Wednesday, 30 December 2015
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 2 Corinthians 12:7
In the Bible, there are certain verses which come with incredibly long and detailed commentaries by scholars. This is one of them. The words of Paul here have meaning and they convey his thoughts as he attempts to explain his infirmities; the very things in which he feels boasting is acceptable. Because of this, scholars really want to know what he is talking about.
He begins with, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations.” These are the things he spoke of in verses 1-4. These revelations were the kinds of things that could then make him to appear to be “the man in God’s favor.”
It cannot be denied that anyone who claims to have had heavenly visions is normally either elevated to an unhealthy level, or is disregarded as insane. If the visions are believed, it means that those who believe the person are willing to accept that they have participated in something divine. If this is so, then they are marked as special and worthy of listening to. It is, unfortunately, this type of thing that has led to the formation of many cults throughout the church-age.
In order that this wouldn’t happen with Paul, because his visions were really true, “a thorn in the flesh” was given to him. What does this have to do with his revelations? This thorn is the very thing that will be used to show that Paul is just a man with human limitations. By having such limitations on prominent display, it would take the eyes of his audience off of the sensational elements of his life and keep them on the reality of his troubled human nature.
This “thorn” is described as “a messenger of Satan” that was used to “buffet” him. Just as Satan was allowed to afflict Job, so he is allowed to afflict any of God’s people by the approval of God. However, though Satan may think that he is accomplishing evil, God will always use such trials for good. We normally see these things from our perspective – “Ouch this hurts; it must be evil,” or “What a terrible situation, my heart is broken. Why has God allowed this evil in my life?” However, if we could just step out of ourselves and see the entire picture, we would then understand the greater plan. Job’s afflictions, Paul’s thorn, our own trials, heartaches, and losses – all of these things – are being used to serve God’s ultimately good plan for His people.
For Paul, there was a good reason for his thorn. According to him, it was “lest I be exalted above measure.” He understood the exact reason for the thorn. This doesn’t mean that the thorn wasn’t painful, but that he could endure having it because he knew it was serving a greater purpose. As we will see in the coming verses, he truly wanted it to be taken from him, but the Lord refused his request. And He refused for a most important reason.
The question that scholars debate concerning this “thorn” is, “What is it?” A wide variety of possibilities have been submitted as to what it is. Some believe it was a moral deficiency, such as the temptation of women or the like. Others have named various physical afflictions that it could have been. Without Paul naming it, we can only speculate. However, speculation is not to be rejected outright. There are possible clues to what it could be which are found in Acts and in His epistles.
One sound speculation, although impossible to be adamant about, is that it could be failing eyesight. When writing to those in Galatia, he said to them that at one point they would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him (4:15). In Acts, when Paul was standing in the presence of the high priest, he claims to have not known that it was him (Acts 23:5). Elsewhere in Acts, Paul’s set, fixed gaze is noted. This could be because of failing eyesight (Acts 13:9). When writing to those in Galatia, he told them, “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!” (6:11). This could be a sign of failing eyesight. He is noted to have written this way in all of his letters (2 Thessalonians 3:17). Also from Acts it can be implied in several passages that Paul was conducted by others in his journeying. Some of the accounts seem to imply that he was simply unable to conduct himself for some reason. Failing eyesight would be a good reason. Finally, according to the Pulpit Commentary, the word for “buffet” “is derived from kolaphos, a slap on the face, and would be suitable to such a disfigurement as ophthalmia.”
In the end, we can only guess at what Paul’s affliction was. And this is for good reason. If his affliction was named, it could only then be applied as a life example to those who had the same condition. Truly, only they could fully empathize with Paul’s ordeal. But without naming the affliction, it allows for a common empathy by all people who suffer with their own burden, whatever it may be. We can look to our infirmity and be content that God has allowed it into our life, just as he allowed some type of unknown infirmity into Paul’s life too.
Life application: If you have a “thorn” in the flesh – be it moral or physical – be content that God has allowed it into your life in order to bring Him glory. In the end, He has determined that it was necessary for your life to come out exactly as He intends.
Glorious God Almighty, each of us may suffer with some type of thorn in our flesh. It may be temporary, or it may be permanent. It may be a moral failure that we need to keep in check, or it may be a physical limitation that hinders us. But it has been allowed by You to frame who we are. As You have allowed it into our lives, You have granted it so that we will be shaped in the way that You see fit. How then can we complain about what You have determined is best for us? Instead, let us rejoice in such limitations or afflictions, knowing that Your plan and purpose is a long-term one which is meant for the very best in us. Thank You for this assurance. Amen.