By Patrick Hawthorne
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NKJV)
In the above passage, Paul explains that he had received a vast amount of revelation from the Lord. Because of this revelation, a messenger of satan was sent to be a thorn in his side. Great care must be used with these verses because it has led to many false assumptions and claims that God was the one who sent the messenger of satan to keep Paul humble and from being exalted by pride.
For instance, to coincide with the teachings that God will sometimes cause a believer to become sick in order to keep them humble, many teach that Paul’s thorn was in actuality an eye disease. But, does this agree with the Word of God? This teaching is usually taken from Galatians 6:11 in which Paul writes “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!”
I am a firm believer in letting the Word defend itself. In order for the Word to defend itself, we must first take opinion out of the way and answer any questions by the Word. Therefore, a series of major questions must be asked:
Question 1: Does God use satan for the purpose of humbling Christian’s?
In Matthew 12, we have the account of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man. The Pharisees, seeing the astonishment of the people, said to themselves, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons that this fellow drives out demons.” Jesus, knowing their thoughts said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household any kingdom, whether it is a natural kingdom or a supernatural kingdom, divided against itself will soon fall.
The Word of God tells us that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus and satan are from two separate kingdoms that cannot be united. If God did use satan as an enforcer to keep His people under control then, according to His own word, His kingdom would surely fall. I can assure you that will never happen.
Question number 2: Is God against Christian’s being exalted?
In conjunction with question number one, it must be understood that God is not in the business of sending out goons to keep His children humble before Him. Furthermore, He will not impart His knowledge and wisdom (His grace) to you and then beat you down to slow your growth rate. Actually the opposite is true. He wants you humble in heart so that He may exalt you in a manner that will encourage spiritual growth.
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6; See also James 4:6 Matthew 23:12)
Question number three: Who sent the Messenger, God or satan?
The answers to questions one and two give us the answer to question number three. The messenger from Satan was just that, a messenger from satan and not God. Paul had received abundance of revelation from the Lord and the devil was doing all in his power to stop the message from being preached to the world. Looking at this in light of the Word, does it make sense for God to exalt Paul and then send the devil to humble him?
Question number four: Will God put sickness on people to humble them or to teach them?
In truth, I feel this is the most absurd of questions. In Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter we are told that Jesus bore our sickness on the cross and by His stripes we were and are healed. For God to place sickness on a person is to mock the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.(Isaiah 53:5)
Any time people tell me that God placed a sickness on them to bring them to a place where they can hear from Him or to humble them, my response is, “So, why are you violating His will by going to a doctor or taking medicine? If it is God who is putting this sickness or problem on you, then shouldn’t you suffer until you learn your lesson? See how ludicrous that sounds? This now brings us to our last question.
Question number 5: If the thorn in Paul’s side was not sickness, what was it?
To answer this question, we need only to look to the Word of God and see how a phrase was used previously. This is referred to as the Law of Repetition.
Numbers 33:55 (NKJV) But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides…
Judges 2:3 (NKJV) Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’
From the above verses it is evident that the term “thorns,” in your side, was dealing with people or groups of people. Looking through the Book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles (books that Paul wrote), it is clear that satan had skewed the minds of a group of Jews who would follow Paul from town to town. One day revival would break out and the next Paul would be beaten and driven out of town by these Jews who would start city wide riots. Three times Paul prayed for a break from the messengers who were sent to buffet him. Buffet means to hit over and over again. That is exactly what they did. They were constantly harassing him and causing strife.
Notice the Lord’s response to Paul’s plea. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” At first this seems that God is telling Paul to just deal with it, but that is not the case whatsoever. The Lord is telling Paul, “My strength is your strength. My peace is your peace. Trust in Me and I will give you whatever is necessary for you to preach My Word. Paul, My grace is sufficient for you!”
When Paul got a hold of that rhema word (uttered word from God), he confidently boasted, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Praise God! That sums up grace in a nutshell. When you are at your weakest, in actuality that is when you are at your strongest. That is, if you allow the grace of God to be active in your life. Why? It is because you are not trying to do things in your own strength and power. You are resting in the Lord. This is confusing to those who are not saved. The reason being is because they do not have the benefit of seeing through the eyes of the Holy Spirit as does the born again child of God. Be blessed