I don’t believe the thorn is the point of Paul’s thorn, though I’ve been involved in many discussions and heard many sermons espousing various views of the nature of that thorn.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NIV To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
What arrests my attention as I read this passage for the umpteenth time is the idea that Satan would give Paul something to keep conceit / pride / arrogance at bay. Those are at the core of the devil’s nature, the things for which he lost his original position among the angels, the observable reality of pride going before a fall. He would be only too happy for Paul to be puffed up with it, for it would weaken the gospel he proclaimed as well as his witness of Christ, Who was humility personified. Keep this in mind as you read my next observation:
God did not give Paul this thorn. He is not the author or giver of torment. Certainly, His best was for Paul to remain unaffected by pride, thinking he was better than others or had achieved something on his own merit. Our Father created us to live in the humility of Christ. But even when we choose to live from pride, He doesn’t use torment to “bring us back into line.” It’s contrary to His nature!
As I puzzled over these contradictory thoughts, I could only conclude that something had been lost in translation through the years. Perhaps it was misplaced punctuation, or a word or phrase out of order. This has been the case in other troubling verses I’ve studied in the Interlinear Bible and Thayer’s Concordance, where I discovered clearer meaning from the original language.
With only a minor change, the passage begins to make sense:
Because of these surpassingly great revelations, a thorn in my flesh – a messenger of Satan designed to torment me – came on me.
So far, so good, but there is more, and these additional verses will help:
Genesis 50:20 NIV You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Romans 8:28 AMP We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.
After pleading three times for the Lord to take away the thorn, Paul did not simply resign himself to the thorn because, “Yeah, yeah, Your grace is sufficient,” the attitude I might have exhibited a few times in my life. No, he was convinced that God does work all things, including the bad, for the good of those in Christ. In the renewed sense of God’s grace, Paul saw the underlying purpose of this tormenting thorn – to get his focus off Christ. In God’s answer, he had greater revelation of his total dependence on Christ. What the devil had meant for his evil, God worked for his good.
Because of these surpassingly great revelations, a thorn in my flesh – a messenger of Satan designed to torment me – came on me. It has helped keep me from becoming conceited, though that was not its intent. I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me, but His response was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”