Paul's Thorn in the Flesh: God Doesn't Wink at Sin

The Apostle Paul
The Apostle Paul

Something To Think About

I recently had someone direct me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. You know how it is; once you notice something, you see it everywhere. Well that’s what seems to be going on here. Some have misunderstood this passage to be a license to sin . Believing that, Paul’s thorn in the flesh, was some kind of sin that he couldn’t overcome. They are under the impression that God was telling Paul not to worry about this sin because His Grace is sufficient.

I suspect they are trying to say God loves us despite our sin, that He will forgive us when we fail. However, when we use this passage to illustrate that principle, it becomes a problem. This passage is not addressing sin in Paul's life. It is quite the opposite, these scriptures are explaining how God kept him from sin.

I have taken a few moments to jot down my most basic understanding of this verse. This is not intended to be a detailed explanation, but a quick and simple clarification to those who might have misunderstood this passage. May the truth of God’s Word bring you life more abundantly (John 10:10).

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

2 Cor. 12:7-10 "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

There has been a great deal of speculation as to how the thorn was manifested in Paul's life, Sadly, we do not have enough information to say for sure; but I believe we can safely rule out some kind of sin or temptation to sin. Paul describes this thorn as being 1. Sent by God to keep him humble, 2. As a messenger of Satan that buffets him. The word buffet plants a picture in our minds of a source of pain, like sandpaper rubbing against skin. 3. As an infirmity, some kind of Physical or mental weakness. Judging by these descriptions, he was dealing with some kind of physical issue that caused him pain or embarrassment.

After searching the scripture for clues, some have suggested that Paul had a speech impediment or possibly some kind of disfigurement from being beaten and stoned. Perhaps it was a consequence of some kind, from his life before Christ. A ghost of his past, as it were. I don't know. But consider that Paul asked that this thorn, what ever it was, be removed three times, but God said leave it, my grace is sufficient for you. Please consider that one of Paul's common themes is the power of God over sin. I don't believe God will wink at our sin by saying, "That's OK, don't worry about it, I got ya covered."

Romans 6:1-4 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

I believe that God's grace is both mercy and power. Grace is God's enabling presence in our lives. Not a license to sin.

Grace is God's Help
Grace is God's Help

1 Corinthians 15:10

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

What I believe Paul would have us take from this passage is, sometimes, God’s grace is seen in our infirmities and weakness. Paul would have became arrogant had he not had been reminded of the frailty of his mortal body on a regular basis. He had come to see his “thorn in the flesh” as God’s grace, preventing him from sin.

In Christ

ABR

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Comments 21 comments

Rina Pinto profile image

Rina Pinto 4 years ago from Dubai - UAE

Hallelujah! May His Word be a Light unto our feet and a Lamp unto our path.. God Bless you and Keep You. T'was an Blessed Assurance revelation from the Lord God Yahweh.


chrisinhawaii 4 years ago

Well said, Aaron. I don't recall anybody I know interpreting Paul's thorn like that (which is a good thing), but I can see how some might see it that way.

I guess, in all fairness, that some might look at someone buried in guilt and depression over some kind of recurring sin in their lives and offer this passage as a means of encouragement...something along he lines of, "Don't keep dumping on yourself, bro...even Paul struggled with sins like you do."

That might be a good message of encouragement, but this isn't the verse to back it up. I gotta agree with your interpretation of Paul's thorn here. Nice hub. Voted up and awesome. Aloha!


sradie profile image

sradie 4 years ago from Palm Coast FL

Many have supposed that Paul's thorn may have indeed been a speech impediment or something in his physical appearance that could have been his thorn. I agree with you, it doesn't matter. I think an awful lot of us have our 'thorn in the flesh'. I believe and have always believed, that anything that interferes or separates us from God is a stumbling block if it is temporary and a 'thorn' if it is recurring. Both require us to call upon God for the strength needed to overcome them and I believe that is the greater point because Paul himself says as you quoted; "for when I am weak, then I am strong". Zec 4:6 So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty'. Once again you have presented an accurate perspective and I hope folks find it helpful.


Nikki Major profile image

Nikki Major 4 years ago

I don't know who have mistaken this passage as a liscense to sin....or maybe you misunderstood. it's never ok to sin and know you are sinning. All of us...before we were christian..had some type of strong hold that God had to free us from...but who the son has made free he is free indeed. Whether we are christian or not...we will always need God's grace and mercy...because man we'll always fall short of his glory.


teacherjoe52 profile image

teacherjoe52 4 years ago

Hi Abrushing1968

I think it could have been Paul's short temper. He knew it was wrong, but God would not remove it so as to keep him humble and to appreciate Gods forgiveness.

Very good article. I like your insight.

God bless you.


lifegate profile image

lifegate 4 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

ABR,

As always, you're right on the money. I've had people in my church argue that very point, but Scripture is never meant to be complicated or confusing. It is what it is. Thanks for the clarification.


Abrushing1968 profile image

Abrushing1968 4 years ago from USA- Florida Author

Rina, I love to hear people praise God. Thank you for speaking a blessing over me and my hub, May you, in turn, find the joy of the Lord as you endeavor to walk with God through his Grace which is sufficient for us all.

Peace

ABR


Abrushing1968 profile image

Abrushing1968 4 years ago from USA- Florida Author

chrisinhawaii:

Thanks for stopping by.

You are exactly right, you perfectly expressed my feeling and thoughts. I had three separate people use this passage in that way this week. I totally appreciate what they are trying to say. However, the Word of God must be administered in its proper context. Praise God.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my stuff.

God Bless

ABR


Abrushing1968 profile image

Abrushing1968 4 years ago from USA- Florida Author

Scott thanks for adding your thoughts to this Hub.

Zec 4:6 So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty'

Love it,

ABR


Abrushing1968 profile image

Abrushing1968 4 years ago from USA- Florida Author

Nikki Major

I do misunderstand far to often. Thanks for adding your excellent insight to this hub. I am always honored when you stop by. I look forward to your next Hub.

Thanks for stopping by.

Peace

ABR


Abrushing1968 profile image

Abrushing1968 4 years ago from USA- Florida Author

Teacherjoe53,

You said" ABR I think it could have been Paul's short temper. He knew it was wrong, but God would not remove it so as to keep him humble and to appreciate Gods forgiveness."

Wouldn't a short temper be considered a sin?

Less I be guilty of misunderstanding, as Nikki has kindly suggested, are you saying that Paul was excusing his sin (short temper) because it kept him humble and taught him gratefulness?

Are you suggesting that God saw his short temper, his sin, and told Paul not to worry about it because He had it covered? Are you suggesting that God winked at Paul's short temper. To be clear, it sounds to me that you are saying God was OK with Paul's short temper(his sin) and refused to help him overcome it. Is that correct?

ABR


Abrushing1968 profile image

Abrushing1968 4 years ago from USA- Florida Author

Lifegate:

Like I said, it seems to be coming up a lot lately. Thanks for stopping by I am so honored that you read my stuff. It is such an encouragement to me.

In Christ

ABR


Saved by Jesus profile image

Saved by Jesus 4 years ago

Paul's thorn was not any of the things described. His thorn was his continuous persecutors. The only place in the Bible that mentions "thorns in the eyes and scourges in the flesh" is in Numbers 33:55 where it talks about the inhabitants of Canaan. So his thorns was his constant persecutions he went through for the glory of God. Not a sickness or a temptation to sin, etc.


Abrushing1968 profile image

Abrushing1968 4 years ago from USA- Florida Author

Great Point Saved. That is definitely a possibility. Thanks for stopping by.

Peace

ABR


Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

wow what a great hub.... I agree with you completely... I am sharing this on facebook on the prayer request page so our brothers and sisters in Christ can read it....excellent hub

Debbie


DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

DeBorrah K. Ogans 3 years ago

Abrushing, What great points you have made here! This is a good passage of Scripture to remind us all of the importance of being humble. Despite all of the Apostle Paul's miraculous conversion transformation and many accomplishments the Lord allowed the thorn in his flesh to remain. It is not clear what that thorn is...

As you well stated:"I believe that God's grace is both mercy and power. Grace is God's enabling presence in our lives. Not a license to sin. " Amen!

Thank You for sharing, Peace & Blessings!


The Stages Of ME profile image

The Stages Of ME 3 years ago

Abrushing1968

I truly enjoyed your Hub ~ funny I have been taken to this passage of Paul so many times this week. To see your take was uplifting , thanks. Blessings to you :)


shofarcall profile image

shofarcall 3 years ago

Voted awesome and up. Thank you ABR. We are called to be Holy, as He is Holy. Of course we do not always succeed, but when obedient to God through love, obedience and awe, it is a joy to be so. One wants for nothing else.


PMARTIN 2 years ago

I read the verse a couple times and could not see where God sent the thorn. Is it the words from Paul "I was given..."?


Abrushing1968 profile image

Abrushing1968 2 years ago from USA- Florida Author

Hi PMartin,

Thank you for taking the time to read this Hub. I hope you enjoyed it. To answer your question, Yes, that is correct. That is the idea. Paul clearly felt he was given a thorn in the flesh. The passage suggests that It was given either directly or indirectly by God to keep him Humble.

ABR


Eugene Rushing. 2 years ago

Very good.

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