“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:7-10 ESV).
Shortly before writing this, the apostle Paul described a time when he was “caught up to the third heaven” (v. 2) and “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (v. 4). Now, in response to those revelations, Paul talks about a thorn that keeps him humble and dependent on Christ. And that’s what I want to write about today.
I’ve often wondered what that thorn was. A sickness? A temptation? A physical pain?
Charles Spurgeon writes, “I generally find that each expositor selected that particular thorn which had pierced his own bosom.”
When I read this passage, I see my own thorn. I see something in my life that harasses me, attempts to overtake me, tries to discourage me, and attempts to make me lose hope.
But this passage doesn’t end in hopelessness.
The Bible clearly states the reason for Paul’s thorn. It’s there to keep him humble before God. After all, God hates pride. The Bible says, “‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6 ESV). How does your thorn keep you humble before God? The Lord can do more through a broken and desperate heart than we often realize.
The apostle Paul pleads with God to remove his thorn. He longs for God to set him free from whatever is troubling him. The Bible says that Paul pleads “three times,” indicating to us that he prays multiple times. But God doesn’t remove his thorn.
Maybe you can relate. You’ve asked God to heal you. To set you free from a certain temptation. To take the pain away. To deliver you from a messenger of Satan who continually harasses you.
After all, the Bible says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12 ESV).
The battle is real. And similar to the story of Job, it’s not that God is harassing us himself. The Bible clearly says that God tempts no one (see James 1:13). Rather, our temptations and pains come from Satan who torments us under God’s sovereignty.
And this might be hard for us to understand. I’m sure it was hard for the apostle Paul to understand why God didn’t remove his thorn. But the beauty of what Paul says next is why we find hope rather than hopelessness through this passage.
“But he [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (v. 9 ESV).
Just as the grace of God was sufficient for Paul, it’s enough for us. But how easy it is to forget. Again, Spurgeon writes, “It is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future, but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith. Believer, it is now that grace is sufficient: even at this moment it is enough for thee.”
Indeed, in our weakness, He is strong. After all, Christ also endured thorns. A crown of thorns. As He died for our every sin on a cross.
Paul ends this passage with hope. Not only hope. But hope in Christ. The Lord and Savior of our lives who is strong in our weakness. Who, through His blood on the cross, is enough for our every flaw. And who continues to provide grace upon grace as we draw daily from His Word. Even when the thorn feels hopeless.