Then Don’t Say It
Have you ever met someone or been in a situation where someone has said, “I probably shouldn’t say this…BUT…” There was a chaplain when I was in college that would often say these fateful words and I remember at one point hearing people verbally say, “Don’t!” “Don’t say it!” “Stop!” Nothing good ever comes when we say something we know we shouldn’t. Listen to these words of Paul at the beginning of this chapter: Verse 12: This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. From here you can almost hear Paul’s agony between whether he should or shouldn’t continue to share about his revelation/vision. Either way, one thing is for sure, he understands that he’s been given a thorn in his flesh to keep him from being prideful. I like the words of Charles Spurgeon regarding pride, “You have two choices. You can either be humble or humbled.”
One thing you need to know is that there have been many theories regarding Paul’s thorn So many theories in fact, it’s nearly impossible to diagnose Paul’s situation with complete accuracy. Because of the surrounding context, some have suggested that Paul’s thorn came in the form of Jewish persecution. Even in Numbers 33:55 thorns are used as a metaphor for the enemies of the Israelites. Others have suggested that Paul’s own remembrance of his past was his thorn; Paul’s past included the persecution of the church (Acts 8:1-3; Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6) which may have continually haunted him and kept him humble. Some commentators even propose that Paul dealt with either carnal temptation or depression.
Here’s a strange point, Paul’s thorn came by way of a messenger of Satan in order to torment him. Yet at the same time it was given to him in order that he would not become proud/prideful. I don’t know about you, but it reminds me of the story of Job. In the story of Job, God gave permission to afflict Job, BUT, and this is a big but, Satan had to adhere to the parameters set by God (Job 2). Do you remember what we read in 1 Corinthians 5:5 (NLT) 5 Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns. Compared with the story of Job, we find that Satan is used at times as an instrument to bolster the faith or prove the righteousness of believers.
There’s really two additional things I would like to consider regarding Paul’s Thorn. The first thing is this: The ambiguity of the thorn in the flesh is actually a positive thing. Think of it this way: If Paul’s flesh was cancer, then only the people who’ve had cancer could relate to Paul. The fact that we don’t know exactly the nature of Paul’s flesh only benefits generations of people who can apply it to their own specific problem.
When it all comes down to it, what matters most is not what Paul’s thorn is, but rather what it’s for. Ultimately Paul’s thorn was meant to call his attention that only the grace of God could renew his strength.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NLT) 8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.