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Thorn In The Flesh

I will say this: because these experiences I had were so tremendous, God was afraid I might be puffed up by them; so I was given a physical condition which has been a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to hurt and bother me and prick my pride.
2 Cor 12:7 (TLB)

A thorn in the flesh is a description of a physical disability or a spiritual annoyance, which the apostle Paul encountered in his life. The thorn was designated as a "messenger from Satan" - an adversary who opposed the ministry of Paul.

The nature of Paul's thorn in the flesh can either be physical or spiritual or both. If referring to the physical flesh, the thorn may be some physical infirmity such as epilepsy, malaria or bad eyesight. Galatians 4:13-15 seems to indicate an eye ailment. If referring to the spiritual flesh, the thorn may be some painful experiences such as the temptation of the soul or the opposition of the Jews.

The purpose of the thorn was to eradicate spiritual arrogance in the life of Paul as he had many spiritual and supernatural encounters with God. Although Paul prayed for its removal, the Lord said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Thus Paul could rather boast in his infirmities than his strengths, because of the victorious power of Christ working mightily in his life.

Therefore grace becomes a prominent theme in the letters of the apostle Paul. He made it lavishly clear that salvation is not something that can be earned or merited; it has to be received only as a gift of grace (Rom. 4:4). Grace, however, must be accompanied by faith; a person must trust in the mercy and favor of God, even though he does not deserve or merit them (Rom. 4:16).

Life is a bed of roses with thorns. To have thorns in our flesh is justifiable and endurable as long as we apply the grace of God. Just look at the roses. Despite their thorns, they are still lovely and beautiful to behold as they grace our living rooms. The important thing about thorns is that they must not be bigger than the flowers. Grace must overpower and overshadow the thorns! When we look at the roses, the flowers should get our full attention. Besides the florists and those who arrange the flowers, no one else should look at the prickly thorns. The problem with us is that sometimes we pay more attention to the thorns in our lives than the flowers.

The pearl in an oyster is formed by a thorn in the flesh. Its formation begins first with the introduction of a foreign object or nucleus into the mollusk. This irritant becomes the basis for the production of the pearl. It is an extremely stressful experience for the sea creature, often resulting in death if it is not properly processed and cultured. Upon the intrusion of this nucleus, the mollusk must defend itself against this invasion by coating it with layers of pearl or nacre. The thicker the nacre, the deeper the luster will be. Depending on their sizes, pearls can take up to three years or more to form. The saddest thing is that not all oysters produce pearls. Some oysters are rotten and smelly, generating waste and no pearl. They refuse to work on the thorn in their flesh and to apply grace to their unpleasant situation. They often die in bitterness and disgrace - prematurely.

Thorns will beget thorns. If not coated with grace, thorns will grow all over without restraint.

I went by the field of the slothful,
and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding;
and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns,
and nettles had covered the face thereof,
and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
Proverbs 24:30-31

To live in days like ours, it is often easy to become negative and judgmental in our views of people and problems. Many people speak about injustice, corruption and declining morals. On the other hand, many of them are privately participating and endorsing those ills they are publicly against. The man in public is not the same man in private. A doctor, who strongly advises his patients against lung cancer, is himself a compulsive and heavy smoker. Similarly in churches, we have people preaching one thing but living another. When the walls of our lives are broken down, we need to be truthful to ourselves and others. Out of those same ruins, we need to rebuild and restore. We can either become better or bitter. It is hard work. No short cuts. We need to appropriate the grace of God in the thorns of our lives, giving us the strength to carry on. One day, we will find pearls in place of thorns. Our bitter waters will turn into sweet wine.

Beloved, now we are children of God;
and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be,
but we know that when He is revealed,
we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is.
I John 3:2

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary