2 Corinthians 12:1-10
If you look around the room tonight, and also consider yourselves, you will notice that there is something that we all have in common. We all have our share of problems. I have developed a little list of problem areas that I am aware of that afflict our little congregation. Physical ailments: Heart problems, arthritis, hearing loss, vision loss, cancer, diabetes, migraines, thyroids, not as mentally sharp as they once were, stomach problems, allergies, back problems, strokes, high blood pressure, etc. Then there are the spiritual issues: bitterness, anger, unforgiving, dishonesty, fear, doubt, depression, gossips, heartbreaks, discouragement, pride, not saved. And other real world problems: marriage strife, family problems, school struggles, financial difficulty, job situations, adjusting to schedules, learning to balance our various responsibilities, the car won’t start, or the house if falling apart. Did I leave anybody out? Why does God allow these thorns in our lives? What is the purpose of them?
1. We are prone to pride. Look at the context of this passage. Paul has seen something wonderful and marvelous that he is not able to describe. Paul was privileged believer. Church planter, soul winner, author of the majority of our New Testament, and one that saw visions. There are various visions mentioned in the book of Acts, and here we have this vision where he sees into the splendor of heaven. Now wonder he referred back to the words of Isaiah when he said
1 Corinthians 2:9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. I do not think that any of us in here have been used to the extreme that Paul was, but yet it is an honor to be used by God. There are not any among us that have seen what Paul saw in the third heaven either, but if you are saved, someday you will. The things that Paul had done and seen could have been a source of pride in his life…lest I be exalted above measure. Think about that; Paul said that what he had experienced in the Christian life could have become a source of pride. Don’t you think that we are prone to the same feelings? Consider all of the privileges that God has afforded you…it is quite possible to get prideful.
Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
2. In reality, we are rather puny. Paul had this thorn in the flesh that he was having a difficult time dealing with. Why does a rose have thorns? It is a result of the curse.
Genesis 3:17-19 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. When we are swelled up with pride and self sufficiency, we soon forget where we came from.
We are mere feeble frames of dust. That’s pretty insignificant in the big picture. Our greatest asset not surrendered to God will become our greatest liability. In other words, what makes you good can make you bad.
No matter what you have heard, we really do not know what Paul’s thorn was. If God wanted you to know, He would have revealed it in His Word. It makes it universal in nature, we all have thorns. Before I go on, just remember, it’s not always the big things that become our thorns (nettles). How can something so small, and hard to see be the source of so much pain?
The thorn drove Paul to his knees, he asked the Lord three times to remove it. The thorn teaches us our dependence on God and of His sovereignty.
Philippians 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
3. We have the potential to be powerful. We should never be discouraged when God’s answer does not line up with our desires—He is simply trying to make us or teach us. Look at the illustration we have in Psalm 102. He weakened my strength in the way. Do you believe that God knows what gets in the way? And that He also knows how to move it or make it disappear? The Psalmist is crying out for an oppressed nation, but you can also see his individual pain. Have you noticed that Paul does not complain that he was not healed of his thorn?
If God does not heal then His answer is grace. So many times we miss out on tapping into God’s power because we determine to handle things our way and in our power. I can get through this, we are going to fight this. That is not Biblical thinking.
Ecclesiastes 9:11 I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
What a powerful transformation takes place when we can say I accept the thorn as a channel of God’s power in me.