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.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:8-10 NIV)

Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” that led him to the sustaining grace of God. All believers relate to this reality in Paul’s life.

What was his thorn in the flesh? We do not know for sure and there have been many suggestions – recurring malarial fever, a strange birth defect, endless speculations. The lead favorite from what we can glean from scripture was some sort of eye disease which left him with poor vision, an unsightly appearance, and painful discomfort. That is based on two statements of Paul:

I am sure you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible. (Gal. 4:15 NLT)

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! (Gal. 6:11 NIV)

The second verse above suggests that the letter to the Galatians had been written by a secretary of sort, an amanuensis who wrote legibly. This was a common custom of that day before word processors and printers. But at the end of the letter Paul took the pen in hand himself and due to his poor eyesight his writing was large.

But this is still mere conjecture and we do not know for sure. The lack of certainty about what it was specifically has allowed people with a variety of physical problems to identify with Paul.

What had he done about it? Three times he had pleaded with God to remove it, suggesting three separate seasons of prayer for the problem to be healed. We may also assume that he had sought some medical attention, for Dr Luke, the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14), traveled with him. But despite prayer and medical attention it was unhealed.

His breakthrough came through faith. God spoke to him in this instance that His grace was sufficient for him. Paul gained victory over his condition not by its removal but by his faith in the power and purposes of God. The spiritual always transcends the earthly and physical with God, and He is willing to sacrifice the physical to enrich the spiritual in our lives. God used this physical weakness to teach Paul to depend on God constantly, and not upon himself.

Using our imaginations we can catch a glimpse of the power of this act of God. Paul would never have become the man of God that he did become without this thorn in the flesh, for it brought him to regularly depend on God. It helped him rise up in faith and in the power of God, and not in the power of Paul. He found constant spiritual strength in his weaknesses.

How are you weak? What ways of weakness has God entrusted to you that you might stand in His strength? There is nothing wrong with asking for healing and deliverance – even Christ prayed that the cup of suffering on the cross be removed from His life. But when God gives His answer then we are to accept that this problem comes by God’s permissive will and through it we will learn more about the grace and power of God than we would ever learn on our own.

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.(1 John 5:4b NIV)

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