September 17 I Tuesday
2 Corinthians 10
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” —2 Corinthians 12:7
Some of us may believe, “if you are right with God, everything will flow well, you will not be troubled by things common people are troubled by.” But this view is not true of Scripture. Even as an apostle, Paul was not free from the burdens common to men; in fact, Paul tells us, “…I was given a thorn in my flesh…” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Paul does not elaborate on what it is specifically; it could be something physical, like a literal thorn in his flesh. But over the years, different Bible scholars try to attach this idea to something tangible, like a physical ailment, a disability of some kind or an attack made on him. A common interpretation is Paul’s poor eyesight, where he mentions in his letter to the churches of Galatia, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11). Other early church scholars suggest it is possibly an earache, headache, migraines, a stammer or gout. If we put together all the possible physical issues people propose for Paul, we would probably end up with a medical encyclopaedia.
Some interpret Paul’s “thorn in my flesh” as a moral struggle. The word “flesh” is commonly used by Paul to talk about the sin nature. Amongst the early church fathers, this was a popular understanding, where Paul talks about a besetting sin in his life, because they understood the word “flesh” to mean the old nature that is battling against the Spirit within us. The “thorn in my flesh” could also be referring to temptation or maybe Paul was using it as a metaphor to describe the current persecution he faced. Another possibility is Paul implying a discontentment with his marital status.
We could go on listing more speculations but the point is we do not know exactly what Paul’s “thorn in my flesh” is—which is a good thing. If Paul had said, “my ‘thorn in the flesh’ is my poor eyesight,” we may say, “here is an encouragement for the Christian Blind Mission.” But this would limit Paul’s encouragement. Ultimately, Paul’s “thorn in my flesh”—traumas, difficulties and burdens—brought him to God in a way that an easy life could never have: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Corinthians 12:8). Often, we encounter our own “thorn in my flesh,” where we may think to ourselves, “there is just one thing in my life and if that one thing could be changed, taken out or rectified, I would be such a better person.” Yet, God had a purpose for Paul’s “thorn in my flesh” just as He has with ours.
Prayer: Dear God, thank You for the “thorn in my flesh” that draws me closer in reliance on You. Teach me to rejoice even with a “thorn” in my life.