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Summary: Like Paul, we all have a "thorn in the flesh." We can learn from Paul that God allows it, Satan sends it, and we can accept it. Because when we are weak, then we are strong, with God's strength on display through our weakness.

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2 Corinthians 12:7-10

When God Says No

Have you ever received a “no” answer from God? It hurts, right? You think you know best, you really do. And then God says, “I don’t think so.” Well, it particularly hurts when you’ve been suffering, and not only does God not remove the suffering, but maybe he tells you it’s good for you. That’s what is happening to the Apostle Paul and his thorn in the flesh in today’s scripture. So ...

What is a “thorn in the flesh”?

It reminds me of when one of our dogs gets a grass burr or sand burr in their paw. It hurts. It’s irritating. The Greek word here is “skolops” (not the seafood!), which was used for anything pointy: everything from a stake or thorn to a surgical instrument or the point of a fishhook. So what was it? Some people think it was ...

Physical. After all, Paul said he had a thorn in the FLESH. The most common suspicion is some form of opthalmia, because elsewhere Paul alluded to poor vision, and once even said he knew people would give him their eyes if they could (Galatians 4:15). Other folks think maybe he had migraine headaches, or epilepsy, or malaria, or leprosy, or maybe a speech impediment, since he said he wasn’t a very good public speaker. So maybe it was physical. Or maybe it was ...

Emotional. Maybe it was some kind of depression. Maybe it was a sadness that Paul never could seem to break through with the gospel to his own people, the Jews. Or maybe it was ...

Social. Maybe Paul was just so frustrated with being harassed and ridiculed and beaten up and left for dead in city after city. Maybe he was tired of the constant criticism and attacks on his character, with no basis behind it. Maybe it was ...

Spiritual. Maybe it was anxiety or sexual temptation. Or maybe it was PTSD compounded by guilt in being complicit in the early deaths of so many Christians.

Do you want to know the answer? Would you like to know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was? The answer is ... we don’t know! And you know what? It’s a good thing, because every one of us can believe that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was our thorn in the flesh. Every one of us can identify with Paul, because we all have a thorn in the flesh.

So when it comes to that pesky thorn that God refuses to move, let’s learn from Paul. First,

1. Remember the one in control (God allows it)

The first thing you need to know about your own thorn in the flesh is that God has allowed it to be there. Paul acknowledges this with his choice of wording in verse 7: “I was given a thorn in my flesh.” Right before today’s passage, Paul has been talking about all of the great visions of heaven God has given him. Now, to keep him from getting a big head about it all, he talks about this thorn in the flesh. He doesn’t spell out God’s part, but he acknowledges it nonetheless. Scholars call it a “divine passive.” Paul rightly saw God as the unseen Agent overseeing the entire process. And so, when Paul asks for it to be taken away, he appeals to the Lord, not the devil who sent it. As with the story of Job, we see that nothing happens—not even Satan’s evil—without God’s expressed allowance. Why is this important?

If you are a child of God, and God allows some harm to befall you, God has something good already in mind he can bring from your trial. One scholar notes, “Behind any and every machination of Satan, Paul could discern the overarching providence of a God who perpetually created good out of evil” [“The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Romans-Galatians,” David Garland, ed., 533]. Know that God’s love for you is absolutely perfect. It far exceeds any earthly love we have for our own children. God always acts out of complete lovingkindness toward you. God will never allow you to go through anything that will not bring him glory and you good in the end.

This week of Independence Day, I can only imagine how bad it must have looked at times for those early patriots who sought independence from a tyrannical government. The nation declared its independence on July 4, 1776 but it took a long seven years to reach peace with England. During that time, many leaned heavily on their God to see them through.

You may feel like you’re losing a battle here and there, but God will win the war. You have a tactical view; God has the strategic view. Lean heavily on the one who allows you to endure whatever you’re facing. He will see you through to the other side. Remember the one in control, and secondly …

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