“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). [Read more…]