“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.” —II Corinthians 12:9
The Purpose of the Thorn
Many of the concepts of true biblical strength are misunderstood by the church. We have perceived strength as something resident within the individual. A person’s personal resources are often touted as the key to victory—their strong mind, their determination, their unbending will.
However, the apostle Paul, who evidenced the above traits, discovered that what he had to have to live this Christian life successfully, and in power, was something that had to be received daily from outside of his person. Paul had to be taught dependence upon God and reject self-dependence, especially after he had been saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, and called as an apostle.
The purpose of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was God’s way of keeping the great apostle to the Gentile world humble and dependent upon resources outside of himself. According to Paul’s own words, the thorn was given to keep him from being lifted up in pride and self-trust after the Lord had deemed him fit to be the recipient of the knowledge of the new covenant. No man was initially granted this privilege other than Paul. This was a privilege not afforded to any other man in the history of mankind. Therefore, the danger of revelation was that pride (in regard to that revelation) would have lifted Paul (in his own mind) to a state above others, where he no longer needed the daily resources granted freely by grace to the believer. Grace supplies the daily power source needed by every Christian.
The Thorn Itself
The Bible is silent as to the exact identification of what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was; however, I feel that there is certain biblical evidence that may lend some clues regarding what this “messenger of Satan” might have been.
First of all, this thorn was not a besetting sin. Paul knew the route to victory. He understood that faith in the finished work of Christ was the only route to maintaining victory over the sin nature. He had discovered through failure that trust in self or trust in his own ability to keep the law produced only negative results. So, the thorn was not a besetting sin in his heart or life.
Secondly, I doubt that this was a physical problem. I don’t believe this had to do with Paul’s health or lack of it. Some have suggested that Paul had problems with his eyesight or other such maladies. While there is some scriptural evidence that might suggest this, I don’t feel that this is what bothered Paul. Personally, it is my opinion that the work of the Judaizers is what Paul refers to here. Everywhere he went to establish a church, these men followed after him and uprooted, in many cases, the faith of new believers. It would have been this element that caused many of the uncomfortable circumstances that Paul describes in II Corinthians 11:23-27.
God Chose The Thorn
While the messenger of Satan came from a satanic source, there is no doubt that God allowed its existence. God had a purpose in allowing this thorn. In I Corinthians 10:13, we learn that God is in charge of every trial and temptation the believer faces. According to this passage, God allows something to come upon us so that we may learn to receive help from Him and travel through those circumstances in His power.
The verse says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
God’s Grace Is Sufficient
Paul was to learn, as all of us must learn, that God’s strength only comes to the humble-hearted man or woman of God. As we experience things that are beyond our natural capacity to withstand, God places a supernatural ability within us. This supernatural ability is the freely given aid that comes inwardly through the person of the Holy Spirit when one maintains faith in Christ’s finished work on Calvary. In describing one aspect of the grace of God, God’s grace is the operation of the Spirit strengthening me. As I depend upon Christ and look for the imparting strength granted by the Spirit, I exchange my weakness for His strength. Perhaps the very thing that you’ve asked God to remove is the very thing that God is using so that you might fully experience His strength.