The Ministry of the Thorn

Bible Book: 2 Corinthians  12 : 1-10
Subject: Hardships; Christian Living; Faith
Introduction

There were false leaders in the church at Corinth. God wants real Christians in leadership, leaders with a heart for God and a spirit of dedication. Counterfeit leaders lead to inappropriate actions, and inappropriate actions lead to wrong results.

God uses the ministry of the thorn to grow us, build us, and develop us. God wants Christians who will trust Him in all situations, especially those related to the leadership within the church.

Did you hear about the man used a picture of a piece cheese to try to catch a mouse? When the checked the trap, he didn’t find a real mouse but he found a picture of a mouse instead! Counterfeit actions produce counterfeit results.

Some years ago an advertisement appeared in Popular Mechanics magazine by the Cessna Corporation. The advertisement stated that they could make you a pilot for $2,900.00. Many people answered the ad. Seven women in Kansas, however, used some quirky ingenuity in answering the ad. They wrote saying, “We have read that you can make us a pilot for $2,900.00. We want you to make us one immediately. We want a male, 6’2” tall, 195 lbs., size 11 shoe, with blue eyes and brown wavy hair. We understand that you guarantee your pilot, but we would like him on approval. If he works out alright, we will want more.”

When God gets ready to make a mature Christian, He does so using many experiences, not all of which are pleasant. One way he does it is to use the ministry of the thorn.

I. The Boasting He Expressed

In the passage before us, Paul talks about his blessings. He was being a little sarcastic, yet he was noting that he could boast of great spiritual experiences if needed. You and I could boast as well. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of prideful of boasting of our spiritual accomplishments.

Paul’s point was to show the foolishness of some leaders in the Church at Corinth. They were, no doubt, boasting of their skills and capabilities, and perhaps they were bragging about their experiences. Paul was showing that he had plenty of experiences he could boast about if that was indeed necessary. But, Paul was doing this to show how foolish such boasting really is in the life of a Christian.

Actually, every person in this service today is as saved as any other. It doesn't make any difference whether you were saved 40 years ago or saved yesterday. Salvation is the work of Christ, and none of us can do anything for Him before we are saved. So, all praise for our service to Jesus goes to Jesus! We are not saved because of who we are but because of who Jesus was, is and will always be. He calls, He saves and He keeps our salvation safe. Our boasting must be in Him!

II. The Burden He Endured

It is revealing that what made Paul a ‘useful’ Christian was his thorn. Paul moved from the clouds to the clods. He moved from the throne to the thorn. He moved from the glory-side to the gory-side. He moved from his boasting to his burden! Someone has well said that no person can be truly used of God who has not suffered!

Paul’s thorn may have been spiritual temptation, physical temptation, persecution, or a physical illness; we really don’t know for sure what it was. But, whatever he endured was like a thorn probing into his flesh. We all know what a thorn feels like. It is a very unpleasant experience. Once a thorn enters our bodies, whether the hand, foot or anywhere for that matter, we immediately want to remove it. And, that is what Paul wanted.

Some believe that Paul’s thorn was a terrible eye disease that caused inflammation of the eyeball. The disease was not just painful and but mades it difficult for him to read or see well, and it also looks terrible. It is said that this disease leads to pus that fills the eye area and produces a terrible odor that is apparent to the one suffering and anyone else who is close by. Whatever it was, it was a terrible thorn to Paul.

We all must live with our thorns. Eliphaz said to Job, “We are born to trouble.” How True!

Paul prayed through 3 seasons of prayer for God to remove this terrible thorn from his life. After all, Paul was serving God under difficult circumstances, notwithstanding the terrible thorn. He was accosted by enemies everywhere he went. He was stoned, beaten, thrown into prison and faced traveling hardships that none of us in our modern world can imagine. Surely God would remove this thorn from such a faithful servant.

No, God did not remove Paul’s thorn. He told Paul that divine grace would be sufficient. In other words, God was telling Paul that living for Him is not a matter getting rid of your hardships, it is rather a matter of what you will do with those hardships!

A man was visiting a hospital and he took a little book which was a happy book, a sunshine book and a good book for sick patients. He came to a woman who had been twisted in body for many years. He offered her a copy but she refused. He asked if she had read it. She replied that she had not only read it, she had written it. A girl with such problems had written that happy book! It is not our circumstances but our attitude that makes a difference in our lives.

A man and woman attended church one Sunday and mention was made by the minister that a family in the church had given a sizable gift to the church in memory of their son who had been killed in the war. On the way home the woman said, “Honey, why don’t we give a gift honoring our son?”

The husband said, “Why, dear, our son was not killed in the war!”

She answered, “Exactly! We should give an ever greater gift since we have been so blessed.”

Often, those with thorns are more dedicated than those without them. Thorns often lead us to have a softer and kinder heart.

III. The Blessing He Experienced

In this passage Paul talked about the blessing he received from the burden. This is the point of this text. Our burdens can make us bitter or they can make us better. They can make scars or they can be turned into stars. I've met Christian who have done both with their hardships!

One day a man saw an ant carrying a stick much bigger than the ant. He wondered what the ant would do with so great a burden, so he followed the little creature with his eyes. He noticed that the ant came to a large opening in the earth, one much too large for the ant to cross. The ant promptly laid the stick across the opening, then he walked over the chasm on the stick, then he picked up the stick and continued on his way. The man who observed this received inspiration from it. He decided then and there that he was going to do the same in his life. He was going to turn his burdens into bridges! That is what Paul had done.

Your thorn can burden you or bless you. What you do with it is up to you. Paul said that when he was weak he was made strong! Note three blessings from his burden.

A. Prayer - Recognize Our Dependence

Paul was a man of prayer, but his thorn made him an even greater pray-er! Three great seasons of prayer were spent on this thorn. Paul learned to trust God through this time of difficulty. Kate Wilson Baker said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

B. Humility - Rectifies Our Character

Paul said that this thorn kept him from being conceited! He was made humble through this experience. Have you ever met a conceited and arrogant person? Sure you have. I hope you haven’t done it when looking in a mirror. But, an arrogant person is not a pleasant person to be around. Paul had become humble because he knew how to handle his personal burden. You and I can become bitter or better with a burden, but we are likely to become big headed without one. Don’t curse your thorn, embrace it. Allow God to show His grace through your troubles!

C. Usefulness - Readies Us For Service

Paul said that through this weakness he was made strong. He was made useful through what seemed to be a useless problem.

Conclusion

Some years ago, the First Baptist Church, Lilburn, Georgia presented me with a beautiful grandfather clock as a gift after years of ministry with them as their pastor. My wife and I were so thankful for their generosity and thoughtfulness. Through the years we have enjoyed the clock and its beautiful chimes. It is wonderful to see how the clock works because of the weights that are attached. All I have to do is keep the weights pulling downward and the clock gets doing its job. If the weights are removed, the clock will not work. I have learned that I am a lot that grandfather clock. The weights that God places on my life keep me doing my job for Him.

The secret for us is to know the attitude that we must possess as we bear our thorns will determine the outcome of them. Yes, God may remove some of them from us, but it is highly unlikely that He will never remove them all. If He did, our lives would likely not remain on God’s time!