Paul was one of God’s most faithful servants. Why would God allow something so difficult in his life that Paul called it “a thorn in the flesh”? Could the reasons be the same reasons He allows “thorns” in our lives? If so, we would do well to better understand them.
Isaiah 33 & 34
2 Corinthians 12.1-21
5 Reasons God Allows Those Thorns in Our Lives
2 Corinthians 12.1-21:
My Grace is Sufficient
Here in chapter 12 Paul talks of being taken up to the “third heaven” either literally or in a vision (vss. 1-4). The things God spoke to him there were so incredible, that he was given a “thorn in the flesh” to help him keep his feet on the ground and remember that it was all about God and that he was just a vessel.
But were there other reasons for Paul’s thorn? Could they be the same reasons God allows “thorns” in our lives, too? Verses 7-10:
7 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. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
5 Reasons God Allows Thorns in Believers Lives:
1. To reveal our spiritual maturity (or lack of; vss. 5-6).
Nothing tests our character or helps us grow in spiritual maturity like tests and trials (Jas. 1.2-5). It’s easy to claim faith in God and change in us when life is easy, but when our faith is tested, we may find there are areas where we’re trusting in something other than Christ.
2. To humble us (v. 7).
None of us is immune to pride. Pride is not something Paul was tempted with or maybe you are, but not me. Pride is something with which we all struggle. It’s just a matter of how and where it shows up. Tests and trials keeps us real with ourselves.
3. To draw us to Himself (v. 8).
Paul “pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from [him].” It’s easy to get lackadaisical about our time with the Lord when things are going well, but when times get tough, believers run to their Father.
4. To display His grace (v. 9a).
When we bring our troubles to the Lord, we want Him to simply remove them. Paul did, too. But often, God’s answer is to give us the grace to walk through them, instead. He teaches us to apply His Word to specific situations and grows us in faith and trust in Him. Through it all, God does what only He can do, especially in us.
5. To perfect His power (v. 9b).
When we see our own weakness and cry out to Him, God’s power can work in and through us in amazing ways. Suffering and hardship remove the dross of self-sufficiency, selfishness, and pride and make us pure channels for God’s power.
When I Am Weak
When Paul recognized God’s purpose in his trials, he could proclaim, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
If we stay focused on how much we dislike the trial or get into self-pity and a why-me attitude, we miss what God wants to do in and through us. But when we surrender our pain and suffering to Him, admit our weakness, and rely on His strength and wisdom, He does great things.
Just a note about verse 4: Paul said when he was taken up into heaven, he heard, “inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” If the great Apostle was not permitted to share what he saw of heaven, it certainly should make us question the claims of those who say they did and have come back to tell us all about it.
Whether it’s our own experiences or those of others, we always need to filter them through the lens of Scripture.
Today’s Other Readings:
Isaiah 33 & 34:
God’s Provision for the Faithful
Chapter 33.15-16 says:
15 He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
He who despises the gain of oppressions,
Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes,
Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed,
And shuts his eyes from seeing evil.
16 He will dwell on high;
His place of defense will be the fortress of rocks;
Bread will be given him,
His water will be sure.
Once again we see that in the midst of God’s judgment, He makes provision for those who remain faithful.
But I couldn’t help noticing the two phrases in verse 15, “who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed” and “…shuts his eyes from seeing evil.” I don’t believe that means we shut our eyes and ears to the reality of evil and the need to know what is going on in our country and the world. But it seems to me it would apply to seeing and hearing those things for entertainment or enjoyment. Perhaps each of us should consider what it means in respect to our movie, TV, and video game habits. I’d love your thoughts.
Responding to Those Who Hurt Us
Verse 4, “In return for my love they are my accusers, but I give myself to prayer.”
In this life we will experience troubles and persecution. But we are not to give up (Lk. 18.1), turn bitter (Heb. 12.15), or return evil for evil (Rom. 12.17). Instead, we are to pray even for those who hurt or reject us!
A Righteous Man Who Falters
Verse 26, “A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well.”
We are to be light shining out into a dark world (Phil. 2.15). That means we are to live and act differently from the rest of the world. If we act like unbelievers, it’s often all the excuse they need to reject the only thing we have to offer—the gospel.
In the next few days the test of genuine faith, what it means to be a legalist, how we’re not only saved by grace, but kept by God’s grace and more.
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