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Dr. Jay Worth Allen

Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in my infirmities.
For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth:
but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he sees me to be,
(2 Corinthians 12:5-6).

Paul's words to the Corinthian Church are exquisitely lovely.  He could have boasted about the high favor which God had shown him, but he did not.  Had he gloried, it would not have been as a fool or empty boaster, but according to truth, to fact (see 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4).  But Paul restrained himself because he desired that others not to think too highly of him.  He preferred that men should judge him by what they saw and heard and not lionize him by the special revelations God had given him.  He would glory in his "infirmities," for weakness, sustained by grace, and that is all that any saint may boast in himself.

Paul continues, "And less I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (2 Corinthians 12:7).  Having stated that he did not wish others to think of him more highly that they should, he now tells us what means God used to prevent him from doing so.  Paul was in danger of being unduly euphoric by the extraordinary manifestation of the divine favor he had received.  Which was understandable.  The Lord knew this and graciously dealt accordingly, giving Paul that which kept him humble.

By nature Paul was just as proud and foolish as all other men.  If his heart was kept lowly, it was not by his on unaided fidelity to the truth, but because of the faithfulness of his Master, who dealt so wisely with him.

We must distinguish between the cause and the occasion of pride:  the former is the evil nature, or principle, from which it proceeds; the latter, the object on which it fastens and which it perverts to its use.  The pride of life (1 John 2:16) can feed on anything and turn temporal mercies and even spiritual gifts and graces into poison.  Pride was the main ingredient in the sin of our first parents.  They aspired to be as God.  There is pride in every sin, since it is the lifting up of the creature against the Creator.  The Lord has shown us how He regards and abominates pride in Proverbs 6:16-19 where seven things are mentioned that the Lord hates.  The list is headed with "a proud look!"  The great work of grace is the subduing of our pride.

The heavenly revelations Paul received had no tendency whatsoever in themselves to produce or promote pride, but like all other things they were capable of being abused by indwelling sin.  Therefore lest Paul should be spiritually proud, become vain and self-conifident, regarding himself as a special favorite of Christ, there was given to him "a thorn in the flesh."

Since Paul termed this gift a "thorn," it would signify something that was painful.  The words "in the flesh" would seem to indicate that it was a bodily affliction.  That it remained with Paul is seen from his three requests that it might depart.  That Satan aggravated it, appears from the next clause of the verse:  "the messenger of Satan to buffet me."

As to what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was, I will be frank to say that I have no idea.  I've been eyewitness to godly teachers proclaiming, giving verse and chapter, that Paul's vexation was his eyes,  ". . . he was three days without sight" (Acts 9:9);  ". . . you would have plucked out your own eyes, and given them to me" (Galatians 4:15).  I myself have taught (in times past) that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" speaks to his constant harassment from the Judaizers.  Also giving chapter and verse,  "You shall make no league with the inhabitants of the land . . . they shall be as thorns in your flesh" (Judges 2:2,3); (Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1-5), et cetera.  Now, in all honesty and sincerity I have to say, I don't know.

Paul not only accepted this painful affliction as a gift from the Lord, but he also perceived the reason it was given him.  This "thorn" came to humble him, which is usually God's chief design in His disciplinary dealings with us.  In Paul's case the affliction was not for correction but for prevention.  Such may have been God's merciful design towards you:  perhaps He turned a wealthy relative against you to will his money elsewhere, or perhaps He has withheld business prosperity from you less you become proud.  How effective Paul's "thorn" was appears from the fact that for fourteen years he had never mentioned his rapture into paradise and would not have done so now but for this exceptional circumstance.

We all have at least one "thorn" - a little lameness, a hobble, an uneven gait to keep us humble.  My father told me he only trusted men who, "Have a limp."  Thorns, limps, reprimands, bridling, discipline of any kind are far from pleasant, and we desire their prompt removal.  But the Lord wants us to see how His grace triumphs over nature, our hearts gladly acquiescing to the Lord's design.  Paul's "thorn" did not cause him fret and fume; it caused him to pray!  Can we avow the same?


Published:  16 June 2010 on Freed In Christ! blogsite.

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