About 2 years ago God gave me a revelation regarding the Apostle Paul and how he suffered in his spirit as spoken of in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul says, “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 myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The question, however, is: was Paul talking about a sickness? A physical injury? Was he speaking of the physical injury he had suffered at the hands of his jailers or possibly those who had beaten him? And God never healed him of that sickness or physical wound? I think not.
For the purpose of understanding let’s look at other examples of similar uses of “thorns” that carry an element of suffering in God’s Word.
“But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live.” Numbers 33:55
We find in Joshua 23:13, “Know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you.”
A thorn in your eyes or sides is a thorn in the flesh. In both Numbers and Joshua God was referring to a group of people, not infirmities or an actual physical wound. These were godless people that the Israelites had to deal with once they entered their promised land of Canaan.
In the book of Judges, once again the Israelites had disobeyed the Lord’s command to destroy all the altars of the foreign gods in the land. Because of their disregard for God’s commend, He allowed the Israelites to again be corrupted and fall into Satan’s trap. God warned them because He knew they would no be able to resist the lifestyle of these ungodly people and they would fall to their ways. Destroying their altars would drive any remaining foreign people from the land. Judges 2:3, “Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.”
“And there will be no more for the house of Israel a prickling brier or a painful thorn from any round about them who scorned them; then they will know that I am the Lord God.” Ezekiel 28:24, here the prophet Ezekiel speaks of how God’s protection will break the torment spiritually and mentally the children of Israel have been under.
Now, let us return to the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul was talking about the “thorn in the flesh”, and the “messenger of Satan” that tormented him. The King James Version uses the word “buffet” meaning to continually strike. How did this demonic force continually strike Paul?
Traditionally it has been taught that it was with sickness, and the thing that made many accept that is the use of the words “weakness” and “infirmity” in verses 9 and 10. Infirmity definitely does mean sickness when it is used that way in 1 Timothy 5:23, but that is not the only meaning of the word. The number two definition is any lack or inadequacy. For instance, Romans 8:26 says, “the Spirit also helps us in our weakness (KJV-infirmities).” In this case, the context makes it clear that it is not speaking of sicknesses but rather not knowing what to pray for. Our finite minds are an infirmity, or an inadequacy. It is in our minds that we are continually tormented by Satan with our own battle with selfish desire or our history before knowing Christ. Our past sin, our memories play a huge part in how the devil brings his brand of torment which is spiritually suffocating. It is here that revelation came.
Paul’s life before Jesus transformed him supernaturally was one of righteous violence. He was Hebrew, studied in the synagogue, a pharisee who with the permission of the religious leaders fervently sought out followers of Jesus, he personally beat, killed or imprisoned them. This is part of Paul’s spiritual battle, his torment described as a “thorn in the flesh”.
James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” We must resist, or actively fight against, the devil and the things he brings, to see them flee.
Paul’s ministry was amazing, the churches he started, the people whose lives were changed forever because of his sharing of the gospel, disciples trained and sent out, Paul personal transformation set the stage for an all-out attack from the devil. Now even imprisoned Paul’s faith and perseverance grows. I do not believe that Paul had an issue of pride, I believe his past life and the truth of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice kept him humble. Paul leans into God and everything God has promised to his believers.
Paul’s words at the end of 2 Corinthians 12:7. He writes, “to keep me from exalting myself.” The words “exalted above measure” written at the beginning of verse 7 are taken from the Greek word huperairo, a compound of the words huper and airo. These two Greek words are compounded to form the word huperairo, it speaks of a person who has been supremely exalted. This is a person who has been magnified, increased, and lifted up to a place of great prestige and influence. Although huperairo could be used to express the idea of a person who has haughtily exalted himself, this is not the idea Paul has in mind when he writes this verse. Rather, this is a person who has been greatly honored and recognized due to something he has written, done, or achieved. Paul knows that there are many people looking to him for encouragement and direction, yet he stays humble…knowing that God is who has orchestrated all that is happening.
To bring the meaning into these often spoken and interpreted scriptures…Paul makes this simple, yet profound statement found in verse 9 “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
God’s GRACE is ENOUGH…His forgiveness will see you through when you can not forgive yourself. Paul struggled with his past, yet Jesus gently offered him peace and forgiveness. This how Paul was able to continue, he understood the truth of Jesus Christ, the cross and resurrection.
Verse 10 adds yet another tactic of the devil, “Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul had many who thought to destroy his reputation if not the person. Think about these opponents, most definitely some were believers and others Jewish leaders that knew Paul before his transformation, in their eyes how could they trust him. As the devil used Paul’s past to offend, people reacted. Paul also mentions difficulties; all you need to do is read Paul’s prison epistles to see that these young churches were being attacked spiritually as well. These precious letters speak truth about how the devil will use our offenses, ego, and pride to tear down the truth of Christ and bring discord into the church.
If you survey the types of ordeals Paul endured, you will see that many of them were orchestrated by these people who wanted to get rid of him. The Jewish leaders sought to discredit him, they hated him because he was once one of them, now they fiercely opposed Paul, the gospel and the truth of Jesus Christ. Do not be fooled, the devil was using their actions as a constant irritant that he had to deal with on an almost daily basis.
You see, Paul’s thorn in the flesh wasn’t sickness or epilepsy or any other physical malady; it was the people. Paul never complained of physical injury or his conditions in the jail as anything more than an opportunity. The devil thought by using people again and again, he could keep Paul so distracted with spiritual pain, HOWEVER, Paul knew better! He knew “God’s GRACE is SUFFICIANT!
This is the revelation clearly imparted to me. I identify with Paul, sometimes we have a past only God can forgive, only the saving Blood of Jesus can wash clean, only when we daily claim His GRACE…can we pursue Jesus unhindered, taking each thought captive and obedient to His TRUTH! 2 Corinthians 10:5 Don’t let the “thorns” satan would place in your flesh impede you! Join me today and let God’s GRACE be SUFFICIENT!
The word “revelations” is from the Greek word apokalupsis. It refers to something that has been veiled or hidden for a long time and then suddenly, almost instantaneously, becomes clear and visible to the mind or eye. It is like pulling the curtains out of the way so you can see what has always been just outside your window. The scene was always there for you to enjoy, but the curtains blocked your ability to see the real picture. But when the curtains are drawn apart, you can suddenly see what has been hidden from your view. The moment you see beyond the curtain for the first time and observe what has been there all along but not evident to you — that is what the Bible calls a “revelation.”
A special thanks to Phillip Chidavaenzi, Andrew Wommack, Frank Viola and Rick Renner for their insights during the writing of this article.