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What was Pauls thorn in the flesh?

What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh?

What was disturbing Paul so much in 2 Corinthians 12:7 that he kept praying for God to remove it?

In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul describes a difficulty he has which he calls “a thorn in the flesh.” Bible students have struggled ever since the letter was written to understand exactly what Paul is talking about, and in truth we will probably never know.

Jesus is still in charge

Even if the details of the problem are not known, Paul’s message is clear: Jesus is still in charge even though the thorn was never removed. Verse 9 tells us what Paul learnt from the experience. He believed Jesus was saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Messenger of Satan

Many people have tried to understand what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. The phrase Paul uses describes a sharp stick or splinter which is constantly cutting into Paul’s body. Paul also says it comes from a messenger of Satan. An obvious interpretation is that Paul is talking in pictures about his enemies. Indeed, 2 Corinthians is a letter where Paul defends himself from other church leaders who he believes are misleading the people with a false gospel and speaking unfairly about him. Perhaps, the thorn in the flesh is a description of a person who is behaving in an evil way towards Paul.

Physical condition

Another possibility is that the “thorn in the flesh” is a physical condition. Some people wonder if Paul’s thorn means he has poor eyesight, difficulty speaking clearly, a recurring illness or some facial disfigurement. All of these situations may have been socially embarrassing for Paul and made his ministry seem “weak” in the eyes of society. There are small clues in other letters which suggest some of these possibilities. For example, Galatians 4:12-16 might be talking about the “thorn in the flesh” in terms of a physical condition.

Another part of his life

Finally, others have claimed Paul is talking about another part of his life – the fact he has no wife or family, unhappiness about his sexuality or frustration that Jewish people are not accepting Christ. However, there is no real clue to prove these things are Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.”

Whatever it was, the message is clear for us. God sometimes does not remove all difficulties from our lives even when we ask him to. Like Paul, a painful problem can continue every day. At these times we learn to receive what we have been given, we learn humility, we remember we are weak and it is Jesus who is in charge and is powerful and mighty to work for His glory.

What did you learn from the Bible this week? How does this Bible passage speak to you? Please share your thoughts below!

Also read How does God guide us?

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Marten Visser

Marten Visser (1971), experienced a call from the Lord to be a missionary while in Kindergarten. He received M.Div., Th.M. in Missiology, M.A. in cultural anthropology degrees and a Ph.D. degree in Theology. In 2000 he became a church planting missionary in Thailand with OMF, together with his wife Esther. In 2015 he returned to the Netherlands where he founded GlobalRize. He continues to serve as GlobalRize’s director of evangelism.

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