Carnal Christians Hate the Thorn in the FleshPosted: November 14, 2014
The lessons of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” are lost on many Christians. The Divine Health (as opposed to Divine Healing) crowd hates the idea that there might be a disease that God chooses NOT to heal. The Deliverance crowd hates the thought that there might be demonic oppression from which God chooses NOT to deliver. The Word-of-Faith, Hyper-Faith crowd hates the notion that there might be a prayer that God might choose NOT to answer in the affirmative, or a presumed legal claim to a promise to which God might refuse to comply.
The blanket lesson of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is that “Christ’s grace is sufficient.” Christ asserts this claim to Paul in spite of contrary outward appearances. The main contrary circumstance was continued mortality manifested by continued need, continued pain, continued oppression, as Paul experienced in his flesh. The fact that Christ’s grace remained “sufficient” in spite of mortality demonstrates many subordinate lessons. One is that Christ’s priorities are not our own. Human suffering in itself is not outside the will of the Lord. The Spirit said of Paul, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Peter described those “that suffer according to the will of God” (1 Peter 4:19). Epaphroditus was “sick nigh unto death,” but was praised by Paul for his dedicated service (Php. 2:27).
Yet another lesson is that while we have received “the earnest of the Spirit,” and in the eschatological sense Eternal Life, believers have not yet received the fullness of that “inheritance” (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Eph. 1:13 ff.; 1 Peter 1:3 ff.). Not until the Parousia (“appearing in person”) of Christ will we be “changed” to “see him as he is” and “be like him” (1 Cor. 13:12, 15:51 f.; Col. 3:4; Php. 3:21; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 2:13; 1 Jn. 3:2). Immortality remains a future promise and a “purchased possession” yet to be redeemed (Gal. 3:14 ff., Eph. 1:14, 1 Tim. 4:8, 2 Tim. 1:1, Heb. 10:36 f., 1 Jn. 2:25). Therefore, the Church can at times expect to experience a “foretaste” of immortality, but never its fullness, as the Spirit “divides severally as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11).
In particular, Paul was taught a lesson pertinent to “the abundance of the revelations” that he had received. Christ’s purpose was “lest I should be exalted above measure.” Paul needed “self” to be deflated enough to keep his feet firmly planted on solid ground — or rather, enough to realize that the power working in and through him was that of Christ and not a product of his own human strength, intelligence, holiness, or pedigree. No, the Lord declared, “my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Only in the failure of “self” does humanity turn to God, and only in his utter inability would Paul learn and be reminded to rely solely on the Lord.
Thus we come round to the sticking point wherein self-reliant and self-actualizing people dismiss the lessons of the thorn in the flesh. People hate not getting what they want. Even more, people hate suffering. The flesh bridles at being denied. We see everywhere people going to great lengths, trodding over laws and over other people, insensitive to principles and the rights and welfare of others, in a never-ending quest to get what they want at all costs. Christians are hardly immune to this propensity. In arguing with the lessons of the thorn, those who hate it actually demonstrate the need for it by their own carnality and lack of consecration to the Lord. They will not put up with any such burden! They sacrifice New Testament principles while stubbornly misappropriating others, in self-seeking and spiritual pride. In so doing, they risk a mighty downfall when brought to the end of their own devices by their own thorn, which is sure to come in time.
Paul came to his thorn in all earnestness. The thought of the thorns facing the carnal and rebellious is too horrible to contemplate.
© 2014 Paul A. Hughes