Paul Rose Above The Thorn (ATP)
This week’s devotional is in response to a question posed about God’s desire and willingness to heal. The question of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, as written in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, was brought up as an example that God was allowing Paul to be sick. Many Christians believe that his thorn was a type of sickness.
So, what exactly was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? Well, a lot of people have argued this but as always we believe the best way to interpret scripture, is through scripture and in its context. Let’s look at this carefully: 2 Corinthians 12:7 says, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” There are a few things I want to point out while reading this scripture. One, God didn’t give this thorn and two, it was not a sickness it was a spirit.
Right after Paul mentions this thorn in the flesh he makes a very important acknowledgement as to what it was and where it came from. The thorn was a messenger of satan. Well we know that any messenger comes from whom they were sent and Paul clearly tells us that satan sent it! Where people sometimes get tripped up in this is in vs 9 which reads: And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
People often stumble on the word infirmity here because of its connection to our understanding of sickness. In our day we equate this word with sickness but just because our modern language does this does not make it the intent of the author here. Another example of this different usage of language in scripture, is how the King James Version of the Bible speaks on several occasions of unicorns. We know unicorns do not exist so does this mean the Bible was in error? Of course not! If you get an 1800’s dictionary you will see that that is what people used to call the rhinoceros.
This word infirmity also means feebleness of mind, weakness, and lack of strength or ability to bear trouble. What Paul is saying is precisely what he is saying so much in his writings, “When I don’t have the strength or ability to deal with opposition in of myself, God’s strength is sufficient for me.” He also reiterates this in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He clearly is not talking about being sick at all.
Now, there is another method of Bible interpretation that we use to help us understand what scripture is saying and that is the rule of first mention. In other words, to understand scriptural principle, it is best to know if it is talked about in other places so we can make sure we are not pulling random scriptures out and making wrong doctrine out of them. It is important to note that all wrong doctrine comes from either misinterpretation or misrepresentation of scripture. That said, we see the first mention of a thorn in the flesh in the book of Numbers.
The Lord told Moses in Numbers 33:55: But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides (flesh), and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. Clearly here God was equating these people to thorns and was not telling Moses that they would be a sickness to them. Our enemies are just that to us, are they not? Like a thorn, they might not kill you, but they sure can cause you discomfort!
Let’s go back to 2 Corinthians 12:7. We see that the purpose of this thorn was to buffet Paul. Literally the word buffet means to strike with a fist. Harass in Numbers 33:55 means to show hostility towards. Wouldn’t you easily say that harass and buffet mean a very similar thing? When we look at scripture through the light of the understanding of scripture, it makes the whole thing a lot more clear. Many people in today’s society (non-Christians) are misinterpreting scripture in a similar manner trying to show a God who isn’t good. They bring up the idea of things like slavery and genocide, trying to draw a parallel between things found in scripture and atrocities perpetrated by humans. Just because people read it some way doesn’t make it truth.
So we can see, as Christians, we need to continually read scripture through the light of God’s revelation. As believers and disciples we should constantly be learning. I often say that my doctrine on anything can be changed, as long as it’s founded in scripture. As far as God’s desire for healing goes, I can say this much: the abundance of scripture points to His character of being healer not inflictor.
Jesus, who only did God’s will, only healed, He never inflicted. He clearly told us, to do what He did and greater. One of God’s many descriptive names is Jehovah Rapha, or the God who heals you. God is not in the destroying business, He is in the redeeming business. Redemption means deliverance and so I think I’ll close with a Psalm on this subject. Psalms 107:20, “He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions.”