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Basic Bible: Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

II Corinthians 12:1-10

Paul states that it is not profitable for him to glory in himself. In chapter 11, glorying in the flesh is exactly what Paul appears to have done (see 11:18-28). Paul’s apparent boasting in the flesh, however, was not to promote himself but to reveal to his detractors that they had no cause to rejoice in themselves.

Nonetheless, it was not expedient for him to glory because his glorying brought to mind visions and revelations — visions and revelations which caused him to think more highly of self than one should.

“I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord” (v. 1). Visions and revelations of the Lord are hardly of the flesh. God reaches out to them whom He chooses. God reached out to Abraham while he was yet in Ur. God spoke to Abraham before Abraham’s belief was counted to him for righteousness. As it was with Abraham, it was with Paul. God spoke to Paul while he was yet Saul.

The incident (v. 2-4) which Paul describes occurred 14 years before he wrote this epistle. The calendar date would have been around 42 A.D., about five years prior to his first missionary journey. Based upon Acts 11:25, Paul likely dwelt in Tarsus at the time of the vision.

Paul was taken up into paradise. What he experienced was too wonderful for words. He describes seeing that which is not lawful for a man to utter. The Lord gives revelations to men for His purposes. The Lord did not show these things to Paul such that Paul should lift himself up.

Paul saw and heard that which God has prepared for them who love Him (I Cor. 2:9, Isa. 64:4). Paul knew what he had seen. Paul saw that which is too wonderful for a man to see. Paul states that he could not tell if he were in the body or out of the body. Paul saw that which the flesh is not allowed to see.

Paul desired to glory in that which he had experienced but he had no cause to glory in himself. Paul would glory in that which the Lord had done. He would do so by glorying in his infirmities. Paul possessed an infirmity, a thorn in the flesh.

Many have speculated upon the identity of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. While the scriptures do not reveal the nature of the thorn, Paul states the reason that he was given this infirmity. His infirmity allowed a messenger of Satan to buffet him (v. 7). The thorn in his flesh was beneficial to Paul. Romans 8:28 states that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose. Paul’s thorn was for his own good; it was needful.

When we consider one buffeted by Satan, Job comes to mind. God used Satan’s buffeting to correct Job’s self-righteousness. Paul, unlike Job, knew the reason for Satan’s buffeting from the beginning. Paul knew the thorn prevented him from glorying in the flesh. Paul knew that the thorn made it necessary for him to rely upon God and not upon self.

Paul prayed three times that the Lord might remove the thorn with which he was buffeted. The Lord answered: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). The Lord’s answer to Paul’s prayer was “No!”

In John 16:23-24, Jesus said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” Jesus spoke these words to His disciples, to the apostles. Paul was not an apostle when Jesus spoke these words. Nonetheless, the Lord’s words are fully applicable to Paul. Paul prayed three times asking that the thorn be removed. Paul asked but did not receive. How could the Lord say No?

The Lord did not remove the thorn because thorn removal would not fulfill Paul’s joy. It was the desire of Paul’s heart that the will of the Father be done. It is the will of the Father that men might see His strength — a strength made perfect in weakness. The Lord wanted His strength to be seen through Paul. The power of the Lord cannot be revealed by works of the flesh — even the flesh of them who love Him.

Because Paul heard and understood God’s answer, he gloried in his infirmities. Paul gloried because his weakness allowed the strength of God (the power of Christ) be seen in him (v. 9). Paul took pleasure in all things which he suffered for Christ’s sake because in his weakness, the strength of God was revealed.

How is the strength of the Lord revealed? The power of Christ is seen in changed lives. Paul led many to repentance. There is joy in heaven (Lk. 15:10) when sinners repent and turn to Him who suffered death for them. When Paul became weak in the flesh, he became strong (v. 10).

All believers are called to abide in Christ and given the promise that He shall abide in us. Let us, like Paul, be weak such that Christ be seen in us. The Lord would have all to come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9).

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