A THORN IN THE FLESH
By John C. Carpenter
 
The apostle Paul wrote to believers in the church at Corinth, It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. 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. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor 12:1-10). Paul clearly said that he had a thorn in his flesh. What is a thorn, what is the purpose and value of a thorn, and for what reasons may God give us a thorn?
 
IT IS NOT EXPEDIENT FOR ME DOUBTLESS TO GLORY
 
The great apostle Paul started our subject verses by saying, “it is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord (2 Cor 12:1). The word “expedient” means “advantageous, profitable, beneficial, or good,” whereas “glory” means to “have joy over and pridefully boast about the good, great, or mighty things that may happen to us.” Paul said knew he would be given great and mighty things such as “visions and revelations” from God the Father, but that these mighty and wonderful things from the Father might cause him to glory in them, which Paul knew was not good or profitable for him, and even dangerous and destructive to his spiritual life. To further his point, in verse 4 Paul went on to give an example of a man he knew who had been “caught up to the third heaven.” This “caught up” that Paul describes here is the Greek word “harpazo,” which means to “catch away, catch us, pluck, pull, take by force,” and is the same experience Paul described to Thessalonian believers in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, a verse which references the rapture of the believers in Christ at the end of time. Paul went on to explain that he knew a man who had been raptured up to heaven, an experience that Paul obviously considered mighty and miraculous, an experience which the man could have easily boasted about. Paul said that he did not have a problem glorying in the mighty experiences of others, such as this man, but he would not glory in those mighty things that happened to him personally (2 Cor 12:5). Paul was determined to glory only in his own infirmities [feebleness of body or mind, maladies, frailties, disease, infirmity, sickness, weakness]. Paul added, For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be , or that he heareth of me (2Co 12:6). The apostle knew that glorying in those mighty things that happened to him was “foolish,” in other words, “ignorant, etotistical, rash, and unwise” for him to do. Paul added that, lest he be exalted above measure, because of the abundance of revelations given to him, God the Father, through the workings of Satan, gave him a thorn in the flesh, to keep him broken, humbled and focused on God, rather than on himself and his own greatness (2 Cor 12:7). “Thorn” is derived from the Greek word, “kolops,” which means “to wither at the front, a point or prickle, a bodily annoyance or disability.” It appears that Paul, with God's knowledge and intent, was given by Satan a bodily annoyance or disability, an illness or injury of some type to keep Paul humble. In fact, Paul's thorn was such an annoyance to him that he asked God three times to remove it, but God knew that Paul's thorn was beneficial to Paul, and refused to ease Paul's suffering. God, instead, told Paul My grace[benefit, favor] is sufficient for thee: for my strength [miraculous power, strength, working] is made perfect [accomplished, completed, consecrated, finished, fulfilled] in weakness [feebleness of body or mind] (2 Cor12:7-9). After God the Father refused to remove his thorn, Paul explained to the Corinthian believers. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak [in the flesh and self], then am I strong [in and through the power of Christ] (2 Cor 12:10). Paul had no objection to being weak, because in his weakess Paul could have God's explosive, miraculous power rest upon him and be a part of his life. Paul concluded that he would, instead, take pleasure in his own physical and mental weaknesses, insults, distresses, and persecutions for the sake of Jesus Christ.
 
Paul completely understood one of the many paradoxes of God, that is, for when we are weak and impotent in ourselves, we believers in Christ have the opportunity to pursue and have access to God the Father's supernatural, miraculous, explosive, power available through His Holy Spirit. Paul valued and desired God and His presence, power, and working more than he valued and desired his own comfort, glory, and life. The apostle truly understood the importance, value, and benefit of his own personal thorn, which kept him humble, and he gloried in it. For Christians, pridefully boasting in our successes, and the mighty things that happen to us, is an especially dangerous thing to do before God, who sees and knows all, and who looks upon the heart. We believers in Christ are often unaware of the deadly dangers of being successful, having power, having extensive knowledge or education, of being physically attractive, being spiritually, emotionally or physically strong, having political power, or having advanced abilities of any kind, characteristics which some Christians often boast or glory in. In fact, we believers in Christ, although we openly deny it, even intentionally lust after acceptance, popularity, wealth, power, knowledge, prosperity, strength, health, influence, and significance, usually to our own spiritual, physical and emotional peril. Paul not only knew well the dangers of success, and the pride that can result, but also equally knew the value of those thorns in life that break us and keep us humble, that keep us focused on God, and not on ourselves.
 
FOR HE HAD GREAT POSSESSIONS
 
Worldly possessions can be a terrible stumblingblock for Christians. Also, prayerfully asking God for things that we think or believe we truly want, or need, is not always a good thing, and can be dangerous, and even destructive. God sometimes denies us our prayer requests because what we ask for is selfish and full of lust, and not in our best interest. Holy scriptures verify this. The apostle James wrote the twelve tribes,Ye lust [crave the things you want], and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (Jas 4:2-3). The Lord also knows well that worldly distractions, the deceitfulness of worldly riches of all types, and the lusts for worldly things (including our strengths and successes which result in pride) can and do hinder the spreading of the gospel of Christ. In the parable of the sower, Christ refers to ..the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, [which]choke the word [of the gospel], and it becometh unfruitful [barren, without results] (Mar 4:19). Money, and other worldly possessions can hinder believers in Christ from being all that God the Father wants us to be in this life, as well prevent us from inheriting eternal life in the next life. The Scriptures instruct about the dangers of money, and the sense of power that it gives us: And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is , God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever [money and worldly possessions] thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! (Mark 10:17-23). Christ offered this man a thorn: to go and sell whatsoever he had, and give to the poor. Selling everything he had and giving to the poor would have certainly caused the man to focus on Christ, and not himself. But, the man could not do it. This man's money and worldly possessions, which gave him a sense of security, power, and prestige, were more important to him than Christ, and caused the man to reject Jesus Christ and the salvation only available through Christ. This man could have accepted his thorn, benefited from it, and received eternal life, but, instead, he heartily rejected his thorn, and therefore inherited eternal damnation and punishment.
 
BE NOT HIGHMINDED
 
Highmindedness responds well to thorns. Paul instructed Timothy,Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded [lofty in mind, arrogant], nor trust [to expect or confide in, trust in, hope in, have confidence in] in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation [substructure] against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1Timothy 6:17-19). The psalmist adds,To the chief Musician, Maschil, A Psalm of David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, and said unto him, David is come to the house of Ahimelech. Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually. Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah. Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue. God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah. The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him: Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness (Psa 52:1-7). In Proverbs we read, He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch (Pro 11:28). Having money and worldly possessions are often not to our benefit, and may well be a stumbling block in our relationship with Christ, and His will for our lives. If and when God gives us a thorn in these areas, it is for our own benefit.
 
THEY WERE UNLEARNED AND IGNORANT MEN
 
Education can also be a prideful pitfall in our relationship with God the Father, as well as in the proliferation of the gospel of Christ. The apostles Peter and John powerfully healed (Acts 3:7) a man who had been lame from his mother's womb (Acts 3:2), but Peter, in his humility and wisdom, was very careful to give God all of the credit for this physical healing (Acts 3:11-16). There were some witnesses to this healing miracle standing near Peter and John, and scriptures tell us Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they [Peter and John] were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it (Act 4:13-14). God the Father was able to use Peter and John, ignorant and unlearned men, in this healing miracle (Acts 4:16) not because they were intellectually superior or highly educated, but because they had spent quality, prayerful time “with Jesus.” In fact, being highly educated possibly would have worked against Peter and John performing this miracle, because they would have been focused on themselves and their puffed up education and knowledge (1 Cor 8:1), and not on Christ and His ability and power. God the Father gives us a little insight into His own attitudes about education when the scriptures instruct us The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making [writing, publishing, or reading] many books there is no end [limit]; and much study [intense mental application] is a weariness [fatigue] of the flesh [body, person, self]. Let us hear the conclusion [end, termination, point, purpose] of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Ecc 12:11-13). God is not primarily interested in our education or intellectual capacity, but in our relationship with Him, and He may use a thorn or two to bring us closer to Him.
 
BECAUSE THINE HEART IS LIFTED UP, AND THOU HAST SAID, I AM GOD
 
Having confidence in ourselves, thinking that we know the ways of the world, that we have worldly wisdom, power, and ability, are very dangerous things. Look what God told the prophet Ezekiel to sarcastically prophesy: The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet thou art [really and only] a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God: Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee: With thy [worldly] wisdom and with thine [worldly] understanding thou [think that thou] hast gotten thee riches, and hast gotten [your] gold and silver into thy treasures [because of your own power and ability]: By thy great wisdom and by thy traffick [trade of merchandise] hast thou increased thy riches, and thine heart is lifted up because of thy riches: therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thou hast set thine heart as the heart of God; Behold, therefore I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations: and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall defile thy brightness. They shall bring thee down to the pit, and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain in the midst of the seas. Wilt thou yet say before him that slayeth thee, I am God? but thou shalt be a man, and no God, in the hand of him that slayeth thee (Eze 28:1-9). The psalmist also knows that true ability, strength, and power belong to God: Trust not in oppression [cruel extortion, fraud], and become not vain [led astray] in robbery [plunder, take via violence]: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them. God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power [force, power, security, majesty, praise] belongeth unto God [and God alone] (Psa 62:10-11). The arrogance mentioned in these verses is not unlike the temptation to pride that Paul was addressing in our subject verses. As with Paul, God the Father may well us a thorn when our heart is “lifted up.”
 
IF I REJOICED BECAUSE MY WEALTH WAS GREAT
 
Great successes in life often cause us to focus on ourselves, our own abilities, what we can do, and what we have accomplished. This focus can cause us to deny or turn away from God. For example, in the book of Job, we read For destruction from God was a terror to me, and by reason of his highness I could not endure. If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou [gold] art my confidence;If I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much; If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand: This also were an iniquity to be punished the judge: for I should have [would have through my focus on my own abilities] denied the God that is above (Job 31:23-28). In one psalm of David, Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, David is come to the house of Ahimelech. Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually. Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah. Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue. God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah. The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him: Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness. But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints (Psa 52:1-9). The man who has not made God his strength, but has trusted in the abundance of his riches, and uses wickedness to achieve gain, may very well be given, as Paul, a thorn in the flesh, lest he should become “exalted above measure.”
 
LEST I BE FULL, AND DENY THEE
 
In life, fullness, or having too much, or desiring and pursuing more than we need, can be deadly for the believer in Christ. It can actually cause the believer in Christ to forget God for a season, and even turn away from Him altogether. In the book of Proverbs we are instructed about these dangers: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient [enacted and appointed as the proper portion] for me: Lest I be full [to be satiated], and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain (Pro 30:8-9). Fullness and excess can cause us to ignore, or deny, God, while lust, resulting from need, can cause us to curse God.. Holy scriptures clearly warn us against the dangers of all excesses in our personal lives, specifically with food and housing: When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage (Deu 8:10-14), and ..Jeshurun waxed fat [grossness due to excess], and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee (Deu 32:15-18). When God provides well for our wants and needs, and when we become fat in all our ways, our hearts are often lifted up with pride, and we tend to focus on the provision, rather than the provider. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit from our own life experiences that those with excess are at greater risk of neglecting [or departing from] God the Father than those who are in need. Nehemiah, the son of Hachaliah, teaches us about Israel, how they were thankful and worshipped God for all He had done for them and provided to them (Neh 9:1-15), yet immediately afterwards, Israel ..dealt proudly [with God], and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments, And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, andin their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not. Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations [of God] (Neh 9:16-18). We also, from Nehemiah, learn that God, in spite of Israel's rebellion, continued to favor and bless Israel to the extent that they went in and possessed the land, and thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would. And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations (Neh 9:24-26). God the Father blessed Israel in their past and present, yet Israel responded to God with arrogance and rebellion, something many of us do today. How difficult it is to remain humble and obedient when things in our lives are going well. Hosea prophesied of Israel, and us, I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me. Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them; I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them. O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help (Hos 13:5-9). God's provision caused Israel to exalt themselves in their heart, and therefore to forget God. Provision often leads to arrogance, and arrogance often leads to rejection of God, who was our provider. It reminds me of the clever, yet truthful, saying about those who bite the hand that feeds them.
 
TAKE PLEASURE IN INFIRMITIES, IN REPROACHES, IN NECESSITIES,
IN PERSECUTIONS, IN DISTRESSES, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE
 
What is a thorn? In our subject verses, the word “thorn” derived from the Greek word “kolops,” which means “to wither, a point, a prickle, a bodily annoyance or disability.” In short, a thorn is anything that God the Father uses to humble us, chasten us, break our self sufficiency, pride, and strength, and bring us into a closer personal relationship with, and dependence, upon the Father. Thorns, which God the Father may allow Satan to give us come in many different forms, depending upon our personalities, our lives, and God's specific purpose in giving us a thorn. Thorns may take the form of criticism, family tension, bosses and their personalities, problems or conflicts we may have with churches or pastors, coworkers, loss of a job, difficulties with neighbors, persecution, divorce, family death, personal attack, problems on the job, poverty, emotional illness, financial strain, hurtful things said by our friends, dificulties at school, or physical illness, as was what appears to be the case with Paul. Thorn can be anything in our lives that God uses to bring us into a closer, more productive relationship with Himself. Thorns may feel painful at the time that they are in our lives, and necessarily so; they are intentionally designed by God to cause pain and discomfort to cause us to refocus on God, and not ourselves, and to seek more diligently His presence and will for our lives. Thorns, as with Paul, are not primarily designed and used by God to punish us, but to remove any barriers [as pride with Paul] to our having a daily, productive, personal, prayerful, and loving relationship with Him. Because He delights in and loves us, God the Father useds thorns to chasten us, humble us, break our pride, and cause us to look not at ourselves, our own strengths, or our own successes, but at God, who gives us those strengths and successes.
 
Thorns, whether temporary or permanent, bring pain, suffering, tribulation, distress, and feelings of chastening and persecution, as they are designed to do. Paul warns us that, as believers in Christ, we shall experience persecution:Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2Tim 3:12), yet Paul also encourages us that even persecution and tribulation shall not separate us from the love of Christ: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword (Rom 8:35). We know from the Scriptures that The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together (Rom 8:16-17), and that For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil 1:29). Paul added, ...I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day (2Tim 1:12). Because thorns and chastening are so important, scriptures instruct us my son [and daughter], despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth (Pro 3:11-12). Paul put it this way: 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. Like the apostle Paul, we Christians need, and can benefit, from our own persoal thorns. Therefore, we should take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor 12:10).  AMEN.

 
 
 
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