A thorn was given me in the flesh…

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2 Corinthians 12:1 (the apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth) “It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows… Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

On the one hand Paul boasts of the extraordinary revelations God has given him, while at the same time acknowledging a “thorn” in the flesh, a “messenger of Satan”. There is much speculation by scholars about what Paul is describing here as a “thorn”. Because he mentions a thorn “in the flesh” some believe he refers to a disease or ailment of some kind. Yet the context of this passage, and of the several chapters preceding it, is Paul’s response to being compared with so-called “super apostles” from chapter 11.

This “thorn in the flesh” sounds to me like a thorn on two feet – a person. Paul’s description of “a messenger of Satan” also seems to me to support the idea this thorn was another human being. It also brings to mind Paul’s words in the book of Ephesians chapter 6:12 “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood”. In other words, it may appear to our eyes we have a human problem, but the fight is actually with the spiritual forces working through the human in question.

In v.9-10 Paul describes the consequences of God’s refusal to remove the thorn in the flesh:

“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Do you recall what keeps happening to Paul along his evangelistic travels? His teachings stir opposition in persons who report him to the local authorities who then have him arrested. As a result, his experiences named in v.10 occur. Sounds like bad news all the way around. How can you preach the gospel if you’re in jail? And yet – God does something remarkable as a result.

Paul is a Roman citizen, which means he cannot be punished or put to death without a trial in which he has the opportunity to defend himself. And so in having Paul arrested and brought to trial, God gives to Paul the opportunity to bear witness to Jesus before the most senior of local authorities!

Friends, there are people who will oppose you over and over. Some may be influenced by Satan. Yet God works in mysterious ways. How might the Lord be giving to you and to me the opportunity to bear witness to the love of Christ in the midst of our struggles? Lord open our eyes to these opportunities you give us to be your witnesses. Amen.

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