Jump Start # 3054
2 Corinthians 12:7 “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting my self.”
Paul has been on the top of the mountain. God allowed him to see the third heaven or Paradise as some translations express it. Paul saw what very few others have ever seen. We have dreamed about it. We sing hymns about Heaven. We hold the hope of Heaven very dear to our hearts. While there, and he wasn’t sure if it was a vision, or if he really went there, he heard things. We can only imagine. We’d sure wish to know what he heard. Paul states that he cannot repeat what he heard. It was unlawful for him to tell what he heard. John’s vision of Revelation, takes a peek behind the door in Heaven. He saw the throne room and God upon the throne.
But from the mountain top, Paul descends into the depths of a deep valley. He was given a thorn in the flesh. He understood that this thorn was to keep him humble. It was intended to keep him from exalting himself. Writers for centuries have tried to put their finger on what this “thorn in the flesh” was. Some have suggested poor eye sight. Others have named just about every ailment known to mankind. Some do not think it was physical, but something emotional or mental. Lots of ideas. Tons of guesses.
Paul understood three things about the thorn in the flesh. He knew it was given to him on purpose. Second, he knew that it was connected with the devil. He called this thorn a “messenger of Satan.” Third, he understood that it was to torment him. There was a designed purpose for this thorn. The suffering was to keep Paul from exalting. It was to keep his head from swelling, his feet on the ground and his attitude humble.
Notice what Paul did with this:
First, he wasn’t angry with God about it. He didn’t stop his preaching because of this. He didn’t quit. We do well to remember this. Trials and troubles have a way of making some give up on God. If every day is not sunny and going the way they want it to go, they back away from God. Fair weather Christians is a good description of such a faith and attitude. I’ll be at the church house as long as things are going well. Toss a thorn my way and I’m likely to toss in the towel on God. Not Paul.
Second, he prayed for God to remove it. Whatever his thorn was, it must have been very unpleasant. Paul did as we know we ought to, pray to God. Paul prayed several times about this. God can do all things.
Third, he accepted the fact that he had to live with the thorn. God was not going to remove the thorn. Did Paul have this thorn the rest of his life? How difficult was it to live with this thorn? We have many questions but very few answers. Paul understood that the grace of God was enough. God’s grace is what would get him through. The thorn was staying. And, with that thorn Paul was going to continue to serve the Lord.
Fourth, Paul understood that when he is weak, God can make him strong. His strength wasn’t in his work out routine, eating right, getting plenty of sleep, but in what the Lord could do for him. His strength came from his faith. The stronger the faith, the more he could endure what Satan threw at him.
From the mountain to the valley. Seeing Heaven to living with a messenger of Satan. Exalted to humbled.
Now there are all sorts of thoughts that spin off of these passages:
First, if God was concerned about Paul being too proud or exalted because he saw Heaven, why did He show it to him at all? There are questions we do not know the answers to. Some have reasoned that when Paul was taken outside a village and stoned, that he actually died. His spirit went to God. But God brought him back. Could be, but mountains of speculation there.
Second, it seems that God was using Satan to bring about a positive place for Paul. Satan would love for Paul to be exalted. He would love for Paul to brag, strut, and tell others about how special he was because of what God showed him. Satan wouldn’t want Paul to remain humble. This messenger of Satan was guided by God to accomplish what the Lord wanted. We remember that God allowed Satan to attack Job. Satan was the instrument, but God was aware of it and allowed it. God using Satan is hard for us to grasp.
Third, it seems that this thorn did just what God wanted. We do not read about Paul describing what he saw. He do not hear Paul thinking that he was more special than others because of what God showed him. The thorn worked. It kept Paul from exalting.
We must wonder if God would and does the same today? Has God allowed some curve balls in your life to keep you close to Him? Rather than smooth sails, maybe you’ve traveled through some treacherous waters. But as you have traveled through those rough waves, you have remained close and strong in the Lord. Maybe that’s just what God wanted to happen to you.
Mountains and valleys—and in both of those moments, we see God. God’s hand is there.