Trial of Paul

(2 Cor 12:7-10 NIV)  To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. {8} Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. {9} 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. {10} 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.

Paul, a man with many visions and supernatural experiences, was well as gifted in the Spirit, had a thorn in the flesh to prevent him from being too proud. If you are good in everything you do, it is difficult to be humble. Sometimes God will allow one “thorn” in your flesh – something that will make you humble.

Another purpose for the thorn could be to make us more useful. Paul declares that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” When we are strong, we rely on our own strength but when we are weak, we have no choice but to depend on God’s strength. And God’s strength is so much greater than our own. It can make us much more useful and productive in everything we do.

Paul’s thorn in the flesh could be in the form of someone who opposes his ministry violently. Even today, it is not uncommon to speak of our opponents as a thorn on our side. In fact, Paul mentions that there is one such person by the name of Alexander that did him much damage.

(2 Tim 4:14 NIV)  Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.

Another explanation of this “thorn” is a temptation that disturbs Paul. We remember him in the letter to the Romans how he wrote about his struggles with sin.

(Rom 7:18-24 NIV)  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. {19} For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. {20} Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. {21} So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. {22} For in my inner being I delight in God's law; {23} but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. {24} What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Another “theory” of what this thorn might be in a physical ailment. We recall that Paul had been beaten and scourged many times, which would explain his poor physical condition. It also could be other forms of ailments. Physical sickness would explain why Paul never travels alone or why he travelled with Luke, who was a physician.

Bible scholars have discussed for decades but no one really knows for sure what this thorn in the flesh is. Perhaps God wants it to remain generic so that anyone can relate to Paul’s thorn as his own.

Paul never let his thorn embitter him, turn him back from his work, discourage him or make him doubt the goodness of God. We can learn much from his example.

(Rom 5:3-4 NIV)  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; {4} perseverance, character; and character, hope.