A specific thorn in the flesh is often associated with a great blessing from the hand of God. It is often associated with a special power and revelation from the hand of God. In 2 Corinthians 12, the scripture reveals that Paul was given an incredible revelation from God that not many people could comprehend. Paul tells us that because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, God permitted Satan to give him a thorn in the flesh so to prevent him from becoming conceited.
The use of the word ‘thorn in the flesh’ in this passage is a figure of speech. The word ‘thorn’ can be referred to as a splinter – it’s so sharp and painful when it pierces, and the word ‘flesh’ may be referred to as the physical body, or the unregenerated part of the person. When the apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to take away the thorn in his flesh. God told him simply that:
This may sound like a contradiction. How can strength be made perfect in weakness? I believe what God was saying to Paul is this, “Focus on My Grace, and the power of My Grace, it will make your weakness look like strength. Focus on My security, not your insecurities. Focus on my limitless power, not your limitations.” God’s power operates at its best in our weakness, not in our strength. If we’re too strong in ourselves, the LORD can’t use us. That’s what ruined King Uzziah, “for he was greatly helped until he became powerful” (2 Chron. 26:15).
I think it is fair to say Paul impacted the church of Jesus Christ more than any other person. Very few people impacted the church of Jesus Christ like the apostle Paul. And yet, the apostle Paul, a great man of strength and courage who lived his life shinning for Jesus Christ could tell the Corinthians that “I will gladly boast of my weaknesses.”
Men particularly are not very good at admitting weaknesses. Every one of us has weaknesses, weaknesses that cause us some pain or loss of joy. There are some people who have physical weaknesses, some have moral weaknesses, some have a character flaw, some have a problem of spiritual discipline. I have to confess that I am weak in every area of life because I’ve learnt from the life of the apostle Paul that it is only when I’m weak do I really know the strength of God. Like the apostle Paul, we ought to boast all the more gladly about our weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on us, for God’s Grace is more than sufficient for us.
The Holy Spirit who authored the Bible deliberately did not lead the apostle Paul to tell us what his thorn in the flesh is. Why? So that every one of us who experience whatever thorn that we may experience may be able to identify with the apostle Paul; whether it be physical pain, relational pain, emotional pain, financial problem, or personal problem…
Isaac Watts spent most of his life afflicted by illnesses. Illnesses which made it difficult for him to engage even in the most mundane social interaction. As an adult, he was no more than 5ft tall. He was considered by most people to be profoundly unattractive in appearance. His only opportunity for wedded companionship evaporated when the woman who fell in love with him through correspondence turned down his marriage proposal (as soon as she saw him). And yet, out of the pain of the many storms in his life came well over 600 hymns to the glory and to the faithfulness of God. Some of his famously known hymns: When I survey the wondrous cross, O God our help in ages past, and Joy to the world…
Often physical limitation can be used by God in a powerful way. Fanny Crosby tragically lost her eyesight just weeks after she was born. Nonetheless, she grew up an active and happy child. When she was 8 years old, she wrote a rhyme that went something like this:
“Oh, what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see, I am resolved that in this world contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy, that other people don’t;
To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot, and I won’t!”
She wrote thousands of wonderful hymns of the faith we sing (including my favourites – Pass me not & Blessed assurance). Isn’t that incredible? She lived to be 94 and she lived the most joyful life and blessed millions with her songs because her spiritual eyes were open and that’s all that matters.
Blindness is not always physical blindness. In fact, real blindness is spiritual blindness, not the physical one. Real blindness is the blindness of the heart. You might be the most beautiful woman in the world, you might be the strongest athlete in the world, you might be the most intellectual genius in the whole world, and yet the Bible says your eternal spiritual eyes are blind (2 Corinthians 4:4). The Lord Jesus alone can open the spiritual eyes, He and He alone can open the eyes of our heart. Will you ask Him to?
In a more complete and literal way, the Lord Jesus Christ, the man of many sorrows, experienced the pain of the thorn in his flesh. Physically, he felt the indescribable pain of the sharp splinters from the piercing of the crown full of thorns that he wore, and from the nails that were pierced to his hands and feet while he hung, bled and died in darkness on a tree. However, I’m convinced that the pain of the separation from his Heavenly Father pierced his heart far deeper than the pain of the humiliation, betrayal, and torture he endured at Calvary. And yet through it all, he could say to those persecuting him:
“Father please forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34
Before going to the Cross, he fervently prayed to His Father in great agony at the Garden of Gethsemane, crying out (Luke 22:42), “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours, be done.” But still, He drank that bitter cup full of poison anyway because His only will and desire is always to do the will of His Father wholeheartedly. There’s no better gospel, there is no other gospel but the one gospel – Jesus Christ died in our place to bring us to God.
My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him who walks beside;
Who floods my weaknesses with strength
And causes fears to fly;
Whose every promise is enough
For every step I take,
Sustaining me with arms of love
And crowning me with grace.