Summary: Part 3 focuses on Paul's thorn in the flesh.
When Our Faith Fail – Part 3
In my message last week I continued with the second and third faith equations:
o Faith + Unbelief + Action = No Results
o Faith + Wrong Belief + Action = Wrong Results
Last week my focus on was the how we teach unbelief in our Churches based on what occurred in the story of Job. I focused on the fact that God does not use sickness and calamities to get our attention. This morning we will examine the teachings that have evolved from Paul’s reference to his “thorn in the flesh.” There are many views of what his thorn in the flesh was, and I will share with you my thoughts on this but more importantly but I want to focus on where the thorn in the flesh it did not come from. Understanding Paul’s situation will allow us to really know that God is hearing us when we call out to Him. So let’s get started.
I. Paul’s Situation
Remember last week when I told you that God does not use sickness to get our attention? Well many have walked away with the idea that when we suffer sicknesses we are giving God the opportunity to show grace in our lives. They believe that we experience God’s grace when we are sick “if we go through the sickness the right way.” I do not know about you, but I do not know how to be sick the “right way” in order to experience God’s grace. I know that I could complain less, but is that really receiving God’s grace? In Paul’s situation we find a unique case of Paul having to deal with something that is not really explained to us in a very clear manner. Because it is not explained to us, we are left to interpret it according to what makes sense to us. So if what I share with you this morning contradicts what you have always been taught, you have the right to continue to believe what you believe and act thereon. So let’s examine Paul’s situation with his thorn in the flesh. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
How many of you have been taught or believe that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a sickness or disease that God refused to heal him of? How many of you have heard this was what it was but you did not know enough about it to have an opinion? As you consider what you currently believe, this is a good time to set the foundation with a couple of definitions.
I want to give you a couple of definitions from Webster’s dictionary and from the Greek dictionary. I am giving you the definitions from the Greek dictionary because the English language does not have all of the individual and/or different words for a specific meaning as the Greek does. Therefore, to understand what was being said in the Greek (which is what the New Testament was transcribed from) we must know how the word was used originally. I want to share with you the definitions for thorn and infirmities as they apply to Paul’s use of the terms.
o Webster: “A source of constant trouble of irritation.”
o Greek: “Anything pointed. Something painful and/or humiliating.”
Infirmity / Infirmities:
o Webster: “Physical weakness or defect.”
o Greek: “Feebleness of body or mind; lacking strength, weakness.
Paul’s thorn in the flesh has been debated for many years and it will continue to be debated. Some think he suffered from an eye disease; malaria and/or some other type of sickness. Some think he suffered from a physical deformity or something that was specific to his body. Some think he suffered from lust and this is what was afflicting him. I had a minister tell me that he suffered from the same affliction as Paul in that Paul could not control his lust for women. Some think that it was not a physical issue at all and that it was someone that Satan used to hinder Paul throughout his ministry. As I stated before, there is much debate on what it was but from the books on my shelf, most believe it had something to do with his eyesight (an inflammation of the eyeball) as a result of his experience on Damascus road (Acts 9:3-9). Many refer to Galatians 4:13-15 as grounds or proof for this belief even though when you read this reference in context, it does not necessarily support this theory.