Paul said, ‘a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.’ (2 Cor. 12:7)
The traditional explanation is that Paul had a chronic infirmity or perhaps an eye disease God either gave him, or refused to heal in order to keep Paul humble. This interpretation has destroyed the faith of more people than we can count. Rather than a heart filled with faith and confidence in the redemptive right of healing, believers are double minded and wavering, thinking that their sickness might be a ‘thorn’ that God has chosen to not remove.
Just what is a thorn in the flesh? When we let scripture interpret scripture the answer is easy.
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, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. (Numbers 33:55)
It would be hard to insert the traditional interpretation of sickness into this scenario. The irritants and thorns are people, enemy inhabitants in the land. This language is not describing a national sickness but rather the result of not expelling the enemy. The enemy would be a constant harassment to the peace of Israel.
Know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you. (Joshua 23:13)
Is God speaking of a sickness that would affect all of Israel? No. It is figurative language that describes a persistent enemy.
Therefore I also said, 'I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you. (Judges 2:3)
Again, the same. ‘Thorn in the flesh’ is a saying that refers to a chronic or persistent enemy that hasn’t been expelled from Israel’s promised land. When Paul used this language, he knew exactly what he was saying. There was a persistent enemy, a demon that harassed his ministry due to the abundance of his revelation. This enemy didn’t come from God. It was a ‘messenger of Satan’ sent to buffet him.
Why didn’t God respond favorably to Paul’s request?
Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 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. (2 Cor. 12:8-9)
The traditional interpretation has God saying, ‘suck it up Paul, you can make it.’ But that isn’t what is being said. Paul was asking for God to remove the enemy from his life; something that God never promised to do. God’s response was that His grace (his unlimited provision and enabling) was sufficient. Paul was already equipped to handle the situation. But like many of us, he grew weary of the daily harassing of the ‘messenger of Satan.’ He was inadvertently blaming God for the continued buffeting.
Paul knew the answer and was already aware of God’s grace. It was Paul who wrote of the armor of God and quenching all the fiery darts of the enemy. No doubt Paul was aware of that which was penned by James…. ‘submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee.’ (James 4:7) It wasn’t that Paul was unequipped to be more than a conqueror; he was tired of having to conquer!
I doubt that many of us have a ‘messenger of Satan’ assigned to us, and yet we grow weary and want God to make our problems disappear. The answer you need is the same answer that God gave to Paul: His grace! His abundant provision, strength and enabling are more than sufficient to meet your need. You have the armor of God, the shield of faith, the Name of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the better covenant, the promises of God, the gifts of the Spirit, the mind of Christ and the keys of the Kingdom at your disposal! You are equipped to win. His grace is sufficient. Don’t blame your thorns on God. He has given you the resources of heaven in order to live victoriously on this earth!