Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh

Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living | 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…” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians known as 2 Corinthians in the New Testament is called “the heart of Paul.” In this letter Paul opens his heart and shares something of the frustration and turmoil that this great man endured. He tells how his life was made miserable by an affliction‑‑probably a physical handicap‑‑‑which he described as a “thorn in the flesh,” a messenger from Satan that buffeted his life.

No one knows, for certain, what that affliction was. Migraine headaches, eye trouble, malaria, even epilepsy have all been suggested. Dr. David Van Reken, a medical doctor, believes that Paul’s thorn was an ophthalmic condition, producing near blindness, caused, perhaps, by the intensely bright light that arrested Paul on the road to Damascus.

Writing to the Galatians Paul commented, “See what large letters I use as I write to you…” perhaps because he was nearly blind. Earlier he had written, “…You would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” had that been possible (see Galatians 6:11, and 4:15).

Had Paul told us exactly what his thorn was, scores of us, perhaps you included, would have been deprived of a great truth because we would reason, “My thorn is different from Paul’s.” But this way all of us can identify with that thorn in the flesh that Paul prayed about three times, specifically asking God to remove it. But God chose not to give Paul his request; instead He chose to give him something greater, to teach him something more valuable‑‑that His grace can meet us at the point of our deepest need.

True, there are times when God spectacularly removes the thorn‑‑the cancer goes into remission and disappears, the tiny holes in the heart of the baby that should have died gradually mend, the lame walk and the blind see. Yet often God has something even greater for us‑‑the ongoing lesson that His grace is sufficient to help us learn to live with our “thorn in the flesh.”

Dr. Ralph Keiper had to live with a “thorn in the flesh.” In his youth, medication that was much too strong robbed him of most of his sight, yet that did not stop him from a life of service for his Lord. One day a friend, bothered with poor vision herself, asked Keiper if struggling with only 20% of his vision was annoying to him. Keiper, a rotund little man barely five feet tall, replied, “Oh, no, God wants me to see through His eyes.”

God’s answer to Paul was simple: “My grace is sufficient for you”‑‑the only place in Scripture where God speaks of His grace. The Greek word for sufficient speaks of unfailing strength. And the phrase that follows, “My power is made perfect in weakness,” bears the force of a definite and powerful answer (2 Corinthians 12:9).

At times God’s removing the thorn‑‑which He can and sometimes does‑‑almost pales in comparison with His grace which meets you day by day, especially those of you who wrestle with your thorn on an ongoing basis. Paul then told us that he gloried, he actually took pleasure, in his weakness, for he had learned that God actually delights to show how strong He is when we realize how weak we are.

Understand that it is not the strong person, the one who has need of nothing, or the self‑sufficient, independent person who needs no one’s help, including God’s, but it is the individual who understands how weak he is who is in a position to receive abundant help that God describes as His grace. Think about it.

Resource reading: 2 Corinthians 12.