Bible reading plan Bible reading plan

Thorny Situations

03 July 2022

…because of these surpassingly great revelations.  Therefore…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore, I will boast more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NIV)



It seems today that news of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” has spread further around the world than the good news of the Gospel message of Christ’s Love.  Furthermore, it is mostly misunderstood, having been viewed through a religious lens that portrays Paul’s ‘thorn’ as an incurable eye disease.  Too often, this passage has become a roadblock for people seeking bodily healing and a supernatural change in their life. 


However, one of the reasons that we, as a family of churches, emphasise daily Bible reading is to gain the perspective of context.  In the verses before and after this passage, Paul is not discussing sickness and disease, nor is he teaching the Corinthians about God’s will concerning healing.  Instead, he discusses his ministry assignment to spread the “surpassingly great revelations”, and the opposition to this mission – most of which came from other church and religious leaders. Therefore, it is out of context to relate Paul’s statement about a thorn in his flesh to the subject of healing.


Paul studied the Hebrew scriptures as a Pharisee.  He said,


“I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors” (Acts 22:3, NIV).


Throughout his ministry and letters to the churches, he often quoted text from what we now call the Old Testament.  For example, when describing his life purpose, he quoted Isaiah saying,


“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known … as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand” (Romans 15:20-21 & Isaiah 52:15, NIV).


In communicating his ‘surpassing great revelation’, Paul quotes from Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah as he codifies the doctrine of Christ for the church (e.g., Romans 3:4, 10-18 & 4:7-8). Throughout Paul’s writings, we see repeated use of the Hebrew Scriptures used to support the revelation he received directly from Jesus, serving as a great example of how to apply written truth to support revelation.


Therefore, it makes perfect sense for Paul to use the phrase “thorn in the flesh” in the same way as it is used in the Old Testament.  In Joshua, and again in Ezekiel, a “thorn in the flesh” describes natural trouble and resistance to God’s people (see Joshua 23:13 & Ezekiel 28:24) as brought from other people who were motivated by the enemy. 


Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not a persistent physical illness. It was a natural (flesh) resistance to his ministry from people inspired by Satan.  Paul is clear about the source – the “messenger of Satan”, but the devil was manifesting through people who yield to the devil’s influence – most likely without even knowing.


Instead of seeing this verse as an excuse not to receive healing, we have can see that there is God-given grace sufficient to deal with crazy people that the devil is using to keep us from accomplishing what God has called us to do!   Paul asked for help with the crazy religious people trying to do him and the message harm: Jesus pointed back to His grace.


Situations with people can sometimes get thorny – even if they are not being influenced by Satan.  So instead of Jesus removing the people, He showed Paul that His strength is not demonstrated by the absence of trouble, but in overcoming it.


Think about the thorny situations you are facing now.  It can be tempting to draw back from thorny people.  But Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).


Sufficient for what?  His grace is sufficient to press through the thorny resistance and overcome anything the devil brings your way through anyone who yields to his influence.  By His grace and through God’s love, you are an overcomer!

Photo of Matt Hattabaugh

Matt Hattabaugh

GoChurch Beirut