“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. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-8
Many people through the years have wondered what Paul was referring to in this passage, as it is not specified. The range of suppositions that have been made concerning this thorn in Paul’s flesh is wide and varied, but none save Paul himself can say for sure what it was. Whatever it was, Paul was vexed by it, and had asked God repeatedly to take it from him, yet it remained.
In my mind, I suppose this passage shall forever be linked with the anguish which Paul expressed in Romans chapter seven, where he also writes, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Romans 7:18-19
Whatever it was, Paul stated under inspiration that the thorn in his flesh was there to keep him humble. Paul was one of the most notable scholars of his day, and in addition, he had received many revelations from God, so it is not unreasonable to think that Paul might easily have become puffed up and quite smug — unless there was something about his flesh that knocked him down to size — repeatedly — and reminded him that he too was just a sinner saved by God’s amazing grace.
While the Holy Spirit does not allow us to know what the thorn in Paul’s flesh was, He does at least allow us to have a glimpse into Paul’s struggle — and not just his struggle, but ours as well, for we all share the same struggle with our flesh. “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Psalm 14:2-3
No matter who you are, and no matter how long you have walked with God, I believe that there is probably something about your character that you don’t like, something that you wish you could gain control of and change, but no matter how hard you try, and no matter how many times you thought you had it under control, it comes back to plague you, and remind you that you are just frail humanity — and it irks you something awful. But it keeps you humble, and therefore somehow becomes an unlikely blessing.
I am glad that we have this glimpse into the reality of our common battle with the flesh, because if Paul was so vexed, and yet was highly favored, then that gives me hope and bolsters my faith. Because even though I have those same kind of frailties and weaknesses — some thorn in my flesh — it is not my righteousness or anything that I have done that ushers me into the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is my faith in the sufficiency of the price which Jesus paid on the cross. And that causes praise and adoration for the Lord Jesus Christ to rise up in my thankful heart. Oh, bless His Name!
Dear reader, if you have struggled for years with some thorn in the flesh, know of a surety that you are not alone. We all fall short, and not a one of us has anything to boast about. Anything good that we are is solely and completely the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10
We need only to love and fear God, and do the best we can to obey His commandments, and when we falter, call upon Him for help and forgiveness, and carry on. He knows what we are and understands when we falter. It is our love for Him and our faith in Him that is important. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Psalms 103:13-14
I am so very, very thankful for the love, the grace and the mercy of our great God!