“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
In a very real way, we cannot be too weak for God to use, but we may well be too strong (see 1 Corinthians 10:12). Areas of strength in our lives may well also become areas of weakness. Samson’s strength, David’s heart, and Solomon’s wisdom quickly come to mind as good characteristics that were, at some point, emphasized by these men to the neglect and exclusion of God and His will. Notice three truths to remember about our weakness:
1. God’s grace always is sufficient (12:9).
2. God’s power is made complete in our weakness (12:9).
3. When we are aware of our weakness, then we can be strong in Christ (12:10).
Not only are there truths to remember in this passage about the necessity of humbly keeping in mind our weakness and realizing our real source of strength, there are also a number of lessons regarding the value of “thorns” and difficulties in our lives.
The Danger of Pride. “Thorns” have a way of puncturing pride, don’t they? Note 12:7, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because” and “to keep me from becoming conceited.” The verse begins and ends with “conceited” (Prov. 8:13; 11:2; 16:18; 1 John 2:15-17). If conceit were a possible problem area in Paul’s life, might it also not be in ours as well?
Difficulty Often Lurks in Unusual Places. The passage says, “because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations.” With blessing and privilege often come great responsibility and struggle (Luke 12:48; Phil. 1:29). And times of blessing may well be followed with times of great trial. The baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3 is followed by the temptations in the wilderness in Matthew 4. The “surpassing greatness of the revelations” of Paul in 12:7 is followed by the “thorn.”
Thorns Can Be Really Hard to Live With. Paul “pleaded” with God to remove it on more than one occasion, and Paul was far from a wimp! The NASB says Paul “implored” God to take it away. Scripture is silent regarding the precise nature of Paul’s thorn, and I am glad. We don’t know the identity of Paul’s thorn in order to relate it to our own—whatever our particular “thorn” might be.
There really is a ministry in our thorn: to trust in God and the sufficiency of His grace, and to rely on His strength and not our own.
Westside church of Christ