“And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me – to keep me from exalting myself.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Why do we always wonder about someone else’s thorn? Theologians and Bible expositors have done that for years. What was Paul’s “thorn”? Was it his eyesight? Was it a mother-in-law? Was it some awful weakness he had in that fleshly part of his old nature? Those aren’t the questions we should be asking. The problem is not with Paul’s thorn; I think we need to be thinking about our own thorns.
What is a thorn, anyway? The Greek word for “thorn” is SKOLOPS (σκολοψ). It can mean anything pointed and is used as a metaphor for a thorn or a plague. And that tells our story. What is our thorn? Could it be a physical weakness, an ailment, a physical handicap, or could it be a weakness in our very nature – something like the “sin which so easily entangles us” that we find in Hebrews 12:1? You know, that sin of omission or commission that seems to war against us in our climb up that steep hill on our pilgrim journey to the Celestial City? Is it that sin we are exhorted to despise, lay aside and from which we should run? It unmercifully plagues us! Could it actually be our ill temper, our cursing, or some baser lust of our old, fleshly nature?
One thing is sure about Paul’s thorn: God allowed Satan to use it to attack Paul. The word “buffet” comes from KOLAPHIDZO (κολαφιζω). It can mean to beat with a fist (Jesus beating in Matt. 16:67), to treat roughly (Paul, in I Cor. 4:11), or to punish or treat harshly in general (I Peter 2:20). Those aren’t very comforting prospects, are they? But God in His providence allows it for good reasons.
In Paul’s case it was to keep him from getting the “big head” for learning some very special, heavenly, godly truths. The truths were great; but the beating he was getting from Satan to entice him to think of himself as a fantastically smart guy was something from which he wanted to be delivered. He supplicated the Lord three times for relief; but God gave him His remedy. It was the remedy that sustained Paul all the way the headman’s axe in Rome, under the sentence of that evil emperor Nero, in 67 A.D. God answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
That wonderful poet, Martha Snell Nicholson wrote,
“I stood, a mendicant of God
before His royal throne,
and begged Him for one priceless gift
for me to call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand,
but as I would depart
I cried, ‘But Lord, this is a thorn,
and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange and hurtful gift
which Thou hast given me.’
He said, ‘Nay, child, I give good gifts,
and gave My best to thee.’
I took it home, and though at first
the cruel thorn hurt sore,
as long years passed I grew at last
to love it more and more.
I learned he never gives a thorn
without this added grace;
He takes the thorn to pin aside
the veil which hides His face!”
You see, the answer to the thorn God has given is GRACE, well described by another poet who wrote,
Grace is divine sufficiency
for every human need.
From it we often turn away,
for it we seldom plead.
It has its source in Jesus,
no other source will do.
It’s coupled with the word of God,
the only word that’s true.
For the law was given by Moses,
first heard upon the mount;
but the law was just God’s teacher
to bring us to the fount
where grace and truth flow freely
and the Spirit gives us birth,
and fills us with His genuine joy,
not this world’s tarnished mirth.
So, if you want sufficiency
to meet a special need,
pray to God the Father
and the Spirit for you will plead.
You may struggle and feel helpless,
but know this one thing sure:
God’s grace will sustain and help you,
by His grace you will endure.
A thorn, you say? Need I say more?
1. Do you have a thorn…or thorns?
2. Has this thorn troubled you for a long time?
3. What has been your reaction to this thorn?
4. Have you felt a temptation to blame this on God?
5. What has been your way of dealing with this thorn?
6. How has God supplied His grace to help you with this?
7. How has your spiritual life been strengthened by struggling with this?
8. Have you ever thought of thanking God for the thorn and His grace?
9. Are you aware of and praying for others who struggle with thorns also?
Lord, please help me to see that the thorn you have given me is actually out of your providential leading in my spiritual life. Yes, it’s as much a thorn as Joseph being thrown in a pit and sold as a slave by his brothers, of Paul’s life of struggle, imprisonment, and eventual martyrdom. Please help me to yield this thing up to you and humbly seek your grace – your sufficiency to press on with humility and trust, knowing that you know my needs, truly care for me, and will lead and sustain me in ways I do not understand today. I ask this in Jesus’ name.
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