August 21, 2014.
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(II Corinthians 12:7-10)
This passage in near to the hearts of many Christians today as it gives us hope of an eternal salvation though we are weak, knowing that the power of Christ is made perfect in our weakness. This is comforting for the simple fact that we are weak. We have struggles and trials, we go though hardships and pain, and through all this it may seem that the power of Christ has left us. That’s what Job thought. He thought God had just forgotten him or turned his gaze away for an indefinite amount of time. But this was not the case, nor is it so with us. God is there, he is with us and he will help us through. His power is made perfect in our weakness.
There have been many speculations as to what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Some say it was an aliment, such as poor eyesight. Some say it was a stutter, or some other public speaking hindrance that would keep his pride low. There’s even the joke that it was his thorn in the flesh was his wife, Grace, and God kept telling him that she was sufficient for him, even with all the nagging! I don’t claim absolute knowledge on this or to know the answer beyond the shadow of a doubt, but I am starting to think that it was something else entirely.
What makes us most prideful as Christians? Is it our ability to talk? Maybe for some, but that’s definitely not applicable to all, or even most. Is it how much service we do? I think that would go against the very definition of serving others, but I suppose it could be. But I believe there is even something more that leads just about any Christian to pride if they have it: a clean record. It doesn’t even have to be perfectly clean, it just has to be clean for a while. The longer we go without sin and serving Christ in all capacities, or at least in our mind, the more susceptible to this “better than you” pride. “Well, I go to church every time the doors are open, what do you do?” or “I haven’t been to the liquor store in eight years! What’s that bottle in your hand?” or even “I write a daily blog about Christianity, how are you serving our Lord?”
I’m sure we have all had those times of self-righteous pride. Moments, even if fleeting, where we feel better than the next Christian because of something we did or something we avoided doing that they did not. I tend to think this is what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was- temptation. Notice the terminology he uses: “a messenger of Satan to harass me.” I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call poor eyesight a “messenger of Satan,” though again, I could be very wrong. But think about it. Paul was nothing less than a rockstar in the early church. He was a very zealous man, even before he became a Christian, and once Jesus was revealed to him, he poured his who life and being into the Way. Much of what we know as Christianity today we owe to God working though Paul. There’s no telling how many people he brought to Christ. He established church after church and bore witness of Christ to just about all he came into contact with, even when he was chained to his audience, literally. Paul was on fire for the Lord, and really even that is an understatement.
Thus, if anyone in Christ would have trouble with self-righteous pride, it would most likely be Paul in my opinion. He is even boasting before he talks about this thorn in the flesh! What was the point of the thorn? To keep him from being conceited. Temptation would definitely do that, especially if you gave in to that temptation often. I do not believe that Paul in any way stayed in continual sin, but I do believe he was human. Being human, and being harassed by this messenger of Satan to tempt him to the point where he would pray to God three times to remove it, I would venture to guess that he did give into the temptation. If he didn’t why would he ask God so fervently to take away the temptation? If it didn’t really bother him, then why not continue on what he was doing? If you have no temptation to get drunk whatsoever, would you fervently pray for God to take away the temptation of alcohol? Surely you would pray to be led out of other temptations, but not those that you don’t really struggle with. And I do think this was a very, very fervent prayer by Paul. I don’t think it was just three quick prayers thrown up to God one day. That just doesn’t fit Paul’s personality, nor would it give him a reason to write so much about it.
Another reason that I think supports this idea is God’s answer to Paul. “My grace is sufficient for you…” Would that make sense if it was Paul’s eyesight? How would grace have anything to do with that? Was it by grace that Paul was going blind? Again, perhaps this is just human logic and there was a higher wisdom involved here, but that doesn’t make much sense to me. However, if his thorn in the flesh was a temptation, a messenger of Satan, then God’s answer of grace makes perfect sense. His grace is sufficient to cover our sins, and hallelujah to the Almighty for that! We have been saved by the grace of God because we do not deserve salvation, yet he has extended it to us anyway though the blood of the Lamb. Look at how Paul describes our weakness and redemption to the Romans:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
He uses the term weak here to correlate with our sins. We are weak because we sin and transgress the command of God Almighty. That is why we do not deserve salvation, because there is “None [that] is righteous, no, not one; (Rom. 3:9)” So then, there is this concept of grace that is sufficient to cover the sins of those who are in the Lord and do their best to live according to his word. I think this is the case for Paul here in this passage. So that he would not get the “holier than thou” attitude, he was harassed with a messenger of Satan to make it known that he was no more righteous than anyone else. He was still human, he could still fall, as I’m sure he did many times. But that was okay, because he got back up and tried again. That is a mark of a Christian. Yes, we fail. No, we are not perfect. But we do strive to be. It is our goal, the upward calling of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was the only person to ever live a sinless life.
Even more so, if this indeed was Paul’s throne, are the implications of God’s answer to Paul’s prayer! “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” His power is made perfect in our weakness? What? How? How can he be glorified if his children make mistakes? I think that is it. He is glorified because the world can see that perfection is not needed to be loved by God. If that were the case, then we would all be in trouble. But when the world looks at a Christian who has messed up but triumphed through with a humble heart and turned back to the cause of Christ, I think God is indeed glorified. On the flip side of that, however, is the Christian who thinks they are above sin, whom the world looks at as a conceited hypocrite. There is not glory given to God through arrogance, nor to people see the love of Christ through someone who puts on a charade of perfection. His power is made perfect though our weakness. Not our strength. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Let this be a comfort to you, and forgive yourself when you do wrong. God is faithful to forgive us of our sins when we acknowledge them (I John 1:9). If he forgives us, so should we. His grace covers us. We are not going to be perfect, and that’s okay, as long as we are trying. Get back up and try again. Don’t wallow in the mire and think that God is never going to love you. God’s love is so much greater than our sins. But his righteousness is so much greater than our apathy. Don’t become arrogant, but also, don’t give up. Give it to God, who’s mercy and grace has us covered though the blood of the Lamb. His grace is sufficient for us.
Suggested Daily Reading: Romans 3-6, II Corinthians 12.
Grace and peace.