2 Corinthians 12:7-10
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh…
If the Lord Jesus passed from the baptism in the Jordan, and the dovelike descent of the Holy Ghost upon him, to the solitude of the wilderness and the assaults of the tempter; if he came down from the mount of transfiguration to witness the failure of the disciples to heal the lunatic boy, and to give expression to his sorrow in the words, "O faithless and perverse generation!" etc. - it is not surprising that an apostle should be sorely tried after his exaltation. New endowments must have new tests. New and larger grace must be immediately put off probation, since there are many probations in this one probation that have eternal issues. "Lest I" - this man in Christ, who fourteen years ago was prepared by special revelation for the toil and trial of his Gentile apostleship - "lest I should be exalted above measure;" and what was the danger? "The abundance of the revelations." Against that danger he must be fortified. If new endowments and new graces are instantly put on trial, and the conditions of life's general probation changed, then, indeed, a new check to guard against abuse of increased gifts must not be lacking. The man is not precisely the same man as before, nor is he in the same world that he previously occupied. Accessions of outward advantages, such as wealth and social position, are full of risks, but accessions of inward power are far more perilous. To preserve St. Paul from self-glorification, there was given him "a thorn in the flesh." First of all, the revelations were as to the fact itself to be kept a secret, and this was a means of humility, but the thorn in the flesh was added. What it was we know not, but it was a bodily infirmity that caused him much suffering. "This is significant. It is of the very nature of thorns to be felt rather than seen, and to appear trifling evils to all but those directly stung by them" (Dr. Bellows). It was "a messenger of Satan," though this does not imply that it was not under God's direction. The idea is that this "angel of Satan" was an impaling stake that produced severe and continued pain, and the reason therefore is twice stated, "lest I should be exalted above measure." So, then, it was not as an apostle, but as the apostle to the Gentiles, that he was specially afflicted. Pain is instinctively resisted as an enemy to the activity, comfort, and pleasure of life. Naturally, therefore, St. Paul felt that it would interfere with his energy and happiness, and, of course, the Satanic side of the torture would be uppermost in his thought. The evil in pain is what we see first. If this were not realized, it could not be an affliction. Hence he prayed thrice to the Lord that it might depart from him. But his prayer was denied. At the same time, the promise was given - a promise worth far more than the removal of the pain - "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." The thorn was to continue - a lifelong suffering in addition to his other infirmities was to be fastened upon him, a special and grievous suffering. Yet, while it had to remain a sad memorial, not of his exaltation, but of human frailty in connection with great endowments, there was an assurance direct and specific of sustaining grace. Along with that a most important truth was taught him, namely, that the perfection of strength is attained through the consciousness of our utter weakness. First, then, the evil of pain; next, the good of pain under the agency of God's grace; - this is the method of providence and grace, for the two are one in the Divine purpose. Alas! had the prayer of those sensitive nerves of his been literally answered, what a loser would he and we have been! How much of his power would have vanished with the pain! How many thoughts and emotions that have cheered the afflicted and inspired the weak to be heroic, would have been unknown! Such Epistles as the apostle wrote (to say nothing of his other services to the world) could never have been written under the ordinary experience of the ills of life. All men have thorns in the flesh, for there is no perfect health, no human body free from ailments. But in St. Paul's case the thorn was a superaddition to existing infirmities. Nor is it difficult for us to see how this particular infirmity, sanctified by the Spirit, was specially adapted to guard him at a most exposed point. Inasmuch as he was the object of a peculiar and violent opposition, he was singularly liable to the temptation of over asserting himself and his merits, the more so as his enemies took delight in taunting him with his personal defects as to manner and appearance. The safeguard was provided where it was most wanted. Such, in fact, was his own view of the matter: "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." "My infirmities," he argues, "instead of being the hindrance they would be if left to themselves, are helpers, since they are the occasions of grace, and this grace rests upon me, i.e. abides continually. The thought is precious; it must be repeated. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities," etc.; for the power of Christ had been imparted to him with such fulness as to transform pain into pleasure so far as his spiritual nature was concerned. The body continued to suffer, the humiliations were increased, but his soul was filled with Christ as the Christ of his pains and sorrows, and thus he had the victory, not only over physical misery, but over all pride and vanity that might have sprung up "through the abundance of the revelations." Glorious words are these: "When I am weak, then am I strong." Notice the clear view St. Paul has of the Divine hand in his thorn in the flesh. If he is perfectly assured of the abundance of the revelations, if he can locate the scene in Paradise, if he realizes the sanctity of these disclosures in the "unspeakable words," he is just as certain that the thorn "was given" him. He knew it was a "thorn," and he knew whence it came. He acknowledged God in it, and, in this feeling, prayed thrice for its removal. Christians often fail at this point. They doubt at times whether their afflictions come from God. Some Christians cannot be induced to believe that their sufferings are sent from above, and they see in them nothing more than evil casualties. But if they fail to recognize God in the sorrow, they will not find him in the joy of his blessed promise, "My grace is sufficient for thee." It was not merely the "them" that St. Paul had to endure. This was a source of pain, and it aggravated, doubtless, his other physical infirmities, and, in turn, was augmented by them. But we must not forget the state of mind such an affliction naturally produced - the surprise that it should follow such wonderful signs of God's favour as had been vouchsafed in the "abundance of the revelations," the temptation to a rebellious spirit and the occasion for unbelief it would furnish. A literal answer to his prayer was refused; a spiritual answer was granted. The "grace" bestowed was "sufficient," not only to bear the pain as a peculiar addition to his "infirmities" already existing, but to enable him to "glory" in it; and the providence of it was specially manifested in the power it had given him to be patient, forbearing, humble, in the late trouble with the Corinthians. O Christians, who are called to a lifelong discipline in the school of suffering, think of the measure implied in the sufficient grace! Sufficient for what? Sufficient, not only to glory in pain and infirmity, but to glory "most gladly." - L.
Parallel VersesKJV: And lest 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.
WEB: By reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted excessively, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, that I should not be exalted excessively.