O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
What is the reason Paul was given this thorn in the flesh? Consider that Paul had just had an experience few people other than John had ever been given. How easy it would be to have an inflated ego having been so honored by God Himself. Although I have had a moment or two of minor privileges, they do not compare with even the smallest of Paul's, and they tend to cause my ego to fly our of sight. I suspect you too have had your share of such experiences. Poor eyesight would do nothing to squash such an ego boost. In fact, having poor eyesight might be looked upon as a handicap, especially for an evangelist and a writer such as Paul was. We all know how we give special glory to those who must overcome a handicap in order to succeed.
It might appear that what I have told you has nothing to do with the thorn in Paul's side. And in fact it has very little to do with his thorn. But at the same time it is clear that shepherds and pastors are a thorn in God's side, and the pastors of the churches of the day was Paul's big burden that he had to constantly correct and put back on course.
What should that tell us about pastors?
This statement was made by a fellow Apostle. Note two things about this statement that especially applies to Paul and that must cause him much distress. The first thing to notice is that God resists the proud. If Paul has a problem with pride at all, especially since his life's effort has been to rise above all others, as will be seen in a moment, then he would desire with all his heart to have his pride taken from him. Isn't that true of you? Haven't you cried out to God to have Him remove some form of temptation or other fleshly weakness, and for some reason He just doesn't seem to hear our cries? Maybe you haven't had this experience, but I have, and I still do. They weary me no end. But as hard as I try, I just can't seem to get past these barriers that stand between me and the closeness to God that I once had, and that I desire so much.
The second point to notice is that James says if we resist the devil he will flee from us. Yet Paul is stuck with a persistent devil he just can not shake. Can you imagine what Paul must think when he reads this letter from James?
Then to rub salt in his wounds, Paul must endure Peter saying the same thing as James did. Consider that at one time Paul had to rebuke this affirmed leader of the Apostles. How that must have bolstered his ego to have to correct the Apostle of the Apostles (Gal 2:11). Peter, if anyone, would know about pride, and the workings of Satan on pride (Luke 22:31-35).
Anything less than perfection is sin. Adam found this out much to his, and to our hurt.
These are the Words of Jesus. Note the company pride and foolishness is bound with in this passage. Having read this, if you were desiring to be the very best you could be, wouldn't you want to be free of all pride and foolishness? Me too. Keep this in mind as we read further:
This passage reads very much like that of Jesus' above. However, this statement was made by Paul himself. One might ascertain from this that Paul is in agreement that pride runs with a bad crowd, as seen by the associations he, Paul has made here.
We have here almost the same words as those in the passage above. But included here is the strong statement that those who do such things (including the proud) is worthy of death. Now, let's take a look at some of the statements Paul has made about himself (only those that come to my mind, there are many others I'm sure) and see if we might ascertain what his thorn in his flesh might be:
This part of a verse was taken from our original example passage. I have placed it here as an introduction to the other statements Paul has made concerning himself. Paul speaks of his infirmities. Infirmity means: "Feebleness, frailty, weakness, of mind or body." Because of the use of the word infirmities it is thought that Paul had a physical affliction. But what if his problem wasn't physical, but emotional or Spiritual?
Paul spoke a great deal about perfection and the need to be perfect. It is as if his greatest quest was to be the best and the greatest of the Disciples of Jesus, and the best of the Apostles. And if pure volumes of writing given to us through the ages is any sign, he has surely attained that goal. I'm sure Paul had higher motives than this for what he did, but nonetheless he has clearly given us a lot of examples and instructions on becoming the highest quality disciple of our Lord.
This is not something I would expect a humble person to say. How about you?
"18Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also."
"Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also."
Remember, in Mark 7:21 Jesus Himself said that pride and foolishness defiles a man. Here Paul claims both for himself, does he not?
Here the list goes on and on telling about how he has done more, been abused more, and suffered more for Christ than has anyone else. Humility is not an accusation that can easily be placed on such a man as Paul.
All the above statements were made in 2 Cor chapter 12. We might say that this is Paul's credentials, or his resumé. I would call it his bragging papers. Note how once again Paul brags on his infirmities. Have you come to any conclusion as to what Paul's infirmities might be? Remember, an infirmity can be emotional or spiritual as well as physical.
Notice how Paul not only brags about all he was before his conversion, but he also brags about all that he gave up for the Lord. No matter what Paul does, or that he doesn't do, he counts them as bragging rights. I'm afraid if I was to brag on myself but half as much as he brags on himself, I would feel very much down on myself.
Sin has a way of humbling us. When we start to condemn someone for something that they are doing, we then have to look at our self and remember that we have no room to talk. We may speak of another person's sin or weakness, and hopefully try to help them overcome that problem, but condemnation (unless we are truly blind to our own problems) will not be present when we view the problems and shortcomings of others.
Can you relate to Paul's struggle with his fleshly desires? I surely can. Oh how I would love to be free of my desires and my temptations. What I wouldn't give to have someone lift this burden of lust, shame and guilt off my shoulders. But no matter how much I plead to God to take them from me, He just will not do so. It's as if He is telling me that I must carry my burden until I have gained the strength and the ability to overcome the burden that I have placed upon myself. It is the overcomer who will be with the Lord. We must overcome as He has overcome if we expect to share in His rewards (Rev 3:21; John 16:33).
What I am talking about here has nothing to do with being saved, but that is an entirely different issue.
I want more than anything else to serve the Lord as He desires me to serve him. In order to accomplish this I must do as He did, and that is to overcome the world, which is my worldly desires. We are fortunate in that we are able to watch others in their own struggle to overcome the world. We have Peter who had his battle with pride; and we have Job who, although called perfect by God Himself, had his hidden sin, which was that of pride in his perfection. And what is pertinent here, we have Paul's struggle that has even more bearing on us today than does that of Job or Peter.
Paul's struggle is one that each of us, in one form or another, can relate to. We all have our proud side. And unless we haven't matured to the point of recognizing our problem, or labeling our pride as a sin that causes a barrier between us and the Lord, we struggle with our ego.
By redirecting our attention off Paul's efforts to overcome his weaknesses, calling his weakness something so benign as his eyesight, we lose the lesson Paul's experience has to teach us. This is true of many issues, as well as stories and parables in the Bible. We isolate them and catagorize them as interesting little stories designed for children, surrounded by a bunch of words that have no meaning or interest to us. But God's Word is a wealth of information that must be deciphered by the Holy Spirit if it is to be of use to us.
Whether Paul's thorn in the flesh was in fact his ego is of little importance. I may be way off base and the theologians have it right in that his problem was his eyesight and no more than that. Regardless, I think you can see that by looking beyond the obvious, there is much to learn if we will only take the time to study God's Word.
The purpose of this piece is twofold. One I have had a desire to understand what Paul meant when he talked about having a struggle with the flesh in Romans chapter 7. The explanations I've read or heard on this passage seemed to me to be nothing more than a way to slip past the subject without having an explanation. To me there is something that calls out for an understanding of what Paul was saying, and what he was experiencing. Was he in fact having a problem with his flesh? I couldn't see how someone who had lived such an exemplary life could have a problem, unless it was that of zeal and anger, which he obviously exhibited. But zeal he used for the benefit of others, and for the purposes of the Lord. And it was fairly clear that he had overcome anger by the fact that he forgave those who brutally abused him. This being the case, what else might be the thorn in his flesh? And, which leads to my second reason for this study, what can I learn from Paul's problem that will it help me overcome my own habitual shortcomings?
I think I have been successful in these endeavors, that is, to discover what Romans 7 is about. And I think I've learned what Paul's problem was. Whether this helps me to overcome my problem, or to understand it better is yet to be seen. But now I no longer feel alone in my struggle. And for that I give much thanks to Paul, even if what I have learned turns out to be a misguided conclusion.
Question: Did Paul ever overcome his thorn of pride, do you think?
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