"SECOND CORINTHIANS – EXPOSITORY OUTLINES"
Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh (2 Cor 12:7-10)
1. In 2 Co 12:7-10, Paul tells of "a thorn in the flesh" which greatly
a. It was something for which he prayed the Lord to remove from him
b. The Lord did not do so, but gave Paul an answer that greatly
2. We might not be able to know exactly what the "thorn" was, but there
are some valuable lessons to be gleaned as we consider…
a. Why this "thorn" was given to Paul
b. Paul’s initial reaction to the "thorn"
c. His reaction to the answer given him by the Lord
[In this study we shall consider each of these things, starting with
I. WHAT WAS PAUL’S "THORN IN THE FLESH"?
A. SEVERAL POSSIBILITIES HAVE BEEN PROPOSED…
1. A pain in the ear or head (Tertullian)
2. Unruly fleshly lusts (medieval commentators)
3. Stammering speech (MacKnight)
4. Malarial fever (Ramsay)
5. Acute eye problems (Farrar and others)
a. Such as a severe form of ophthalmia (inflammation of the
b. Based upon comments in Ga 4:13-15; Gal 6:11
c. Possibly brought on initially by the blinding vision on the
B. I BELIEVE IT WAS THE "INFIRMITIES" PAUL SUFFERED…
1. I.e., the persecutions he suffered as an apostle of Christ
2. This was the view proposed by Chrysostom: "And so by the
"messenger of Satan," he means…those who contended with and
fought against him, those that cast him into a prison, those
that beat him, that led him away to death); for they did
Satan’s business." (Homilies 26)
3. Peter H. David, in Hard Sayings Of The Bible, offers several
reasons for this view:
a. In the OT adversaries are sometimes referred to as "thorns
in your sides" (Num 33:55; Judges 2:3); there is no
metaphorical use of "thorn" for illness or temptation
b. The term "messenger" in Paul’s writings always refer to a
c. The basic topic of 2 Co 10-13 is Paul’s opponents, those
who were troubling the Corinthians and Paul himself
d. Paul parallels the "thorn" with a "weakness" (or infirmity)
in which he will glory; in the context of 2 Co 10-13 he
connects his infirmities or weakness with persecution –
2 Co 11:30-33; 2 Cor 12:10; 2 Cor 13:3-4
4. With Peter David I conclude that the "thorn" was "the
opponents who dogged Paul’s tracks throughout his mission,
confusing churches every time he left one church to plant
another." (Hard Sayings Of The Bible)
[Whatever the "thorn", it was "a messenger of Satan". That is, it was
something from Satan with evil intent. Yet it is evident that God
allowed it to remain! This leads us to ask…]
II. WHY WAS THE "THORN" GIVEN?
A. LEST PAUL BE "EXALTED ABOVE MEASURE" (2 Co 12:7)
1. Paul had been blessed to receive many revelations…
a. On the road to Damascus – Ac 9:3-6
b. In Jerusalem – cf. Ac 22:17-21
c. At Troas – Ac 16:8-10
d. In Corinth – Ac 18:9-11
e. In Jerusalem again – Ac 23:11
f. On his way to Rome – Ac 27:22-25
g. The vision of Paradise – 2 Co 12:1-6
2. It would have been quite easy…
a. For Paul to be filled with pride over these revelations
b. For the church to exalt him too highly
B. TO "BUFFET" HIM (2 Co 12:7)
1. The word "buffet" means "to strike with the fist"; thus to
strive against, contend
a. Paul "buffeted" himself to keep his body under control
– cf. 1 Co 9:27
b. But this was something brought upon him by Satan
3. This external "buffeting" was allowed to remain, to keep Paul
[There are other lessons to be learned, which we will see as we
III. PAUL’S REACTION TO THE "THORN"
A. BEING HUMAN, HE WANTED TO GET RID OF IT! (2 Co 12:8)
1. He pleaded with the Lord three times to remove it
2. Just as the Lord Himself prayed in the garden at Gethsemane
– Lk 22:39-43
3. Notice the interesting similarities between Paul and the
a. Both prayed three times
b. Both did not receive the answer for which they prayed
c. But they both received answers that were sufficient…
1) An angel came to minister to Christ
2) The Lord told Paul:
a) "My grace is sufficient for you"
b) "My strength is made perfect in weakness"
B. THIS SHOULD REMIND US OF CERTAIN PRINCIPLES OF PRAYER…
1. We are to pray with persistence – Lk 18:1-8
2. We are to pray in earnest – Mt 7:7
3. We are to pray specifically (as Paul did)
— Yet God knows what is best for us, so the answer may not be
what we wish
[Valuable lessons, indeed; but even more lessons can be gleaned as we
IV. PAUL’S REACTION TO THE LORD’S ANSWER
A. TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT THE LORD’S ANSWER (2 Co 12:9a)
1. "My grace is sufficient for you"
a. The Lord would give Paul what he "needed"
b. But not necessarily what he "wanted"!
2. "My strength is made perfect in weakness"
a. I.e., it is in times of weakness and hardship that the
Lord’s strength can be experienced most completely!
b. For in such times we really come to depend upon the Lord,
and not upon our own strength or wisdom!
B. NOW CONSIDER PAUL’S REACTION…
1. "I will boast in my infirmities" – 2 Co 12:9b
a. Rather than bemoan his trying circumstances, he will glory
b. For it is in such infirmities that he has the opportunity
to experience the power of Christ in his life as He helps
him deal with them!
2. "I take pleasure in infirmities…for Christ’s sake. For when
I am weak, then I am strong." – 2 Co 12:10
a. Infirmities can be a time for rejoicing! – cf. Ro 5:3a
b. For that can be a time in which to experience the strength
Christ gives, and the development of character that pleases
Him! – cf. Ro 5:3b-5; also Ja 1:2-4
1. It may be impossible to determine exactly the nature of "Paul’s
Thorn In The Flesh"
a. Some commentators believe that this ambiguity was by design
b. Otherwise, those with other "infirmities" may think the spiritual
lessons are not for them
2. But from a perplexing passage, we can glean powerful principles
applicable to all…
a. In time of infirmity, pray!
b. But don’t be surprised if the answer to your prayers are similar
to those given to Paul
1) "My grace is sufficient for you"
2) "My strength is made perfect in weakness"
c. The Lord may choose not to remove the infirmity…
1) Instead, He may choose to give you the strength to endure it
2) If so, then rejoice that power of Christ rests upon you!
As we close, think about the Lord’s statement as it relates to the
problem of SIN, and the SALVATION He offers ("My grace is sufficient
for you")… – cf. Ti 3:4-7