September 19, 2018- Paul's Thorn

Everything that Paul encountered, he counted it as blessing. We see in Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Other translations use words like garbage and dung.

 Even though Paul lost a lot, he viewed it as worthless compared to knowing Christ.

James echoes this same thought in James 1:2-3, where he says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience”

There is a common theme here between these two men, they value Christ more than anything that the world has to offer. So, they didn’t view their hardships as hindrances to their faith or their ministry but actually view it as a blessing.

It is all well and good to realize this, and honestly is easier said than done. When we are in the middle of a storm, our first thought isn’t… thanks God, I’m so grateful for this pain or suffering that I am going through. But what we need to be reminded of is that it took Paul going through a tremendous amount of terrible circumstances  to get to this point.

What we know about Paul is that he faced many hardships.

·         1 Corinthians 4:11 “1To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to [a]conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”

o   Dregs – what’s left over from a liquid, together with any sediment or grounds.

§  The most worthless part or parts of something

·          Beatings

·         Imprisonment

·         Sleepless nights

·         Hunger

·         Struggling with the flesh

·         Homeless

·         Poorly clothed

·         Reviled (hated), but blessed them

·         Having to work hard

·         Slandered but tried to conciliate (stop someone from being angry or discontented; placate; pacify)

·         Persecuted, but enduring

 

Sounds like a glamorous lifestyle, right? That doesn’t sound like the description that some people give when they talk about Christianity.

Paul had several instances where he showed his weakness, his humanity. Tonight we are focusing on one particular instance that lasted the rest of his life.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to [a]torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast [b]about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with [c]insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

When the Pain Comes (v7)

 

·         A few verses earlier, Paul has this incredible vision of paradise. It was so amazing that he was even told he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. He could have easily gotten arrogant because of his vision, this personal experience of heaven. This was highly valued in that particular culture. There were many who claimed to have visions so that they could have notoriety. But, we see what happens. So that Paul would not become prideful, God puts a thorn in his side.

So, what is this thorn that Paul now has?

                Σαρκί (sarki) which could mean physical, but also spiritual flesh

·         Speculation of several things

o   Physical (poor eyesight, injuries, illness, etc.)

o   Spiritual

§  People in the church tearing it apart and driving an emotional stake through him

§  People undermining him and ruin his credibility

§  possibly even literally a demonic spirit tormenting him mentally

Messenger from Satan

·         A messenger from Satan to keep me from exalting myself!

o   The purpose of this messenger from Satan was to keep Paul humble. It makes you wonder how much Paul struggled with humility that he would need to have a constant reminder that it was God who was working in and through his life.

o   There are people or temptations that arise in our lives that will draw us back to who we were before we knew Christ. Sometimes those temptations are weak and do nothing to derail us, but sometimes they can be excruciatingly difficult to overcome. Paul fought this thorn and because of his faith in Christ was able to see it as more than a hindrance.

·         Either way, what we learn is that God placed this thorn in his side, whether it was a literal ailment or a spiritual issue that Paul had to deal with.

When the Pain Continues (v8)

·         In verse 8, we see that Paul asks God three times to remove this from him.

·         There is another person that asked God to remove something from Him 3 times as well, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

o   With both of these instances, God said no.

o   God had foreknowledge that Paul was not privy to. He knew what His plan for Paul was, and it required him to go through this test that possibly lasted the rest of his life.

·         There will be times in our lives that God allows us to go through difficult circumstances, not because He is a cosmic bully, or doesn’t care about you, but because He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what it will take for us to depend on Him.

When the Pain Remains

·         So, we see that God does not remove the thorn from Paul’s side.

·         There are times that we will have painful situations arise in our lives. We may do like Paul and petition God to remove them, but He chooses not to. At this point we make three choices

o   Give Up

o   Get Bitter

o   Grit your teeth and Endure it

·         Give Up

o   We can just throw our hands up and give up on God, give up on the church, give up on everything. We quit fighting and just live defeated.

·         Get Bitter

o   We blame God, begin to hate him, hate the church and everything. We are so bitter that it destroys any joy that we may have had and we tend to make as many people miserable around us as possible.

·         Grit your teeth and endure

o   It drives us to do exactly what God desires- trust Him more. We look past the circumstance and see how He is working through it even though it may be painful to us right now.

When God Responds (v9)

·         When we respond in the correct way, we see exactly how awesome God is.

·         We see, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful displays of God’s love in the new testament.

o   He tells Paul, my grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”

§  Sounds like an oxymoron… power is perfected in weakness.

·         Weakness by definition means you are deficient at something, but here is where God can work in our lives.

·         When we are able to admit that we are weak, we can stop putting trust in ourselves and our own abilities and begin to trust in God’s.

o   Disclaimer: This doesn’t mean that you will be able to become a superstar athlete… but that you are able to praise Him regardless of the circumstances.

·         Grace can be defined as God’s provision for our every need when we need it. There is never a shortage of grace. This is how we can see even the worst of the worst people, (by our standards) become a Christian. God’s grace is sufficient for all.

·         And, if God’s grace is sufficient to save us, it is sufficient to sustain us.

·         Paul accepted this then as a gift from God.          

o   WHAT?!

o   When he was able to do so, God began working in him.

o   When we can view our weakness as a weakness, it gives us strength because then we can acknowledge and depend on the strength of God instead of our own.

§  The difficult part is admitting that we are actually weak.

§  We will do everything we can to make people believe that we have everything together, even to the point of forgetting who we are.

·         There are times when things happen and God offers no explanation. There are times when a family member dies, or a pet (Henry), a friend, someone gets sick, etc…

o   These times can be difficult for us but we have to remember that God may be doing this to teach us something.

·         He offers us a promise

o   My grace is sufficient for you

o   God’s grace enables us to rise above our circumstances and feelings and cause our problems, our own thorns, to work for us in accomplishing His good.

When we endure (v9-10)

·          Paul writes that he can and will gladly boast about his weaknesses. Because, in speaking about his weakness, he is able to trust in God more.

o   How many times have we confessed our weakness? When we bring that to the forefront of our lives, it reminds us and causes us to acknowledge our real need for Christ and God’s grace.

o   Whether you admit your weakness to someone else, or just write it down and keep it somewhere close to you, never forget what that is, so that you can trust in Christ and not in your own strengths.

·         He finishes this section by saying, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

o   Isaiah 40:28-31

o   God is the one who never gets tired, He never lacks strength, and He gives that to us when we can admit that we are weak in our own strength.

o   It is not the physical or emotional strength that will help us conquer weakness, but spiritual strength directly from the Father that will help us to see those thorns, those terrible situations as opportunities to praise God.

·         We will never fully understand the reason that people suffer. (Sin is the root cause, but why do people suffer in certain ways.)

·         Sometimes we suffer simply because we are human, normal problems of life

·         Sometimes because we make poor decisions and rebel against parents, or God. We deal with the consequences of our actions.

·         Suffering is also a refining tool that God uses to build godly character and make us more like Christ.

In Conclusion:

We are not informed what the actual thorn was in Paul’s side. I believe there is reason for that. It takes away our excuse of saying that our suffering is not exactly like Paul’s. We can learn a lesson from his thorn, in that God is going to put us through situations that the only thing we can hold on to is the promise that His grace is sufficient.

 

 

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