“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
How do you react when you are told you cannot be something, do something, or have something? For example, as one who likes to run as an exercise, if someone tells me I cannot run a 5K within in certain time, I would be tempted to want to try very hard to accomplish this task to prove to them and to myself that I can. However, how do we handle it when we discover that no matter how hard we try, we cannot be what we want to be, do what we want to do, or have what we want to have?
As the verses above describe, Paul addresses this subject (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). In the context of this passage, the apostle has been defending himself and his apostleship among those at the church at Corinth who began to doubt him and who he was. As he does this, he reminds them of the various sufferings he had endured for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:22-28). He also describes the revelations he had received from God (2 Corinthians 12:1-6). However, Paul adds that lest he “be exalted beyond measure” and he and others begin to think of himself too highly because of all the revelations he had received, there was something else given to Paul, a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7).
What was this thorn in the flesh? We don’t know. We only know that it is described as a “messenger of Satan” that was to “buffet” Paul so that he would not “be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul did not like having this. He wanted it to be gone. He “pleaded” with the Lord 3 times to have it depart from him (2 Corinthians 12:8).
What was the Lord’s response to Paul’s pleading? Did the Lord remove Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” so that Paul might have and be everything he desired to be? No, Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). To Paul’s credit, he accepted and embraced this answer from the Lord. In fact, instead of fighting against having any weaknesses or failings, Paul acknowledged his weaknesses because his weaknesses taught him to rely on the strength and power of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9; cf. Philippians 4:13). Paul adds, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
In a day and age where everyone is striving to have the “perfect body”, have the “perfect family”, the “perfect career”, the “perfect mindset”, and the “perfect financial plan” so they enjoy their retirement years, there is a great lesson here. Life isn’t “perfect”. I am not “perfect”. All of us have our weaknesses. Some struggle with their body image. Others battle daily with depression. Moreover, there are others who face great challenges with relationships within their families. Still others struggle with their job and finances even though they give their best efforts.
Do I need to get down because I have not been able to reach perfection in these areas of my life? Maybe, I need to realize that all of us are given some kind of “thorn in the flesh” to keep us humble and looking to the Lord to strengthen us in our weaknesses. Today, rather than bemoaning that my life isn’t “perfect”, I will rejoice that God grace is sufficient for me!
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).