Thorn in the Side

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NKJV

Life on the farm is wonderful, but it does offer some challenges for my husband. It could be an up-close face to face encounter with a skunk, or a tree clonking him on the head, or his least favorite, sharing the ditch with a surprise snake or snapping turtle while weed eating. But believe it or not, thorns, thistles, and briars, present his greatest ongoing aggravation. They are always hiding along fencerows while mowing, dangling dangerously close to the path that must be taken. This reality is evidenced by snags in shirts, scratches on arms and face, and rips in pants.

On one such occasion, the thorn lingered a little too long in his hand and caused it to swell up like a heart shaped balloon. That took a trip to the doctor and a dose of antibiotics to remedy. He now listens to his wife and wears gloves on his hands.

We know through Scripture; Paul was given a thorn. Many scholars have hypothesized of what the thorn could be. Some say a sickness, something which only God could heal. Paul’s eyesight was an issue as he had to have his words transcribed by another, or when he wrote, they were in large letters.

See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand! Galatians 6:11

Poor eyesight could definitely have been a problem for Paul.

Did Jesus say sickness was sent from God? I cannot find it in the Bible. Jesus did tell us we will have troubles in this world.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

We can look upon a thorn in the flesh as a source of continual annoyance, insults, regrets, depression, persecution, irritation, or anything which nags at you and won’t go away. So, where did Paul’s thorn come from? According to the Scripture at the top of the column, it came directly from a messenger of satan. “A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of satan to buffet me.” The Greek meaning of “buffet” is to strike or rap with the fist.

We find the same word used in Matthew 26:67 (KJV) when referring to Jesus. “Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted Him; and others smote Him with the palms of their hands.” And again, in Mark 14:65, 1 Corinthians 4:11, 2 Corinthians 12:7, and 1 Peter 2:20.

People were harassing, hitting, and striking Jesus, and to a lesser extent, the same thing was happening to Paul. People were not as easy to shake off as a snake.

But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. Acts 28:5

Why would God allow satan’s messenger to irritate or strike Paul? Paul was gifted, learned, and a polished orator, with a vulnerability for pride. Would Paul have stayed humble without the thorn, evidently God thought not. We know God hates pride! Afterall, satan is the king demon of pride. It is the precise reason he was sent to earth. He wanted the angels to follow him instead of God. Pride is wicked and ruins people and their purpose.

God’s great plan was Paul bringing the Good News to the Gentiles. Being a Gentile myself, puffed up and arrogant is a turnoff. The thorn in his side was a constant reminder of his need for God! People who walk closely to God wear a robe of humility. When humility is absent from a church, person, or ministry, they are in grave danger of collapse. “God is so fortunate to have me on his team,” is a sure-fire way to send the train off the tracks and over the cliff.

Proverbs 16:5 tells us, “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

Sometimes satan slipped people into Paul’s path to annoy, prick, or irritate him. Thorny people of this world got under Paul’s skin, tried to trip him up, but mostly were a means to keep him humble. Is this happening to you? There are potential “thorns” along every path.  Do not be so consumed with this world that you step into a trap which impacts your witness for Jesus.

Paul begged God to take away the thorn three times, but he did not because God knew Paul’s ministry depended upon him being humble as he spoke to the Gentiles.

One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.” This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her. Acts 16:16-18

Americans have a curious fascination with being noticed. Some stooping to the lowest level imaginable to obtain a few likes on their site. God tells us in his Word “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” We should be thanking and praising God, drawing attention to the Creator, not the created. We should be calling people to be God’s followers and not our own.

Finally, children follow what their parents do, so let’s be extra careful where we lead the next generation.

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