THE BLESSING OF THE THORN (2 COR.12:1-10)
Paul was a great man of God. He was special. He was chosen after Christ returned to heaven as if the original apostles needed a man like him. Paul was full of zeal. He was much more zealous than the other apostles. It would take much more zeal to bring the gospel to the Gentiles who never heard of God than to the Jews who knew the God of the Old Testament.
When Paul was converted on the road to Damascus he didn't lose his zeal. His zeal was merely redirected.
He was taken up to the third heaven. No other man was taken there but John. Paul went first. He couldn't talk about it but John was told he must write it.
He said it was about 14 years before 2 Cor. He tells us this wonderful experience was a RAPTURE. He was "caught up". The same Greek word as used in 1Thes 4:17. "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
This experience was not a trance, he knew he was caught up unto the third heaven. He saw visions and heard revelations. He did not tell us what he saw and heard because it was, "unlawful for man to utter".
Why did he mention it? Because of the effect it left on him. God revealed all new revelation to Paul. All new revelation spoken of in the NT was revealed to Paul. To Paul it was revealed that salvation was offered to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. To Paul it was revealed the doctrine or the rapture of the saints. I could go on because there was an abundance of them.
2 Cor 12:7 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.
Notice what Paul says, "Lest I should be exalted above measure --- there was given to me a thorn in the flesh". The revelations and the thorn are connected just as the rose and the thorn. Many times beauty, or good things come with thorns.
What was this thorn that Paul had.?
Over the years many speculations have been made as to the exact identity of the thorn and we do not know for a certainty what it was. He does not tell us. We can dismiss some of the theories though.
Some church leaders think the thorn is the sufferings caused by persecutions. But when Paul speaks of his suffering it is in a different light, or meaning. It is in a different definition. Others thought it was a guilt complex he acquired because he persecuted Christians in his unconverted days, however, he was an advocate of the grace of God that forgives all. Some suggest that it was the temptation to unbelief and despair but Paul would have considered these as sins and not infirmities.
It could have been eye problems. One of my Bible studies was on Paul always having a scribe to write his letters. There are many verses in many of his letters to back this theory up. In Gal.6: 11 Paul wrote, " Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand." I teach that Paul probably took the pen from the scribes hand and have added his concluding remarks in his own handwriting. If he had an eye problem he would have written in much larger letters than the scribe.
There is one thing about the thorn that is clear. It was a physical infirmity
Who gave Paul the thorn? "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan". Satan gave it to Paul. God allowed him to do so for a real beneficial purpose. " exalted above measure".(lest I should be overcome in pride) There is a mystery between sin, sickness, and Satan. Satan rules but God can overrule the messenger of Satan. (a fallen angel, or demon sent by Satan)
Paul's sufferings were to prevent him from being lifted up with pride. Satan's part is clear, he cannot bring evil to the believer except by God's permission. (see the story of Job- Satan had to have God's permission to inflict him)
Satan was permitted to inflict Paul to serve God's purpose. Satan sure is dumb in ways. He will inflict a saint, all the while DOING GOD'S WILL.
God has a definite purpose in mind for our good in allowing sufferings in the believer's life. Our sufferings may not be due to specific sins we have done, but may be ministers to our benefit.
Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
The thorns hurt but they serve a useful purpose. Why should Paul need a thorn? He says, "lest I should be exalted above measure". The purpose was to prevent spiritual pride. It was better to prevent it rather than try to handle the problems it would cause. Nothing is so treacherous in the Christian walk as spiritual pride.
Look out if you have unusual spiritual gifts. Look out if you have unusual opportunities. Look out if you have been blessed greatly. Look out if you have great talents and abilities.
Paul was susceptible to pride. He was conscious of his exceptional gifts, his exhalted privilege, his powerful influence, his world wide ministry, his wonderful success, and the love and admiration of countless people. He was human and in danger of being lifted beyond measure.
For this reason God gave him something to keep him humble and lower his self-esteem. A thorn produces Christ likeness. (humility)
If Christ learned obedience through suffering, should we not expect suffer?
Heb 5:8 Though he (Jesus) were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
Paul tried to get rid of the thorn. He even prayed three times that it might be removed. Three times he made a request for its removal.
Jesus said ask (keep on asking) and it shall be given unto you. He said knock (keep on knocking) and it shall be opened unto you. He said seek (keep at it) and ye shall find. We will get what we ask IF IT IS IN GOD'S WILL.
I Jn 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
Paul prayed to Christ who knew physical suffering and could sympathize with him. Christ prayed three times in the garden for the removal of a bitter cup. (if it was the will of the Father).
Paul prayed specifically, "that it might depart from me". He felt it was a handicap hindering his service to the Lord. He was asking for immediate healing.
There are a number of things we know that are according to His will. There are a number of things we know that are not according to His will.
However, there are a great number of things which we do not know the will of God until He reveals them to us. God reveals them to us most of the time through events in our life.
The Lord gave Paul an answer to his prayer in 14 words.
"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness".
All prayer is answered. God either says YES or NO. Sometimes the YES is not always as we expect or want it. Many times God says, "If I do not rid you of the trouble, I will give you grace for victory over it".
Denial of Paul's request did not mean destitution but deliverance. The weight was not lifted but greater strength was given to bear it.
Paul was given something better than he asked for.
Would it have been better for Paul to have gotten rid of the thorn? Surely not, for without it he would have, "exalted above measure" Spiritual pride would have robbed him of his humility and he would then be a despised teacher instead of a greatly loved teacher. God couldn't have used him in the writing of NT scripture.
Someday we will see that the prayers of ours that were not answered according to our asking have brought to us the richest things in our spiritual walk. We ask for strength that we might achieve; we are made weak that we might obey. We ask for health that we may do greater things; He has given us infirmity that we might do better things. We ask for riches that we might be happy. He has given poverty that we might be wise. We ask for power that we may receive the praises of men; we are given weakness that we might feel the need of God.
Many Christians miss life's greatest purpose until they learn that there is divine guidance in pain, edification in illness, blessing in suffering and a whole lot of heaven in our handicap. Our need is never greater than His grace.
God can heal our infirmities and sometimes does, but often He supplies the grace sufficient to endure, and strength to carry the burden with victory.
BUT--THERE MUST BE THE RIGHT ATTITUDE ON OUR PART.
When Paul was told he must carry the thorn to the grave, and Christ would help carry the burden of it along the way and it would be a blessing to him, he began to sing this song.
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.
Angels could not sing a sweeter song. What a blessing he was to the Christian because he had a thorn in his side.