I miss my old Bible study group. 😦 I had the privilege of being a part of that group for almost 5 years. I miss the teacher, and I miss the ladies. We were able to just be real, and you have no idea how refreshing that is when your flesh tells you to hide. I’ll never forget the day we talked about the “thorn in the flesh.” I even remember where I was sitting.
Many people have discussed what Paul meant by the “thorn in my flesh” (from 2 Corinthians 12:7), and the consensus is that no one really knows what his “thorn” was exactly. It’s rather fitting for God to have left that detail out so that perhaps all of us could relate to this “thorn” idea. We know one thing for sure: the thorn was meant to humble him.
If you read the chapter before his thorn confession, it gives some insight into Paul’s dilemma. He is combating the false apostles that have crept into the Corinthian church who have been claiming (or rather boasting) to preach the gospel without charge like Paul had been doing (but without the boasting part). He writes:
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Corinthians 11:22-30
It’s actually quite humorous in parts. I’m talking like a madman! mwahahaha… (*cue music*) “I can do anything you can do better, I can do anything better than you!” Seriously though. He’s got quite a few things to be proud of yet also to be honest about. He got real with us in this section, just like those ladies in my Bible study group. I think we could safely assume that Paul, being a Pharisee, was probably also steeped in legalism and likely struggled with this after his conversion at times. I can relate to this. Somehow it’s comforting to think that he didn’t always get it right. So for him to admit weakness in any area must have been a HUGE breakthrough for him (just like it would be for any perfectionist). He continues on in the next chapter:
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.8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 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 Corinthians 12:7-10
That is such a nice passage to memorize, and it sounds really good, but it sure is hard to actually do!
In my small group recently we read through Philippians 2:5-11, quite the hefty theological passage. I highly recommend it. 🙂 We see the example of Christ as One who was completely humble, to the point of a criminal’s death (with a ton of thorns stuck into His head, I might add), and because of His work on the cross, God highly exalted Him above everyone and everything. I just can’t get this out of my mind. God exalts the humble. (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6)
My husband raised the question, “is God humble? Is humility actually a godly trait?” Well, after we thought about it, we realized God doesn’t need to be humble. But He isn’t proud either. Humility is just not a quality that God needs to have because, frankly, He’s God and deserves all praise and glory. So although He isn’t humble, He does esteem the humble (Isaiah 66:2). He looks on them with favor. That was definitely true of Christ in our Philippians passage, and it seems true of anyone else who humbles herself.
It begs the question – why? Why is humility such a big deal to God? Isaiah 2:17 gives us a clue:
And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
Will the clay say to the Potter, why did you make me? Will the clay actually try to take from the glory of the Almighty? Do we really do this? Unfortunately we do – alllll the time.
But when we acknowledge our weakness, it is truly a thing of beauty to the Father. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Catechism Question 1!). He delights in us coming to Him, fully acknowledging our need for Him. Ironically when we humble ourselves before God, He lifts us up (He’s the One doing the lifting up, not us, and there’s the key). Just like Paul said, when we are weak, then we are strong. It makes absolutely no sense! But there you see the blessing of the thorn.
If any of you have a “thorn”, you may be like me and have a love-hate relationship with it. For without it, you know that you wouldn’t be all God desires for you to be. But because you have it, you get frustrated that it won’t go away. You just wish you could be done with this problem and find yourself on the other side of it, more sanctified and not struggling in the way you do now. You can’t find tweezers large enough or pointy enough to dig it out yourself. You, like Paul, ask God to take it away, but there it remains, doing it’s work to humble you. Arg. and Yay.
In the end, I truly don’t want people to look at my life and say, “Wow, she was one amazing woman, wife, mother, teacher, etc.” I’d much rather them say, “Wow, her God is truly amazing. Look what He did in her life. If He can do that kind of a miracle, surely He deserves all praise and glory. I want to follow Him.” And at that point, I’ll thank God for the thorn and hear Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”