The Privilege of Thorns

My friend Mark offers a guest-entry this week. He raises an issue we need to hear if we happen to receive some level of status or appreciation from our ministries. It’s not only Paul’s concern – or Mark’s – but ours too.

Paul, like the apostle John on the island of Patmos, was privileged to experience an extraordinary revelation. He had the heavenlies unfold before him. Yet he was so humble about this incredible privilege that he only referred to it in the third person.

Let me speak of our own privileges as Christians. Privilege is an interesting thing in our culture. We can regard it as a point of superiority. After all, we must be pretty important to be privileged. But is privilege a possession or an assignment? Paul rightly sees the importance of the revelation he had been given. What Paul saw was, indeed, great. But another experience brought him down to earth: a “thorn in the flesh.” It caused him to reflect on this pairing of his current life assignment and the unique privilege he had received.

a thorn was given me in the flesh
a messenger of Satan
to keep me from becoming conceited
to harass me
to keep me from becoming conceited.
of the surpassing greatness of the revelations . . .”

Just what was this thorn in the flesh? We aren’t told. Whether it was a physical limitation or a spiritual battle—perhaps with covetousness—it was a struggle for Paul.

I know my own thorns . . . immediately as I read this . . . so I don’t need to know his particular thorn in order to understand the risk and reminder of thorns.

The thorn is described as a messenger of Satan. God had not kept Satan’s hand from troubling Paul. Paul tells us why: to keep him from becoming proud. Specifically, to harass him so that he does not become prideful, something his great revelations may have produced. He might have pointed to his experiences to elevate himself before his accusers and other lesser men. He resisted that path because of the thorn: it reminded him of his own weak, humble humanity. So when he does share it here he does so circumspectly.

How many points of pride are rising up in me? How do I react to my own thorn? Do I complain? Or do I ask God to remove it; and then accept it as His gift if He allows it to remain? Paul gave his own example:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this,
that it should leave me.”

First, he asked God to remove it. Three times! Paul did not hesitate to ask God to act on his behalf.

he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you,
my power is made perfect in weakness.’”

When it was clear that God had not removed it Paul listened to the Spirit. He told Paul that it was to remind him of his dependence on God; and a reminder of the actual impotence of the thorn—the weakness—in light of Gods surpassing grace and power. It would not be a hindrance to Paul’s ministry. So Paul then made it a point of boasting in Jesus:

I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

And the power of Christ gave him contentedness in the very weakness that troubled Him.

“For the sake of Christ, then,
I am content with
For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And he was content in weakness and in the things that result from weakness. He resisted pride towards those who were the sources of his listed trials. Paul recognized that his strength was in Christ; and the thorn then became a witness to that bond.

Lord, help me to keep my eyes open and my perspective fresh. I want to learn to regard privileges as assignments, thorns as witnesses, and difficulties as the times when Christ is most present.


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