These Earthly Thorns2 Corinthians 12:1-10Theme: Common Suffering.This week’s lessons teach us that God’s grace is all we need to get through life’s hardships. LessonLast week we studied the second half of 2 Corinthians 11, in which the Apostle Paul boasts of his sufferings. He did so reluctantly but comprehensively in order to defend his apostleship with the Corinthians, which was, at the same time, a defense of the Gospel. It was because of his concern for them and his concern for the Gospel that he did what was obviously distasteful to him.
Many of those things about which the Apostle Paul was able to boast do not apply to us. But in some of his sufferings, we can find some point of contact. If we are working hard for the Lord, we can say that we have labored somewhat as Paul did. If we have a concern for the churches through various responsibilities, we can say, to some extent, that we also face daily the pressure of these concerns for the church. But when we look down this long list of what Paul endured – his persecutions, his dangers, his deliverances – we have to admit that much of that just does not apply to us. These are things that the Apostle Paul lived through, a standard that he set in his ministry, which most of us barely or never attain.
When we come to chapter 12, we come to quite a different topic. There is a portion of this chapter that we cannot identity with. It has to do with special revelations that Paul received. Paul mentioned those special revelations in order to bring before the Corinthians this matter of the thorn in his flesh. And with this, certainly all of us can identify in some way or another.
Any Christian can find something in his background or experience that gives him a point of contact here with Paul, something that seems to us to be a hindrance, or to be harmful, or embarrassing. It might perhaps be an expression of our weakness that we want God to remove. And yet, it has been our experience, as it was for the Apostle Paul, that God – for his own reasons – simply has not removed it.
For some people a thorn in the flesh is an illness. That was the case with a member of my church, a missionary who spent a number of years in New Guinea in Bible translation work. He got hepatitis on the mission field – a very debilitating kind of disease – and had to come home. He tried to recuperate and intended to return, but was never quite able to get his health back up to the point where he could go back out again. I am sure that he prayed many times that God would remove that particular thorn, yet God did not see fit to do it.
Some of us are limited by loneliness. We think that we would be richer, fuller, happier Christians if somehow God would overcome the lonely state in which we find ourselves. And yet, God does not change our circumstances.
Sometimes the thorn may be failure. We tackle a particular task. We try to do the best we can, but we fail at it, and we say, “God, that is not honoring to you to have me fail. Certainly it would glorify your name more if you would overcome the failure, if you would produce victory and success in my life.” And yet, God does not do that and we wonder why.
I think we can all identify in some measure with the Apostle Paul when he speaks about this thorn in the flesh, whatever it may be. What I’m hoping is that you may also be able to identify with the Apostle Paul’s reaction to it. Paul had prayed for deliverance from his thorn, and God had answered saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). We find Paul’s response in the same verse: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Paul accepted that which was not changeable in this case, and received it as being from God and for the glory of God, and used it that way.
What are some of the common “thorns” Christians experience?
How did Paul choose to handle his particular thorn?
How did God answer Paul’s prayer for deliverance?
ReflectionHow do you handle your particular thorn or thorns? Have you responded as Paul did or do you fight against God’s ordering your affairs?