2 Corinthians 12:7
To keep me from becoming conceited
because of these surpassingly great revelations,
there was given me a thorn in my flesh,
a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Paul wrote these words. You all know about Paul, right? He was the highly educated, high profile, high potential Pharisee (religious leader) of his day. A Pharisee of Pharisees in his own words (Acts 23:6). Paul is the man who stood by approvingly and held the coats of those who stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58). He aggressively persecuted the young Christian church in Jerusalem (…breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples…Acts 9:1). If you are looking up the references, he was known as Saul then. Paul, or rather Saul, was a man of this world…working hard, passionate, successful, religious, well-intentioned, knew of Jesus…I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot like me. It is a pretty fair statement to say that everyone in our society knows of Jesus.
Then Saul met Jesus. That is a whole different thing. It completely changed his life. Understand this…the man who took the lead role in attempting to destroy the early church, ended up becoming the instrument of God to write a huge portion of the Bible. If you want to know the heart, the will, the intention, the love, the grace, the forgiveness, the joy of God, read Paul’s words. Out of the deepest depths of evil, Paul may have contributed more to the spreading of the good news of Jesus than any other person in history.
As a complete tangent to my point here…if God could use Saul to accomplish so much…what might he have in store for you?!
Ok…back to the point…what do you think Paul’s “thorn” was? Common sense would tell you that the person tasked to do such amazing things for God, would have a pretty easy time here on Earth wouldn’t it? I mean, If I were God, and I was going to choose a single person to write my love letter to the world I would make sure that he (or she) didn’t have any other distractions. Certainly I would stand between them and the Devil, certainly I would take care of their material needs for them. After all, isn’t that how we treat the important people in our society? So before we move any further, let’s all take a minute or two to thank God, that I am not God!
If you want to see how Paul was treated in this world during his ministry, check out 2 Corinthians 22-29. Just like you probably never sinned as greatly as Paul, you probably never had hardships as great as his either. Once Paul met Jesus, none of those things seemed to have any importance to him anymore. Paul had the perspective that this place is temporary, and the confidence that his permanent place is an amazing place, more than worth the little problems this world brings.
So you’ve had a couple minutes to think now…
Was Paul a drunk?
Did Paul have a lustful heart?
Was Paul addicted to material things?
Did he have a quick temper?
Was he gay?
Was his thorn a chronic pain?
Did he gamble?
Could he not forgive himself for the acts of his past?
We tend to put the fathers of our faith up on a pedestal, don’t we? Does the thought that Paul may have struggled with one of the things above anger you, or does it comfort you? I guarantee you that there are people who would stop reading this at the suggestion that Paul was a drunk, we get very emotional about these things. One of the most amazing things about the Bible is that it was written for all of us. Would Paul’s words (God’s words) really be effective if they were written by someone who was already living in heaven? Would you go to a marriage counselor who never had a problem in his marriage? Could you take a debt counselor seriously if she was born a multimillionaire? Could you love a savior who hadn’t experienced what it is like to live in this fallen world? God is perfect, we are not, but he knows that because he built us that way!
What is your thorn? What is the thing that no matter how close you get to God, keeps coming up to get in between you and your savior? I am confident that you have one…maybe even more than one, but you have at least one. You wouldn’t need Jesus in your life if you had no sin in your life. Do you think that God doesn’t love you because of your thorn? Do you think that God can’t use you in a positive way because you are not perfect?
As Christians we strive for perfection, knowing that we cannot reach it. Matthew Chapter 5 has some of the most controversial commands from Jesus in it. Among these are: not only is murder a sin but being angry with your brother is a sin, not only is adultery a sin but looking at a woman lustfully is a sin, not only is divorce a sin but it causes your wife to commit adultery, an eye for an eye is in there…and so is loving your enemies. Can you imagine your pastor preaching all of that in the same sermon?? Chapter 5 closes with Jesus saying “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In this is one of the dangers of mis-using the Bible.
If I were to read just this speech from Jesus (which goes on through chapter 7, Jesus never had to “squeeze it in” so the next service can start on time!) I would know in my heart that what he said is impossible. If I didn’t understand that in these passages, and really with his whole life, his intention was to show us how the devil has a hold on our hearts, and that only through Him (Jesus) can we be free of evil, I would be tempted to give up. When you see people mis-using these passages to cause harm, rather than healing, just know that you can see their thorn.
So I will ask again. What is your thorn? What is the thing that feels like it is separating you from God, when really it is helping you be closer to him? When you beg day after day for God to remove that thing from you, you are spending time with him. Fight, through prayer, and fellowship, and study, and worship, and confession, and any other means to remove the evil from your life, but never lose sight of the fact that God loves you and that he really does have everything under control. At the end of the day, like any good Father, that is all he really wants.