Today I'd like to share with you from Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians 12: 7-9.
In the verses preceding these, Paul "boasts" about visions and revelations he had received from the Lord. Paul had been taken up to paradise ( the third heaven)and he told of these events to show that he had been uniquely touched by God. After Paul talks of these revelations he then talks about the thorn in the flesh that was given to him. We don't really know what Paul's thorn in the flesh was as he doesn't tell us.
There have been many theories as to what exactly this thorn was—so many theories in fact, that it is impossible to diagnose Paul's situation with complete assurance. Some have suggested that Paul's thorn came in the form of Jewish persecution because of the surrounding context speaking of opponents. Even in Numbers 33:55 thorns are used as a metaphor for the enemies of the Israelites. Others have suggested that Paul's own remembrance of his past was his thorn; Paul's past included the persecution of the church (Acts 8:1-3; Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6) which may have continually haunted him and kept him humble. Some even propose that Paul dealt with either carnal temptation or depression.
A physical ailment, however, seems more likely here, though the lack of details forbid a proper diagnosis. Physical infirmities that seem to fit the situation are malaria, Malta fever, epilepsy, convulsive attacks, and chronic ophthalmia.
Whatever the case, it was a chronic and debilitating problem which kept him from working. This thorn was a hindrance to his ministry, and he prayed for its removal; but God refused. Paul was a very self-sufficient person, so this thorn must have been difficult for him.
Paul's thorn came by way of a messenger of Satan in order to torment him. Yet at the same time it was given to him in order that he would not become conceited. The present paradox can be compared to that of the story of Job. Satan was permitted to afflict God's servant, yet only within the parameters set by God (Job 2). Paul also wrote about handing an immoral brother to Satan so that his flesh may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:5). Satan is used at times as an instrument to bolster the faith or prove the righteousness of believers.
3 times Paul prayed for healing and did not receive it. However, he did receive things far greater i.e. grace from God, a stronger character, humility, and an ability to empathize with others. In addition, it benefited those around him as they saw God at work in his life. God, according to his sovereign plan, doesn't heal some believers of their physical ailments. We don't know why some are spared and others aren't. God chooses according to his divine purposes. Our task is to pray, to believe, and to trust. Paul is living proof that holy living and courageous faith do NOT ensure instant healing. When we pray for healing, we must trust our bodies to Gods care. We must recognize that nothing separates us from his love and that our spiritual condition is always more important than our physical condition.
Although God did not remove Paul's physical affliction, he promised to demonstrate his power in Paul. The fact that Gods power is displayed in weak people should give us courage. Though we recognize our limitations, we will not congratulate ourselves and rest at that. Instead, we will turn to God to seek pathways for effectiveness. We must rely on God for our effectiveness rather than simply on our own energy, effort or talent. Our weakness not only helps develop Christian character; it also deepens our worship, because in admitting our weakness, we affirm Gods strength.
When we are strong in our abilities or resources, we are tempted to do Gods work on our own, and that can lead to pride. When we are weak, allowing God to fill us with his power, then we are stronger than we could ever be on our own. God does not intend for us to be weak, passive, or ineffective - life provides enough hindrances and setbacks without us creating them. When obstacles come, we must depend on God. Only his power will make us effective for him and will help us do work that has lasting value.
The thorn of which Paul speaks gives us an understanding of God's perspective concerning physical infirmities. Sometimes God uses illnesses for his purposes. Paul experienced many sufferings outside of his thorn (2 Cor 11:22-28), yet God used him mightily for the advancement of His Gospel. The existence of illness or suffering in a believer's life does not necessarily constitute a sinful life or a life that lacks faith. Paul pleaded with the Lord on three separate occasions for the Lord to remove the thorn, yet God's grace was enough for the apostle and His power is made perfect in Paul's weaknesses.