about his experience with the Lord in paradise.
We will discuss this more in a moment, but we must guard against assuming that every burden and trial we face is of no value within our lives. While none of us enjoy seasons of adversity, we should seek to learn from those times and trust they have been allowed for our good. If a trial prevents us from straying from the Lord, actually causing us to seek Him, then we would have to agree that it is beneficial.
C. The Supplication (8) – For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. Whatever the thorn in the flesh was, it caused great concern for Paul. There was likely some sort of physical discomfort or pain associated with his affliction. It was so burdensome that he asked the Lord three specific times to remove the thorn from him. This thorn was provided to buffet him. This reveals a burden that was continual; it never ceased. At this point, Paul saw no benefit in the thorn; he was focused solely on the suffering it caused.