July 24, 2019

The Thorn, 1

By: Larry Shaffer

With my long-time friends, Joe and Scott, in Sea Island, GA for a golf weekend.

My next three posts will cover the suffering of the apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh. How is it similar to Job? How is it different?

The Thorn, 1 

2 Corinthians 12 

Following the description of Paul’s visit to heaven and hearing the direct words of Christ, (from our last devotion), Paul introduces the ‘thorn in the flesh’.  Put your seat belt on! Verse 7 says 

“because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-to keep me from exalting myself!”  

Just like Job, Satan was the tormentor of Paul but God was the ultimate cause of these trials and difficulties. Are you uncomfortable with describing God as the “cause” of Paul’s thorn in the flesh? Then consider the phrase that Paul uses to describe the purpose of the trial; ‘to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in my flesh…’  

Did Satan inflict this trial to make Paul a better person? Of course not. But God did. Paul is ascribing to God, as the Sovereign One, as the “ultimate cause” of this pain and as the “giver” of the thorn, and Satan as the “direct cause.”  

It’s difficult to believe that God, in certain ways and at certain times, causes us pain and trials to teach us, humble us and grow us spiritually. Sometimes the source of God’s purpose is for discipline to correct us. Other times, such as the thorn in the flesh, it’s preventive, (“to keep me from exalting myself”). Nevertheless, God has a higher purpose for us on earth than to always make us comfortable and without pain.

When things are good, we feel like proclaiming “God is good.” When trials come, we go through a host of emotions but rarely do we immediately feel like saying “God is good.” We usually have to go through feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, anguish, etc. before we move toward being prayerful, reflective, and thankful.  

I’ve been through some severe trials and one thing I know for sure; I hate trials and difficulties, whether physical pain or emotional.  I hate them. I don’t welcome them. I don’t cherish them. I don’t ask for them. I despise them. I sometimes live in fear that there may be more trials right around the corner. I pray that God would keep me from trials. I long to be happy, free from pain, at peace with others and enjoy the security and safety of my loved ones. I long for it.  

I even negotiate with God that if I promise to focus my efforts on spiritual growth through positive means such as Bible study, prayers, fellowship accountability, giving and serving…then he won’t give me more trials in my life. Am I the only who does that?  

There’s much I can learn from Paul in this passage.

How did Paul respond to this intense trial? Well, of course he hated it too. He asked that it be removed. But he learned quickly what the purpose was and even embraced the positive outcome. I’ll dig into this deeper next time 

Lord, dealing with this topic of trials is not easy for me. I would rather skip over it. So, there must be much you want to teach us. Help me let go of my fear and embrace You and all that You want to do with me and my life. I long to learn from You without pain and trials but nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done. Your grace is always sufficient in all my weaknesses! Amen!