Christians often discuss what Paul meant by his ‘thorn in the flesh’.
Paul’s word for a ‘thorn’ actually means any kind of sharp point. However, it refers especially to those that grow on certain plants. The ‘flesh’ means the soft parts of the human body. Paul uses that word frequently as a word-picture, to refer to human weakness*.
Paul is using the phrase, ‘thorn in the flesh’, as a word-picture. He explains what he actually means in the next phrase. He meant one of Satan’s (the devil’s) special servants, the demons. That demon could not possess Paul; it could not control him. However, the demon constantly caused him trouble. In other words, the devil was constantly attacking Paul by means of this evil spirit. It hurt Paul, probably in Paul’s mind or body - and it would not go away. That was why Paul described it as a ‘thorn in the flesh’.
Because of the devil’s attacks, Paul was constantly aware of how weak he (Paul) was. God was at the same time showing Paul such wonderful things. Paul very much wanted to be free from those troubles so that he could enjoy fully these experiences with God. Paul has already told us about a man who rose into heaven (verses 2-4). It would have satisfied Paul if he could just rise above (or, be free from) his troubles. However, it was as if the devil was constantly pulling him back down.
Paul did not like those troubles, and their source was evil: they came from the devil himself. However, those troubles helped Paul not to become proud. Paul could not become proud when he was so aware of his weakness. Instead, in his troubles, he became more and more aware that he must depend completely on God. Also, Paul had to give God the honour for the wonderful things that God was showing to him.
Next part: How Paul prayed about his troubles (12:8)
* See complete article for these Bible references.
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© 2016, Keith Simons.