Summary: The thorns of life are many, but the grace of God is sufficient in our weakness.
Text: “…a thorn in the flesh was given to me…”
What is a thorn? The American Heritage Dictionary says that a thorn is a modified branch in the form of a sharp, woody spine. It can cause sharp pain, irritation, or discomfort.
How many of you have ever been struck by a thorn? I have been stuck numerous times by thorns. I remember, as a small boy and living in the country, we picked blackberries and raspberries. I was stuck more than once when reaching in to pull a berry off the vine. A couple of years ago, I removed some old rose bushes from around our house and guess what – rose bushes have thorns. Regular gloves will not prevent the sharp thorns from sticking your finders. When it is time to prune rose bushes, the thorns are there and you must be very careful or you will get stuck.
Have you ever walked through the weeds and found these little prickly things sticking to your socks or pant legs? These are little round balls of thorny spines. When you try to pull them off your clothing they prick your fingers. If you have ever had a sliver of wood in your finger or toe it hurts and causes irritation. All of us have undoubtedly been stuck by some type of thorn.
Did you know that people can also be a thorn? Have you ever said that so and so is a “thorn” in my side or somewhere else. Why do we say this about people? We say this about some people because they irritate us. These people may criticize us, talk about us, make life difficult for us, cause problems for us, or even try to disgrace us in some manner. In other words, they make our lives miserable, exasperating, infuriating, maddening, annoying and we don’t like it.
We all have thorns in our lives. Many people have faced the thorns and made them roses. Thorns can be in the form of sickness, such as cancer, leukemia, diabetes, heart attack, or stroke. We can have thorns that incapacitate us: loss of a limb (hand, foot, leg, arm, finger(s), or toe(s). We can have the thorn of blindness or deafness. The thorn of paralysis, paraplegia
(complete paralysis of the lower half of the body) or quadriplegia (complete paralysis of the body from the neck down). Some thorns in life are easier to cope with than others. Thorns can bring about positive or negative changes in our lives.
A thorn can be a habit, such as drinking, gambling, or the use of drugs injected or sniffed. It is a thorn to the individual addicted, but more of a thorn to the ones that love him. This individual is not the same person he or she was before the habit took control. The alcoholic who leaves work and spends his wages in a bar becomes a thorn in the side of his family. The next drink takes priority over everything else in that person’s life. The individual addicted to gambling believes that the next card hand or the next race bet will be the big one, so he or she bets away all the hard earned wages. There is nothing left and this person also becomes a thorn in the side of the family. The individual on drugs wastes his money to destroy his life and the life of his family and becomes a thorn in the life of the family.
Paul said he was given a thorn in the flesh. We are not really sure what this thorn was. Scripture does not name Paul’s thorn. Some think it was malaria while others think it was epilepsy. It has also been speculated that Paul’s thorn was an eye disease. Galatians 6:11 might back up the thought that Paul had an eye problem because it says; “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!” Paul wrote the end of Galatians with his own hand. He usually dictated his writings, but signed them with his own hand writing.
In 2 Corinthians 12:1, Paul says, “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast…” Paul is saying that he must go on boasting, although there is nothing to be gained. I will go on and tell you about the visions and revelations of the Lord.
When this Scripture is first read, it sounds like Paul just wants to boast (brag, show-off, toot his own horn). Sometimes each of us has a tendency to boast about something that we have or something we have done. For example, we might talk about the new house we just purchased and mention that it only cost us $500,000.00. We might insist showing everyone we meet pictures of our wonderful family and inform them of all of their accomplishments. We might continuously boast about our work, how much money we make, and why we deserve what we have. In each of these examples, we are placing the focus of attention on ourselves. Paul was not doing this.