Did Paul Really Have a Thorn in His Flesh?

Did Paul Really Have a Thorn in His Flesh?

James R. Aist

Introduction

Speculation abounds concerning what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) actually was. Could it have been a literal thorn in his physical body, or a kind of demon that followed him around, or a person who doggedly opposed his ministry, or, perhaps, some sort of physical handicap, or none of the above, or something else entirely? At the end of this article I will provide links to a couple of online articles that will go much further into this specific question than I care to, if you want to go there. What I want to focus on here is the specific points of solid information that Paul, himself, provides in his letter concerning his “thorn in the flesh” and then to emphasize and elaborate briefly on the points that Paul was actually making, in the context of this entire passage. It’s important that we do not get so carried away with speculation about what his “thorn in the flesh” was that we lose sight of why Paul shared this personal experience with us in the first place. But first, let’s consider the basic nature of the phrase itself, to get us off on a proper footing.

What Is the Nature of the Phrase “Thorn in the Flesh”

Let’s begin by considering what a ‘colloquialism” is: it is a word, phrase, or expression characteristic of ordinary or familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing, such as “She’s out” meaning “She is not at home.” “Thorn in the flesh”, then, is a colloquialism used to describe a chronic infirmity, annoyance, or trouble in one’s life. We can get the impression that Paul’s use of the phrase was also colloquial by consulting several Old Testament passages that use a similar phrase to refer to people who were, or would be, an annoyance or hindrance to the Israelites (Numbers 33:55; Joshua 23:13; Ezekiel 2:6; and Ezekiel 28:24). These people were enemies alright, but they were not literal thorns and they were not in the literal flesh of the Israelites! Thus, Paul’s use of the phrase “thorn in the flesh” is not to be understood to refer to a literal thorn or splinter residing in Paul’s physical body. But it does refer to some sort of chronic annoyance or hindrance in Paul’s life.

What Paul Actually Said about His “Thorn in the Flesh”

Here is the passage presented in its entirety, so that we can refer more easily to the relevant points that Paul makes:

“I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Now, so that we can quickly move on to the really important messages that Paul has for us, I’m simply going to enumerate what Paul said about his “thorn in the flesh”:

  • It was given to him to keep him from becoming conceited because of the surpassingly great revelations that he had received from God.
  • It was a “messenger of Satan”.
  • It tormented him.
  • Paul repeatedly asked God to remove it, to no avail.
  • Instead of removing it, God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

And that’s all we really know about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” per se. So, let’s leave it at that and move on.

Paul’s Message to Us

Again, allow me to simply enumerate what Paul has for us here, with brief commentaries, so as to let his message points speak clearly to us:

  • It was OK for Paul to ask that this “thorn in the flesh” be taken from him, as God did not admonish Paul for asking. Therefore, we, too, will not be asking amiss if we do the same, if and when we find ourselves in a similar situation.
  • God had a blessing for Paul located, if you will, in the midst of his torment. In the same way, God may embed a blessing for us in the midst of a troublesome or painful situation or experience that He allows us to endure. We would do well to look for the blessing.
  • The “thorn in the flesh” kept Paul from becoming conceited. Likewise, God will probably not hesitate to humble us, if and when we need it. If that happens to us, just remember to trust that God has a good reason for doing it, and don’t get discouraged.
  • When Paul realized that God had a good reason for answering his prayer with a resounding “No”, he learned to rejoice in his dependency on God’s provision of strength and power, rather than to overestimate his own abilities and risk coming up short when put to the test. We can, and should, learn the same lesson by simply meditating on Paul’s account of his “thorn in the flesh.” Just maybe we won’t need a messenger of Satan to torment us!

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

Related links:

What was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh? At, “Truth or Tradition?” (click HERE).

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh. Andrew Wommack Ministries. (click HERE).

 

Abortion: Finding Forgiveness and Perfect Peace

Asking For ForgivenessAbortion: Finding Forgiveness and Perfect Peace

 James R. Aist

Introduction

Abortion is, first and foremost, a sin against the God of the Bible (see “Abortion: A Biblical Perspective” by clicking HERE). So, forgiveness and peace will come only through and from Him. If you realize that your decision to have an abortion was a mistake and you are feeling tormented by guilt and shame because of it, here’s how you can receive God’s forgiveness and find perfect and lasting peace.

Let God Save You

  • Repent (turn away from your sins): “The Lord … is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
  • Believe and Trust in Jesus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • Accept His Forgiveness: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
  • Receive the Peace of Christ: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Moving On

Its important for you to keep in mind that there is no sin that is so big and so bad that God will not forgive it. In fact, God wants to forgive you and bring you peace. He has made this promise to you: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). He is “faithful” to forgive you because He has promised to do so, and God does not lie or break His promises (Numbers 23:19); He is “just” to forgive you because Jesus paid the full price for your sins when He suffered and died for them, in your place, and, therefore, it would be unjust of Him to not forgive you! And He doesn’t stop there. He will also cleanse you from the stain of your sin and of the guilt and shame associated with it; God will separate your sins from you “as far as the East is from the West” (Psalm 103:12), and he will not keep bringing it up and holding it against you (Isaiah 43:25). You have God’s word on it (Numbers 23:19), so take Him at His word, receive His forgiveness and move on with the peace of Christ. God has a wonderful plan for your life, a plan to bless you and not harm you, a plan to prosper you and make you a blessing to others. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7.

(For more articles on ABORTION, click HERE)