Was the Apostle Paul sick? Did the Apostle have some obvious medical condition visible to all? What exactly was this, “thorn in the flesh” he talked about at Corinth? Although it may go against convention, the thorn described here is one all of us need to beware of!
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” 2 Corinthians 12:7
Many people interpret the above to mean that the Apostle Paul had some medical malady. It is thought that God gave Paul some undetermined and ill-defined sickness to keep him and his ego in check. Prior, Paul had been talking about a revelation he had (“It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord”. 2 Corinthians 12:1) To support this idea that Paul had an obvious and apparent illness there are a couple of verses from Galatians often quoted.
“Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.” Galatians 4:13-14
But what Paul said in Corinth and what he said in Galatia are separate matters not associated with each other. This is how Adam Clarke interprets the verses from Galatians:
“…what my flesh suffered on your account, the afflictions I passed through in consequence of my severe labors on your account. You did not consider me less an apostle of God on account of my sinking for a time under the weight of my work….. notwithstanding these afflictions, they received him as an angel of God – as a messenger from heaven, and as Jesus Christ himself.” Adam Clarke
Observe the language the Apostle Paul used at Corinth to describe his adverse situation. The terms and phrases he speaks were quite common and often used as is shown in the Old Testament. But instead of describing a medical condition or illness these terms and phrases are used to describe people(s) that will harass and taunt.
“But the sons of Belial (wicked, base) shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands” 2 Samuel 23:6
“Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” Judges 2:3
“Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you.” Joshua 23:13
“But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks (thistles) in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.” Numbers 33:55
Every reference of “thorn” is of an evil people who will harass, taunt and torment the Godly. It was a warning of what would happen if the Godly did not remove the evil. The evil Paul had to remove was pride and ego. God sent a messenger of Satan, someone to buffet, harass (probably verbally) so he wouldn’t be “exalted above measure,” or in other words, to keep his ego in check.
“He had overcome so many dangers, tortures, and other evils — had triumphed over all the enemies of Christ — had driven away the fear of death — had, in fine, renounced the world; and yet he had not altogether subdued pride. Nay more, there awaited him a conflict so doubtful, that he could not overcome without being buffeted. Instructed by his example, let us wage war with other vices in such a way, as to lay out our main efforts for the subduing of this one.” John Calvin
When Paul prayed to God on multiple occasions that, “it might depart from me” our Lord responded back that, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Now read this warning found in Hebrews: “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” Hebrews 12:15
Without the grace of God we are left open and susceptible to the devil and the messengers he sends to harass us or any, “root of bitterness” that may come our way. God’s grace goes beyond shielding us from a “messenger of Satan” that may buffet us. God’s grace gives us the strength to fight and ward off the adversary completely.
Truly God’s grace is, “sufficient for thee”. And the weaker we are and the more we lean on God the stronger we become and more of the miracle of God is revealed and displayed. We just need to rid ourselves of ourselves and get filled up with God.
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