One of the most amazing
men I have ever read about was Saul of Tarsus. He
fell in love with Jesus Christ and his life was
never the same after that experience. The risen
Christ pursued him on the road to Damascus while he
was looking for believers in Jesus Christ in order
to persecute them for their faith. God chose Saul
and when he saw the risen Christ put his faith in
Him as his Savior. The death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ was the dominant theme of his preaching
and his letters to churches in the first century of
the Christian era. Paul wrote: "if you confess with
your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart
that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be
saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in
righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses,
resulting in salvation" (Romans 10:9-10).
Paul had an intimate
personal relationship with Jesus Christ that
demanded his whole being. He made himself available
to his Lord and Master. Paul considered himself a
bondslave of Jesus Christ. There was a time when
Paul almost lost his life because of his commitment
to Christ. He was on the west coast province of Asia
Minor when he was "burdened excessively, beyond our
strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed,
we had the sentence of death within ourselves in
order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in
God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so
great a peril of death, and will deliver us . . ."
(2 Corinthians 1:8-10a).
Later he wrote in the
same letter responding to some arrogant individuals
in Corinth about some other experiences:
They say they are
Hebrews, do they? So am I. And they are descendants
of Abraham? So am I. They say they serve Christ? I
know I sound like a madman, but I have served him
far more! I have worked harder, been put in jail
more often, been whipped times without number, and
faced death again and again. Five different times
the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I
was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times
I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a
day adrift at sea. I have traveled many weary miles.
I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as
well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in
the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas.
And I have faced danger from men who claim to be
Christians but are not. I have lived with weariness
and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been
hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often
I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing
to keep me warm.
Then, besides all this, I
have the daily burden of how the churches are
getting alone. Who is weak without my feeling that
weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with
If I must boast, I would
rather boast about the things that show how weak I
am (2 Corinthians 11:22-30, New Living
Then Paul goes on to tell
us about his experience with a "thorn in the flesh."
What a life!
THE PROBLEMS PAUL
Perhaps nothing in his
life was more frustrating than his "thorn in the
flesh." Yet, even in that experience he gained
victory through Christ. Paul wrote in 12:7, "Because
of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for
this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there
was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of
Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting
"Thorn in the
Paul’s thorn was more
like a stake that induced savage pain. It was
something sharp stuck painfully deep in the flesh
which cannot be pulled out but continues to cause
aggravating pain. The word in the original means
something pointed, primarily "pale," or "stake" used
for impaling or torturing someone, as sharpened
wooden staff, then thorn or splinter. What ever it
was in Paul’s life it produced a terrible pain. It
was "physical, painful, humiliating; it was also the
effect of Divinely permitted Satanic antagonism"
(Vine). There have been many suggestions including:
malaria fever, bad eyesight and epilepsy. It could
have been anything. The Reformed theologians and
many early Christians saw it as spiritual in
character for the purpose of humbling Paul's
arrogant pride. I really don’t know what it was. I
don’t think anyone knows and perhaps that is for a
good purpose. W. E. Vine commented:
The verbs rendered "to
keep me from exalting myself" and "to buffet" are in
the present tense, signifying recurrent action,
indicating a constantly repeated attack. Lightfoot
interprets it as "a stake driven through the flesh,"
and Ramsay agrees with this. Most commentators
adhere to the rendering "thorn." Field says "there
is no doubt that the Alexandrine use of skolops
for thorn is here intended, and that the ordinary
meaning of ‘stake’ must be rejected." What is
stressed is not the metaphorical size, but the
acuteness of the suffering and its effects.
The "buffeting" was like
a closed fist repeatedly and constantly hitting him.
The word means to strike with the fist, to beat. God
gave him this thorn in the flesh and it just kept on
constantly jabbing him.
When God says "No"
In verse eight Paul tells
us how he prayed over this matter. "Concerning this
I implored the Lord three times that it might leave
me." Just like Jesus prayed three times, "Father, if
it be possible let this cup pass from me," Paul
prays three times. Perhaps he bargained with God a
lot like we do: "Lord your ministry could be better
served if you heal this. Your name will be glorified
. . . I can serve you better if . . ." Do you ever
find yourself bargaining with God when you are
suffering pain and distress? "Three times" is
a figure of speech meaning untiringly, continually,
over and over again crying out to God in prayer. It
is our privilege and our duty to "call upon God in
time of trouble," because troubles are often sent
for this very purpose, to bring us nearer to God and
conform us to Christ.
If Christ is Lord and
Master of my life then He knows what is best for me
and He has the right to choose the thorns. His
purpose for thorns is "lest I should be exalted
Twice in verse seven Paul
stressed the purpose of this thorn: "to keep me from
exalting myself, . . . there was given me a thorn in
the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep
me from exalting myself!"
"Why," you may be asking.
In the context Paul told about a vision he had years
before (12:1-6). It needs to be kept in mind that he
waited fourteen years before he even mentioned the
ultimate Christian experience, and he mentions it
only once in all of his writings. It was at a time
when these arrogant individuals in Corinth were
pressuring him. Charles Hodge suggest, "It would
seem that Paul’s opponents were boasting about their
visions, and Paul now counter-attacks them on their
own ground." He speaks of himself only because
circumstances have compelled him to do so. All this
foolish glorying of the carnal Corinthians has
forced him to speak. Paul speaks of himself in the
third person and says God lifted up the veil to
disclose something unknown before. The Lord is the
source of the visions and revelations. Paul is
reluctant, but says he was "caught up to the third
heaven," the highest heaven, which is the eternal
dwelling place of God, where saints and angels are
with Christ. The "third heaven" and "Paradise" are
synonymous terms meaning heaven. The apostle is
suddenly seized and snatched up to heaven with
suddenness and rapidity. He was conscious of what
was happening, but remained entirely passive during
the experience, which was in no way self-induced.
Paul is granted the sight of the glory that lies
ahead. In the profound mysteries of God he received
a revelation of God’s glory. God used this
experience to strengthen him to endure patiently all
the suffering which awaits him in the years ahead in
Jerusalem and Rome. He was conscious of the
transfer, and he vividly remembers that for a time
he was in heaven. But he is not sure of the relation
in which his spirit was to his body during this
experience. He simply doesn’t remember.
They were pushing Paul
boasting of their great revelations and spiritual
blessings. In essence Paul was saying I have had
just as great revelations from God, "but on my own
behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my
weakness. For if I do wish to boast I shall not be
foolish, for I shall be speaking the truth; but I
refrain from this, so that no one may credit me with
more than he sees in me or hears from me" (vv. 5-6).
You have been around those kinds of individuals,
too. It is enough to make you want to puke. It is
nothing more than arrogant religious pride. I am
greater than you spiritually because I have had
great experiences than you. That attitude is carnal.
It is sinful and it will never bring glory to God.
Only those who relish a hysterical crowd on TV enjoy
such carnality. There is a kind of religion that
produces immediate action but it falls to the ground
prematurely and rots. It is fleshly.
Paul tells us that God
gave him a thorn to keep him humble. "Because of the
surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this
reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was
given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan
to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself!" (v.
7). If Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives then we can
well afford to let Him choose the thorns. He has an
eternal purpose in what He chooses for us.
Someone wrote: "God is
too kind to do anything cruel . . . Too wise to make
a mistake . . . Too deep to explain Himself. When we
know the Who, we can stop asking why?"
The longer I live the
more I am convinced with all my heart that nothing
in this world happens outside the will of God.
Literally nothing. There are no failures and there
are no loose ends in the ultimate plan of God. I ask
myself what can I lean when I have blown it, or
things go "wrong"? What is God teaching me? What
does He want to say to me in this? What is He doing
to make me more like the Master? What are the rough
edges He is knocking off?
One of the martyrs in
Ecuador, Jim Elliott wrote in his diary: " . . . to
gaze and glory and give oneself again to God . . .
What more could a man ask? Oh, the fullness,
pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth!
I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him,
if, only I may love Him, please Him . . . If only I
may see Him, touch His garments, and smile into His
eyes—ah, then, not stars, nor children shall matter,
What is your
Perhaps you are facing
intense physical pain. It may be cancer, or a loved
one suffering terminal illness. It may be emotional
pain that comes from broken relationships,
rejection, loneliness, stress, slander, gossip,
being misunderstood, or harsh unjust criticism. You
may be a hurting parent, or a hurting child going
through the divorce of your parents. It may be
financial losses or a bankruptcy.
Perhaps the most
difficult pain is spiritual. Paul says, "there was
given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan
to buffet me . . ." Simeon observed, "though Satan
may be the agent that inflicts the stroke, God is
the kind friend that "gives" it: and though Satan
intends us nothing but evil, God overrules it for
On the other hand, if you
are suffering the pain of sin, guilt, temptation let
me remind you that God has a bar of soap. It is
found in 1 John 1:9. "If we confess our sins, He is
faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to
cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Yes, Paul’s problem was
grievous, but God gave him a principle that not only
encouraged him but offers us hope. Paul took his
trouble to a throne of grace. He asked the Lord to
extract this thorn, and to relieve him of his pain
and God gave him something better.
"Man's extremity is God's opportunity."
Jesus said to Paul, "My
grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected
in weakness." And Paul responded, "Most gladly,
therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses,
so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (v. 9).
What Jesus said (perfect, indicative, active)
remained with Paul as an abiding source of assurance
and comfort. The answer was not simply something
past, but something which continued in its
God's grace is
all-sufficient for my personal needs (v. 9a)
Grace covers all areas of
our lives. We are saved by grace. I can never get
enough of God’s marvelous grace. It is the free,
divine, unmerited and undeserved favor of God toward
sinners. It is free, spontaneous, unmerited love of
God to sinful men. R. C. Trench reminds us that in
no other word has God so uttered Himself and all
that is in His heart more distinctly than in this
word grace. I am a sinner saved by grace alone,
through faith alone in Christ alone. The only way
that I as a guilty condemned sinner will ever stand
in the presence of a holy and righteous God is by
His amazing grace. It is never by any merit, or
works, or good deeds, or standing of my own virtue.
It is exclusively by His free grace that I can have
a right standing with God.
"For by grace you have
been saved through faith; and that not of
yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result
of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians
2:8-9). Salvation is given the believing sinner out
of the pure generosity of God’s loving heart. The
LORD God is always the fountain from which flows
this saving grace. Jesus is the mediator of this
saving grace to sinful men. The very moment we
believe on Him as our personal Savior He saves us by
Moreover, we also live
the Christian life by grace through faith in Christ.
What Christ gives is sufficient, to be enough. He
gives us grace for daily living. Jesus told Paul,
"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is
perfected in weakness." Let’s paraphrase this and
make it a little more personal. Jesus says to you
and me who have been saved by grace, "My grace is
sufficient for you Wil Pounds, for My power is
perfected in your weakness." When I am weak the
grace of God "lifts, bears, carries" me along. God
is sufficient. God’s power is perfected in my
weakness. God’s power is brought to completion, to
perfection in my weakness. It is a continuous action
"my power is being perfected in weakness." Hughes
suggests that Paul may be saying that the power of
God descends upon him and makes its abode in the
frail tabernacle of his earthly body. Hodge says,
"The weaker my people are, the more conspicuous is
my strength in sustaining and delivering them."
"Where there is weakness, strength reaches
completeness." Where it is manifest that man was
powerless, God’s power becomes more evident. A. T.
Robertson says, "Power is continually increased as
the weakness grows. The human weakness opens the way
for more of Christ’s power and grace."
We receive divine
power in exchange for our weakness (v. 9b).
I come to Him in my
weakness and say, "Lord, I hand over to you my need
for wisdom in this hour," and He gives me His
wisdom. He gives His wisdom in exchange for my lack
of understanding. It is in moments like these that
James 1:5 takes on rich meaning. "If any of you
lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all
men generously and without reproach, and it will be
given to him." Proverbs 3:5-7 says,
"Trust in the Lord with
all your heart
And do not lean on your
In all your ways
And He will make your
Do not be wise in your
Fear the Lord and turn
away from evil."
The principle the apostle
Paul learned in his pain was to exchange the
weakness for God’s strength. It is a principle the
Lord is teaching us. "Lord I hand over to You my sin
and guilt," and He gives me His forgiveness. "Lord,
I hand over to You my weakness," and He gives me His
strength. "Lord I hand over to You my failure," and
He causes me to grow through this experience. "Lord
I hand over to You my helplessness," and He gives me
hope. "Lord I hand over to You my stress," and He
gives me His power. "Lord I give Him my loneliness,"
and He gives me His presence. "Lord I hand over to
Him my rejection," and He gives His belongingness.
When I am the weakest in
my own power I am strongest in His presence.
What was Paul's
attitude toward thorns?
"Most gladly, therefore,
I would rather boast about my weaknesses, that the
power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well
content with weaknesses, with insults, with
distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties,
for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am
strong" (v. 9c-10).
I remember a few years
ago a Medical Doctor standing in a worship service
share time and saying, "Pray for me. I have a
problem with lust." His beautiful young wife just
looked up at him with a puzzled face. He looked down
at her and said, "No, I haven’t done anything!" He
was not spilling a gross immoral sin he had
committed. He was simply stating a spiritual need
and requesting the congregation to remember him in
prayer. He, like Paul, was acknowledging his
weakness so God could supply him with strength to
gain the victory.
The more weak and
contemptible Paul was in the eyes of the Corinthians
the more they must be compelled to glorify Christ by
whom he was strengthened in his spirit and made
successful. If Christ might receive more glory by
means of these thorns, he was not only willing to
endure them, but ready to glory in them even unto
death. Paul remained as weak as ever; but, being
persuaded that Christ’s power should be the more
magnified through his weakness, he was satisfied. If
we are conscious that we are wholly without
strength, and can do nothing of ourselves, we shall
be more simple and uniform in our dependence on
Christ. In our weakness we find His strength and He
alone is glorified.
Paul says I use my thorns
for God's glory and my personal growth. What do you
do with your circumstances? Let God speak to you
through them. Let Him use them to conform you to the
image and likeness of Christ.
Later Paul put this same
principle into practice when he wrote from house
arrest in Rome. He was chained to a Roman soldier
twenty-four hours a day. In the harshest
circumstances he said, "Rejoice and again I say
rejoice . . . For to me to live is Christ and to
die, well that's better yet." And we can, too.
How do you put such a
life into practice? How do you make it work?
Paul adds, "Therefore I
am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with
distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties,
for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am
strong" (v. 10).
Christ wants to
live His live in and through you.
It is only the life of
Christ—His activity, clothed with you and displayed
through you, that ultimately will find the approval
of God. It is not our carnal efforts displayed
before man that impressed God.
Only what Christ does in
you and through you merits God’s approval. Jesus
said, "Apart from Me you can do nothing" (John
The saving life of
Christ is a life of faith.
From the moment you put
your faith in Jesus Christ as your savior the Holy
Spirit took up residence in you. You have a special
relationship with Him. You are "in Christ." He
encircles you with His presence. You live and move
and have your being in His presence. Paul prayed for
the Ephesian believers to the Father "that He would
grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to
be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the
inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts
through faith . . . Now to Him who is able to
exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or
think, according to the power that works within us,
to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ
Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen"
That is a powerful truth
for us to grasp in our daily life. Wuest expands the
translation: "Now to the One who is able to do
beyond all things, superabundantly beyond and over
and above those things that we are asking for
ourselves and considering, in the measure of the
power which is operative in us, to Him be the glory
in the Church and in Christ Jesus into all the
generations of the age of the ages. Amen."
Literally, "But to Him who is able above all things
to do exceedingly above . . ." exceeding some number
or measure, over and above, more than necessary. It
is intensified by adding ek, adding the idea of
exhaustlessness, and huper "above." Thus Wuest
translates, "beyond all things, superabundantly and
over and above." What a God! His grace and power is
available to you and me.
Can any situation
possibly arise, in any circumstance, for which
Christ is not adequate? Can there arise any
pressure, or promise, or any problem, or any
responsibility for which the Lord Jesus Himself is
not adequate? When I realize the total adequacy of
Christ in me, is there any situation for which
Christ is inadequate? If so then it is a clear
indication that I am not in the will of God.
Christ is limited only by
the measure of our availability to all that He makes
available to us.
When I am under the
influence and control of the Holy Spirit I draw upon
the unlimited resources of Christ. Philippians 4:13
in the Amplified Bible reads, "I have strength for
all things in Christ who empowers me—I am ready for
anything and equal to anything through Him who
infuses inner strength in me [that is, I am
self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency]."
You see, the saving life
of Christ, our daily Christian life, is Christ
living in me. That was Paul’s secret power to live
the Christian life. Jesus says to us, "I will
exchange lives with you. All I ask is that by faith
you trust Me."
Let's get painfully
personal in application
The thorns should be the
means of displaying, and magnifying the strength of
Christ in us.
What are you doing with
your sorrows, suffering, circumstances and pain?
Please, don’t waste your sorrows. There comes a time
when we need to stop praying for the removal of the
thorns, and draw from the transforming power of the
cross and the resurrection of Christ! If we have the
right attitude, thorns do not destroy, but they
cause us to depend upon the Lord and grow. You can
live above the chances, changes and circumstances in
your life. God accomplished His eternal purpose in
Paul’s thorns. He does the same thing in us as we
make ours available to Him.
When the pressures of
life are applied to you what comes out? This
morning before I brushed my teeth I picked up a tube
of toothpaste. When I squeezed the tube of
toothpaste out came toothpaste. Only what’s in there
will come out. What comes out when you are squeezed?
What kind of fragrance are your thorns producing? Is
there the sweet smelling aroma of Jesus Christ? Are
the pressures of life making you more like Jesus
The apostle Paul
considered his petition completely answered and God
turned his sorrows into joy. He could glory in his
tribulations and make his thorns the occasion of
joyful triumph. The apostle James wrote, "Consider
it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various
trials, knowing that the testing of your faith
produces endurance. And let the endurance have its
perfect result, that you may be perfect and
complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:4-5).
Annie Johnson Flint says
it better than anyone in her song, "He Giveth More
Grace" (public domain).
"He giveth more grace as
our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength
as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He
addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He
"When we have exhausted
our store of endurance,
When our strength has
failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of
our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving
is only begun.
"Fear not that thy need
shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His
resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm
The Father both thee and
thy load will upbear.
"His love has no limits,
His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary
known unto men;
For out of His infinite
riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth,
and giveth again."