Another Perspective Of Paul’s Thorn

One of the reasons Biblical Christianity has to be so drastically distorted in order to sell it to mass markets is that the market wants power to escape weakness in leisure, but Christianity offers power to endure weakness in love.

2 Corinthians 12:9 refutes this idea: “Jesus said [in response to Paul’s prayer], ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Let’s take Paul’s thorn in the flesh as an example. In verses 1 – 4 Paul describes what amazing revelations of God’s glory he had been given – he was caught up into Paradise and heard things that cannot be told on earth (vv. 3–4).

How easy it would have been for Paul to think that he was already rising above the ordinary hardships and troubles of earthly life because he was given such a privilege. But verse 7 shows what actually happened: “To keep me from exalting myself,” (NASB), or: “to keep me from becoming conceited,” (NIV).

The purpose of the thorn
Now this thorn in the flesh (whether it was some physical problem or some relentless enemies) is one of the weaknesses he is talking about. Paul calls it a “messenger of satan” given to harass him. So one clear answer is that some weaknesses come from satan. His aim is destruction, death and misery. 

But it is not that simple is it? Satan is not the only one at work here. God is at work. This thorn is not just the work of satan to destroy. It is the work of God to save.

We know this for two reasons. First, because Paul describes the purpose for the thorn in terms of preventing pride. But satan’s whole design is to produce pride not prevent it. That’s how he kills: either with pride in what we have done, or despair over what we haven’t done.

Paul’s revelations in Paradise made him vulnerable to pride. So God uses the hostile intentions of satan for Paul’s holiness. As with Job, God permits satan to afflict his righteous servant, and turns the affliction for His good purposes. (See also Luke 22:31–32.)

This is why the truth of God’s sovereign grace is so precious in the midst of hardship and calamity. God is in control of satan. Satan does nothing to God’s children that God does not [permit].

God cares about our character
What is the purpose of such weaknesses? Why insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities, troubles? Why can’t I find a job? Why does my dad have cancer? Why can’t I have children?

Paul gives three brief answers about his own experience and I think they are tremendously important for us to live by. First, he says that satan has the purpose to buffet you or harass you. And so it is ok to pray for relief. That’s what Paul did until he got word from the Lord. God does not delight in your suffering; satan must be resisted. 

Second, God’s purpose over and through satan’s harassment is our humility. Paul was in danger of pride and selfexaltation and God took steps to keep him humble. This is an utterly strange thing in our self-saturated age. God thinks humility is more important than comfort.

God is glorified in our weakness… Finally, God’s purpose in our weaknesses is to glorify the grace and power of His Son. This is the main point of verses 9–10. God’s design is to make you a showcase for Jesus’ power. But not necessarily the way the market demands: not by getting rid of all our weaknesses; but by giving strength to endure and even rejoice in tribulation.

Let God be God here. If He wills to show the perfection of His Son’s power in our weakness instead of by our escape from weakness, then He knows best; trust Him. Hebrews 11 is a good guide here. It says that by faith some escaped the edge of the sword (v. 34) and by faith some were killed by the sword (v. 37). By faith some stopped the mouths of lions, and by faith others were sawn asunder. By faith some were mighty in war, and by faith others suffered chains and imprisonment (see also Philippians 4:11–13).

The ultimate purpose of God in our weakness is to glorify the kind of power that moved Christ to the Cross and kept Him there until the work of love was done.

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