What did Paul mean by a thorn in my flesh? I know this is a very common verse and one of the most misused texts in the Scripture. So, this is what the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.
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“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.”
Remember, it’s not the devil who placed the thorn in his flesh, it is God who allowed it to be there in his flesh. And I believe this was not just a literal thorn. It had a meaning.
And that’s why we are going to explore the meaning today. Paul went to the third heaven. That is what he wrote. So, because he had so much revelation about heaven, about God, there is that human inclination for him to want to boast about it, be proud about it.
God allowed this thorn to torment him for a certain period of time. And when he prayed about it, the Lord said, Paul, Paul, my servant, my grace is sufficient for you. And if you’re reading this, God’s grace is sufficient for you.
What did the thorn mentioned by Paul symbolize?
What did Paul mean by a thorn in his flesh? Many Christians are using this text to justify their sin. Presently, some of us think that Paul had an addiction.
Some think maybe Paul had an issue with women because we know at this time he was single. Maybe he had an issue with his eyes, maybe lust. But trust me, it’s none of those things. The enemy wants you to believe it’s that, but it’s none of those things.
Paul had no issue with his flesh. Remember, Paul is the same guy who wrote and said that “I subdue my flesh every day”. Again, the same Paul wrote in Hebrews 10:26-27 that “if we sin deliberately, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin, but a fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries.”
And who is the adversary? The enemy and those who will follow him? Those who are rebellious to God. Those who have rejected Christ. So why would the same Paul who is writing the same text be struggling with sin?
Of course, he was not struggling with an addiction, and we know that is a lie. Paul had no issue with alcohol, had no issue with porn, and had no issue with women. He had no issue with any of those things.
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So as Christians, we should not use this to justify our sin. You may hear a brother saying, “I’m like Paul, I have a thorn in my flesh, something that keeps me humble every time.” And when you listen to the brother, he’s talking about masturbation.
Paul was not struggling with sin. In fact, Paul’s troubles were caused by men. And that’s why he was praying to God that He may take away the burden that men were putting on his shoulders, the burden that men were causing him to be persecuted every now and then.
We can see this in the previous chapter. That is chapter eleven of 2 Corinthians, where Paul talks about how he suffered. He was shipwrecked, he went angry, and he was stoned to death. He was bitten by the Jewish people, he was persecuted. And so many things happened to him at the hands of men.
He was bitten by a snake because of the rebellion of the Roman soldiers. They never listened to him. He had warned them not to depart at that time because the weather was not favorable. But the guys never listened. And as a consequence, they ended up having a shipwreck, ending up on a strange island where he was bitten by a snake.
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Persecution is a thorn in the flesh
All these things were caused by the troubles of the people who surrounded him. And that’s why he’s praying to God, that God may in some way spare him of this, the same way Jesus prayed that God may take away the cup of His wrath from me.
Whenever he went, people just created trouble for him for no reason.
So please stop justifying your sin, repent of your sin, and God is merciful and will forgive you. This is what Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27
“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 11:24-27
You see, if you really understand what Paul is talking about, all those troubles were caused by other people. In fact, he says he received the greatest persecution from his brethren.
Hardship through the hands of his brethren, the Jewish. He was so zealous to preach to the Jewish people. But these guys never listen to him because his mission was not to the Jewish, it was to the Gentiles. But when he went to the Gentiles, oh, my God, it was even worse. It was amplified. I mean, the sorrows were amplified. These guys tried to stone him.
In fact, they stoned him to death. They never listened to him. They never obeyed him. And Paul suffered so much. He says he suffered in the city, he suffered even in the wilderness. He thought maybe he could run and hide in the wilderness, but even in the wilderness he suffered through the hands of brethren, the people he tried to preach the gospel to.
Maybe some of you are in the ministry or maybe some of you are trying to make it in life and almost all your troubles, and you are very sure of this, are always caused by people at your working place. They lie about you; they gossip about you. They create an environment that is almost unconducive for you to operate, stressing you.
This is the same thing that Paul is experiencing. The people he was surrounded the people every place he went. They try to persecute him they try to create an unconducive environment for him and this may be true for you but remember what the Lord said to Paul my grace is sufficient for you.
Personally, I’ve been in almost such circumstances. You might have been in places where people persecute you for no reason, denying you leadership positions. People gossip about you behind your back for no good reason.
You find it so difficult to even interact with people. You want to reach out to them, but they’re making it impossible for you to do so. May God have mercy.
May God grant you the grace to live in peace. It’s not easy as it was not easy for Paul, I know it’s not easy for you. But the grace of God is sufficient for his power is made perfect in our weakness.
So, don’t look at your weakness, focus on the power of God. Nothing can change God. We are men. We can be discouraged. But God cannot be discouraged. Paul said that the Word of God cannot be caged. They can try to do all sorts of things to discourage you from speaking it out, but the Word of God can never be caged.