Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh, and the Grace of God.

Life has many twists and turns and our experiences change. The problems of life that come and go, we cannot escape trouble and pain. We all have our season of suffering and anxiety. Some of the most painful times of suffering comes from people.  Especially when we are close to people and they cause us pain and sorrow.

This happened to many saints in the Scriptures. Abraham was told by God to leave Ur of the Chaldes and go to a land which he did not have any understanding of. He obeyed and went out in faith. Later in life he was called to offer up Isaac, and his life changed dramatically, after such testing.

After Jacob wrestled with the Lord, he became a different person. Afterwards he began to walk with a limp, which was just a reminder of the fact that he had wrestled with the Lord, and he had lost.

David had terrible difficulties in his experiences, John the Baptist did not have it easy either. Jeremiah was abused by almost everyone. Paul was in desperate situations and despaired for his life.

Throughout the history of the Church millions of Gods people have been in difficult circumstances.

Paul has been defending his name as an apostle against the false teachers at Corinth. He has been giving his credentials to prove who he is. He knew about suffering, he was no tourist visiting countries, after all he had been shipwrecked, he was whipped five times with 39 lashes. He was in danger of false brethren, fought human wolves who tried to devour the Christians, He knew what it was to be three times beaten with rods and what it was to be in jail. He knew what it was to be stoned and left for dead. He knew what it was to be in a filthy prison. He knew all about physical suffering. He willing suffered for the work of Christ. The contrast between him and the false apostles could not have been clearer. They were in it for what they could get, wither money, power or sex.

He knew all about daily pressure in chapter 11, “There’s the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches.” He had emotional anguish  because of church problems. He felt the hurt of the people 11:29, “When they’re weak, I’m weak. When they’re led into sin, it becomes a fire in my heart, it burns me.”

But no suffering was as severe to him as the care of the churches. He got disappointments in the church. People rejected him and abused him. He was hurt by other Christians. They can turn on the one who loves them the most. They can misrepresent you or hate you.

The Thorn in the Flesh What is it?

Paul had his rapture experience into paradise. He know talks about a thorn in the flesh. God allowed Paul to have this pain of this terrible, terrible mess in the Corinthian church to teaching Paul some lessons.

Pauls thorn came to him after “his surpassing great revelation.” Paul had many trials and difficulties in life. He experienced the deepest pain of his life. He had physical pain, psychological pain, pain from illness, pain from enemies but some of the worst pain came from those he once thought of as friends. People caused him more pain than  physical or economic problems. Problems in life come from normal circumstances and  difficulties. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards. Pain, suffering and anxiety cannot be avoided but the worst pain often comes from the hands of people. And the closer we are to them, the more we can get hurt by them. We leave ourselves vulnerable.

The deepest pain Paul suffered  was caused by those for whom he deeply cared for the most. He loved that church greatly. He sacrificed everything to bring the gospel to them.  He nurtured them and taught them. He fought of the false teachers for them. He suffered when they lied about him and discredited him. They said he was a heretic, and the people believed them. He was devastated and depressed.

The apostle Paul answered these opponents from his own experiences. He had gone to heaven and back but did not want to talk about it, he did not like to boast but was forced to by the super-spiritual triumphalists.  Consequently he had a thorn in the flesh The church was carried away with their boasting of experiences and praised them, almost worshipped them.

He said, “I have become foolish, you yourselves compel me. Actually, I should have been commended by you for in no respect was I inferior to most eminent apostles even though I am a nobody.” Vs 11

There are many causes of suffering in life. Many we do not understand. Sometimes suffering comes when we are disobedient to the Lord.  Our own rebellion afflicts us. Sometimes suffering comes if our Lord desires to chasten us. Sin can cause suffering. Sometimes our suffering is brought about by the Lord to keep us from sinning. That’s evident in Paul’s case here. It’s caused by simple aging.  Sometimes our suffering is for education. A common misunderstanding that if we are suffering, we are surely sinning is often wrong. All suffering is traced to the fact of sin but not that we are sinning.

The health-and-wealth gospel that has become so popular to watch on the television screen. The preachers there tell us we will be healthy and wealthy if we listen to them. It is amazing how many people believe it, and send their money.  Fools and their money are easy parted.  God causes us to suffer for different reasons. Some of them are because we have been foolish and disobedient. But many are for other reasons belonging to the discipline and chastening of the Lord God. In his grace, God forgives us our sins. It’s true. But in his government, he must permit us to reap what we sew. We cannot escape suffering in the experiences of life.

Suffering does not prevent you from serving the Lord it may enhance your service. Pauls ministry took on a wider dimension because of it. The  experiences he went through can give us hope and strength. So whatever our afflictions may be, we know that God is able to use even those in affliction for our advantage nd to help others.

God And Satan in Suffering

verse 7 “And 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!” Paul is talking about his thorn. He addresses the Corinthians as a responsible, humbled man. God and Satan may be responsible for suffering. In Paul’s case he traces his suffering to the Lord God. He traces his suffering to Satan himself as well.

He received pain  because of the great revelations for this reason to keep me from exalting myself. This thorn was given as a messenger (angel) of Satan to buffet me, to keep me from exalting myself. This stopped him from the temptation of being proud and arrogant about his experience.  Otherwise he would be obnoxious and insufferable. A super-spiritual visionary claiming that God has specially ministered to him or people like him and upon no provable and credible grounds whatsoever. You cannot prove a private vision.  A person could go around boasting about their private experience and no one could argue with them. They appear to be super spiritual but  have no biblical authority for doing so.

Paul had more experiences than anybody but did not want to talk about it. God kept him humble. His personal experience would help him in ministry but it was not for sharing with others. He restrained himelf from talking about it.

The Thorn in the Flesh What is it?

“A thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.” It is a messenger of Satan. The word “messenger” in the Greek is the word angelos, from which we get the word “angel” in English. It always refers to a personal being. It is an angel , a demon, not from God but from Satan. The demon was the thorn. The Old Testament uses the term “thorn” in the Septuagint four times, three times it refers to a person.  Some person, this demon, was driving this stake right through Paul’s heart. Paul was not possessed by a demon he was under attack by demons in the false teachers who had come into Corinth under the influence of one of Satan’s angels. The demon was destroying the church, God was using to drive a stake through Paul’s otherwise proud flesh.

The lies and deception that infiltrated into Corinth about Paul were from a demonic source. “The false apostles, they are deceitful workers, they are disguising themselves as apostles of Christ and we shouldn’t be surprised, no wonder even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Some demon masquerading as an angel of light. Verse 15 adds, “They are disguised as servants of righteousness.” They come in, they say they have the truth, the light of the truth of God. They say they are the truly righteous servants of God. And the fact is, they are false and deceitful and they are just following the path that their father, the devil, has set for them, they are disguised but they are demonic. Satan’s demon was behind it all. 1 Timothy 4 Paul writing to Timothy says, “When people fall away from the faith, it’s because they pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” And then in verse 2, “Propagated through hypocritical liars,” doctrines of demons are basically the concoction of Satan and his kingdom of darkness to lie. This was the assault from hell.

 “There was given me.” It was given by God. It was the work of God, this thorn for the flesh. God designed it.  God released Satan to prove a point. He done the same with Peter in Luke 22 Jesus said, “Satan desires to have you.” Satan came to Jesus to ask for Peter to destroy his faith. Jesus told him, “Satan desires to have you.” So I’ve turned loose Satan on you that he may sift you. You still need some refining only some deep suffering will produce a stronger man. Satan was turned loose on him. The Lord but Jesus said, “When it’s over, you’re going to be able to strengthen the brethren, strength will come out of this.” God allowed Paul to have this pain of this terrible, terrible mess in the Corinthian church to teaching Paul some lesson

Vs 7 “This thing happens, to buffet me.”  To afflict me, God is allowing Paul to be tormented by a demon. Paul didn’t like it.  He prayed intensly three times it would leave him. God released Satan to prove a point. He done the same God done the same at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some think it was men who crucified him, and the Bible does say that men are responsible for the death of Christ, but the Bible also says others are responsible as well. In the Old Testament it was prophecied in psalm 22 our Lord’s crucifixion, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” In  verse 15 as the psalmist speaks either typically or in a directly predictive way of the cross of our Lord he says, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue cleaves to my jaws and thou doest lay me in the dust of death.” In other words, the death is traced to the Lord God himself ultimately.

In Isaiah 53: 10, in a clearly Messianic passage, we read, but the Lord was pleased to crush him putting him to grief. God was pleased in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the carrying out of his will by his obedient son. In the Book of Acts, the Apostle Peter clearly understands this, for in his great sermon on the day of Pentecost he states, “Men of Israel, listen to these words, Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and signs and wonders which God performed through him in your midst just as you yourselves know this man delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God. You nailed to a cross by the hands of Godless men and put him to death. So determine it counsel and foreknowledge of God but you with wicked hands have nailed him to the tree.”

Everybody was responsible for our Lords death and God took a personal hand in it Acts 4. So the death of our Lord is by the divine determination of the Lord God in heaven. The ultimate cause but it is through men who are to be responsible for their deeds.

We do not know what the thorn for the flesh was what God used. We know this, the apostle had the experience of being in paradise and then soon after he was in pain. He had the experience of ecstasy and shortly afterwards agony. Some think it was an eye problem, some say it was malaria, some say it was Hymenaeus and Alexander, other thought it was epilepsy, convulsive attacks of different kinds, others say sufferings caused by constant persecutions, attacks of depression after periods of exaltation, the agony caused by the unbelief of his Jewish brethren, the memory of his persecution of the church, add infinitum.

We do know what it was. Paul describes it as a messenger of Satan or angel. The angel of Satan is a real personal being. Its like the kind of thing that Job experienced when Satan, through his own agencies, persecuted that great patient man of the Old Testament.

This thorn, this messenger of Satan, is Gods instrumental permissive cause. God’s the one who gave the thorn in the flesh.  Satan often hindered his work and his plans, Satan was involved in this thorn for the flesh. God permitted Satan to afflict Job in 2nd chapter. Satan said you’ve been blessing him. He’s been prosperous. Everything that he does is blessed by you. Take away all of that, then we’ll see what happens to Job.

The Lord let Satan sift Job but did not let him take his life. The sheep and oxen are killed. Then thunder and lightning and the earthquakes, came and everything goes, even his whole family. And Job never once cursed the Lord. He bowed his head and worshipped, he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return there. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

Job and Paul could have said I’m a man of God why is this happening to me? I am called to be the apostle to the Gentiles. You’ve appointed me to preach the gospel to them and also to be a witness to the Nation Israel. How can I now have this vile thorn for my flesh? Paul did not like it and got down upon his knees and began to appeal to the Lord. He cried unto the Lord three times that it might depart from him. Please take it from me.  He did not enjoy the pain. He was not a masochist.

God Gives Answers

The theme of the Epistle MY Grace is Sufficient

Vs  9-10 God answered his prayer. He said, no!  But what he did was really answer it in a different way. He rejected Paul’s means of relief. Paul asked for this thorn for the flesh to be removed and leave him. But God gave him better means. God did not eliminate it but the Lord used the principle of transformation. He left the thorn but give Paul something better. That is sufficient grace to enjoy contentment in the midst of the thorn. That’s better. Because, you see, in this way he learns constantly that the Lord God’s grace is sufficient for him.

Paul was kept constantly looking to the Lord for the grace that the Lord would supply him, that the power of God would constantly be evident in the life of Paul. And individuals looking at Paul would have a constant testimony of the power and grace of God. So God’s ways are so much better than our ways.

God’s Answer He Gives Power for Weakness

verses 9 and 10, “And he has said to me Paul prayed only three times. He didn’t keep praying. He got his firm answer. God’s decision – My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. He gives grace not weakness. He doesn’t remove the torment.

Paul’s no super duper triumphalist. Weakness is the vehicle of grace. We see this demonstrated in chapter 4 :7-12 Where he says “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way…. Or the theme comes out again in chapter 6 :4-10 “..but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way; by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit , genuine love, by truthful speech, and the power of God…” God gives grace to believers. He did with Paul until he’s aware of the presence of the Lord in his circumstances. He gives grace throughout life, his grace is never withdrawn. Paul speaks here about amazing grace. God can manifest his power through his grace.  We see this greatest power in weakness at the crucifixion of Christ. In God plan of redemption there had to be weakness (crucifixion) before there was power (resurrection). This is the power Paul experienced. Christ prayed three times in his weakness and powerlessness in Gethsemane befoe his death on the cross, but was followed by the power of the resurrection. Paul understood this.

Paul reaches his highest point of faith in life and ministry. This is the summit of the epistle. Pauls weakness was he platform for Gods power. We see the grace of God beyond his weaknesses, his trials, his calling, his missions, his victories. We understand that God’s grace is sufficient for him, for power is perfected in weakness. That what he will boast in. He says. I will boast in weakness that the power of Christ may dwell upon me.

He knew that Lord was protecting him and keeping him. He said, I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses and persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake, not because I have disobeyed him, but for Christ’s sake the things I experience for Christ’s sake I’m content in those things. Because when I’m weak, then I’m strong, for Christ’s sake. Everything depends upon the recognition of the Lord God in them.

It’s not wrong to cry out to God. When suffering or tragedy strikes and we understand them, it’s not wrong to cry out to God. He may answer you with a yes, but he may answer also with a no. The Lord Jesus is the illustration. In Gethsemane he fell upon his knees and cried out, and he prayed, “O my Father if it be possible you can see the eagerness in that prayer, the earnestness of it, the crying to the Lord God”. Hebrews 5:7 he cried out “With strong crying and tears,” there is nothing wrong in crying out to the Lord.  Our Lord did it, the apostle did it, the prophets did it, the saints of God have done it down through the years. And when the no answer comes, look for God in his marvellous grace to manifest himself by a different means that he might be glorified.

Life can be confusing and at times you may need the help of a Christian psychologist. Depression can afflict Gods people.

Five primary symptoms of depression

Psalm 22

First of all sad and hopeless.  “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” This Psalm refers to the Lord Jesus Christ ultimately on Calvary’s cross. It was a sad and hopeless situation. “Why are you so far from my groanings, O my God I cry out by day and you do not answer, is because God is withdrawn, the distress that he is experiencing is the distress at best of death”. He prays in the midst of it.

Loss of energy. “My strength is dried up like a potsherd.”  This man is at the end of his wits. People who are dyeing have a lack of moisture. He did not feel like getting up or doing anything.

Loss of appetite. This is true of the extremes of misery. Dryness of tongue. He has no interest in food. Here’s a man who is dying as the psalmist describes it.

Sleep difficulties, I cry out by day and by night and am not silent. It is more than insomnia, he’s talking about death, the experiences of life.

And finally, loss of interest in pleasure. “My heart has turned to wax. It is melted away within me.” This He has lost interest in everything he’s so depressed.   The Psalmist goes on to say “Thou hast appointed me, put me to death, thou hast pierced my hands and my feet is probably the rendering.” Jesus cites the Psalm on the cross at Calvary. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The experience is about crucifixion.

Verse 21, “From the horns of the wild oxen, thou hast thou hast answered me.”  He’s telling his terrible experience and how God met him in the midst of it and answered his prayers, and then he goes on the talk about worldwide blessing to the four corners of the earth because this God is the God who cannot only answer my need.

Sometimes disease affects the mind as well as the body. People with special training can help. But we must give the word of God priority.

We all have problems and you may cry to God about your problem, you may expect him to answer your requests, and provide your needs. God says. God is sufficient for all our needs. You will have trouble in life, “Man is born unto trouble,” as Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble.” Regardless if you’re rich or poor, you have trouble. We are fallen creatures and we live in a fallen world. Sin has affected us all. We cannot escape it. We have emotional trouble, marital trouble, domestic trouble, physical trouble, economic trouble, political trouble, it is endless. But His grace is sufficient for all your needs.

Pauls Attitude

vs 10

“For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamites, For when I am weak I am strong.” He was content to suffer for Christ’s sake. It is spiritual maths “my weakness plus his strength equals his power.”  God doesn’t need our strengths, he wants our weaknesses, our suffering, our inadequacies, our disabilities our failures, then he can show us his strength. Then we can boast in our weaknesses. Christ I us the hope of glory.

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