What Thorns Produce

Date: January 20, 2015

Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living | I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10, NASB

“Christians do not really know how to interpret pain,” wrote Philip Yancey. “If you pinned them against the wall,” he continues, “or in a dark, secret moment, many Christians would probably concede that pain was God’s mistake. He really should have worked harder and invented a better way of alerting us to the world’s dangers.” Yancey is probably right.

Someone observed that in school we study to learn the lesson and then take the test, but in life, we take the test, then learn the lesson. That was much the way it was with Paul, who struggled with the pain and humiliation of what he described as a “thorn in the flesh,” something he was convinced was used by Satan in an attempt to defeat him physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

On three occasions he pleaded with God to take it away–once and for all–yet God chose to answer by turning his affliction into blessing, weakness into strength, and uncertainty to resolution. You can read about it in 2 Corinthians 12 in the New Testament.

Paul’s answer from God came not with spectacular healing, or even a bolt of lightning that ripped across the sky. God spoke and the message written in Paul’s heart was this: “My grace is sufficient for you,” “therefore,” wrote Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul passed the test, then learned the lesson. Had Paul stopped there, it would have been a tremendous accomplishment, but in the following verse he mentioned five situations in which he could lean upon God’s grace and strength for help: 1) Weaknesses or sicknesses, 2) Insults or social exclusion because of his faith in Jesus Christ, 3) Distresses that could well include economic hardships, 4) Persecution because of his faith in Christ, and 5) Difficulties.

Let me give you the text containing the words of Paul: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Suffice it to say that these five include five categories of problems that distress people today: physical needs; insults and derogatory remarks stemming from prejudice; upsetting, distressing situations which is a pretty large umbrella; religious persecution; and just plain difficulty.

“When I am weak then I am strong.” There are some great lessons to be learned from situations that we would do almost anything to avoid. Apart from the Bible, the most influential Christian book in China is a little volume entitled, Streams In The Desert. It was compiled and written by Lettie Cowman as she nursed her missionary husband as his health failed. For six long years this couple prayed and struggled with the problem of being laid aside with illness when their hearts yearned to be back on the mission field.

In the fifth year of his illness, Cowman wrote, “The best hours of my illness have been when the fierce fires of suffering are kindling and scorching all around me,” for it was then that he felt the greatest strength of His Lord. Yes, when we are weakest, we can find His strength in the greatest ways. You can learn the lesson yourself.

Resource reading: Isaiah 52:13-15.