The Christian Thorn

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

The Christian Thorn

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor, www.pastorlife.com

Introduction

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Paul was being used by God to help the immature Christians at Corinth to become all that they could be, should be and would be, if only they were willing to make a full commitment to follow the Lord. Paul wanted to show the Christians at Corinth that being faithful is costly but it is the only way to do God's will, to enjoy God's blessings and to be God's best. So Paul wrote to the Corinthians in this second epistle (letter) to tell them about his own "thorn in the flesh."

There were false leaders in the church at Corinth and this greatly displeased the Lord, for God wants real Christians in leadership, leaders with a heart for God and a spirit of dedication. Counterfeit leaders cause inappropriate actions, and inappropriate actions lead to wrong results. Did you hear about the man who used a picture of a piece cheese in an attempt to catch a mouse? When the checked the trap, he didn’t find a real mouse but rather he discover in the trap 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.”

Bie assured of this, 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 this is to use the ministry of the thorn. God uses the ministry of the thorn in the lives of Christians to grow them, build them, and to develop them. God wants Christians who will trust Him in all situations, especially those related to leadership within the church.

Note first ...

I. The Boasting Paul Expressed

In the passage before us, Paul talks about his blessings. He was being a little sarcastic, yet he was stated that he could boast of great spiritual experiences if that was needed. You and I can likely boast as well, but we must be careful not to fall into the trap of prideful boasting regarding 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 for leadership, but Paul was doing this to show how foolish such boasting really is in the life of a Christian.

Actually, every Christian 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 could do anything for Jesus before we were saved. So, all praise for our service for 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 alone.

Now look at ...

II. The Burden Paul Endured

It is revealing that what made Paul a ‘useful’ Christian was his thorn.

  • Paul moved in his writing about his experiences from the clouds of victory to the clods and stones on the road of service for God.
  • He moved from the throne of blessings to the thorn of burdens.
  • He moved from the glory-side of service to God to the gory-side of that service.
  • He moved from boasting of his service to sharing about his burden.

Someone has well said that no person can be truly be used of God who has not suffered for God.

Paul’s thorn mentioned in our text today may have been a spiritual temptation, a physical temptation, some 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 and it is a most unpleasant experience. Once a thorn enters our bodies, whether the hand, the foot or anywhere on our body 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. This type of disease was not just painful and but made it difficult for the sick person to read or see well, and it also looked terrible to those who looked one in the eye. It is said that this disease led to pus filling the area in and around the eye, which produced a terrible odor. The sufferer and anyone close by experienced the awful odor of the disease. How embarassing such a disease was, especially to someone who was constantly appearing before and preaching to the public. If that was his thorn, it was extremely embarrassing.

Whatever Paul's thorn was, it was painful to Paul.

We all must live with our thorns. Eliphaz said to Job, “We are born to trouble.” How true that statement is.

Paul prayed through three 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 was sufficient for him. In other words, God was telling Paul that living for Him is not a matter getting rid of your hardships, but it is rather a matter of doing what is best even in the midst of those hardships. In essence, it was not what the thorn was doing to Paul that mattered, but what Paul was willing to allow God to do through the thorn that mattered; and, this is true in the life of every child of God.

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 and she replied that she had not only read it, she had written it. How amazing that a girl with such problems had written that happy book. It is not our circumstances that make the difference in our lives, but our attitude in the midst of our troubles that makes the difference.

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 even 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, more generous and kinder heart toward God and others.

Note also ...

III. The Blessing Paul Experienced

In this passage Paul talked about the blessing he received from the burden he carried. 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.

Dear friends, our thorns can burden us or bless you - which one occurs is up to our own making. What you do with the thorns of life is up to you. Paul said that when he was weak he was made strong.

Note three blessings from Paul's burden ...

A. Prayer - The Thorn Helps Us 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.” Paul was a mighty servant of God and part of the reason for that was his remarkable prayer life. Even in the prison at Philippi, after being falsely arrested and illegally beaten, he and Silas were awake at midnight praying and singing praises to God. If our thorns make us mean, we have missed their purpose. If our thorns drive us to God in faithful prayer, they have completed part of their purpose.

Note also that a thorn can create ...

B. Humility - The Thorn Helps Rectify Our Character

How did Paul's thorn correct a part of his life that was dangerous? Paul said that this thorn kept him from being conceited. Paul had plenty to be proud of in his life. Not only did he have a remarkable life before he was saved, but after his conversion he lived a life far beyond the norm. He was involved in some of the most important works of the New Testament Church in those early years. He established churches over much of the known world. He spoke before some of the greatest leaders of his nation and time. Yet, to keep him from becoming proud God had given him a thorn in the flesh. This made Paul humble and prayerful.

Have you ever met a conceited and arrogant person? Sure you have. I hope you haven’t done it when looking in a mirror at yourself. An arrogant person is not a pleasant person to be around. I've known some of those people and every time you are with them they want to tell you something wonderful they have done or experienced. If you believe what they tell you, they are amazing, their children are amazing, and their accomplishments are amazing. It is like the lady whose name was Grace. It was said of her that when the church sang Amazing Grace she thought they were singing about her.

Paul increased in humility because he learned how to handle an emabarrasing personal burden. You and I can become bitter or better through the burdens we bear. We are likely to become big-headed without some of the problems and burdens we have  in our lives as Christians. Don’t curse your thorn, embrace it. Allow God to show His grace to you through your troubles.

One of the most difficult people you will ever deal with is a Christian who seems to have no problems. The greatest Christians I've known dealt with enormous difficulties and did so with faith and grace. They may not be the best known Christians in our generation, but I have a feeling they will have seat close to Jesus at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. After all, the last shall be first!

Note also ...

C. Usefulness - The Thorn Readies Us For Service

Paul said that through this weakness he was made strong. He was made useful through what seemed to be an unnecessary and hurtful problem. Sometimes the thing that seems to be getting in the way of our service to God may just be the very thing God has sent to ready you for greater service. Paul's thorn worked in his life to make him even more useful to God. After all, a proud Paul was not what God wanted. A prayerful Paul was the one God could use, and the thorn Paul had driven him to his knees as never before in his life. There, on his knees, Paul became an even greater servant of the Lord.

I don't know what you are going through or what your thorn may be, but it is important for you to ask how your problem might be used of God to make you a better servant of Christ. The more we serve God, the more we think we deserve for God to take care of us and to keep the clouds and storms out of our lives; yet, that is not the way the Bible presents the stats of the people He used. Whether it was Abraham, Moses, David, the apostles or Paul, each of them became more useful in God's service because they had learned to trust God in pain and hardship.

Conclusion

After twelve years of service at First Baptist Church, Lilburn, Georgia, I was called to become vice-president for evangelization at the Georgia Baptist Convention. I accepted that ministry and resigned from my church. With great generosity and kindness, one of the things the church did for my wife and for me was to give us a beautiful grandfather clock. They gave us that clock almost twenty years ago, and it is as beautiful and works just as faithfully today as it did the day we received it. Through the years we have enjoyed the clock and its beautiful chimes. But there is one thing about that clock that makes it work correctly. There are weights attached and they must be wound up every week, and when they are wound up they create tension that keeps the clock turning and the chimes working. Without the weights, the clock would be useless. Only the heavy weights pulling constantly within the clock cause it to be effective. I have learned through the years, that I am a lot like that clock. If I become comfortable, I cannot produce much in the God's work. When the tension is upon me, I'm useful for His cause. The weights that God places on my life help to keep me doing the job for Him that He has called me to do.

The secret for us is to know the attitude that we must possess as we bear our thorns. You see, our attitude will determine the outcome of the weights God has placed upon us. Our thorns are not to damage us but to make us more useful in His service. Yes, God may remove some thorn from us, but it is highly unlikely that He will ever remove them all. If He did, our lives would likely not remain on God’s time!

Can you make a new commitment to God today regarding the hardships you carry? Instead of asking God why He doesn't remove all the heaviness in our lives, it is best to ask what He intends to do with them through our lives. Great Christians often carry great burdens - and without the burdens, we might never know the grace sufficient for all God wishes to do in us, to us and through us for His glory.