Text analysis: 2 CORINTHIANS 12:7 – 10 (NASB)
v. 7 “…there was given me a thorn in the flesh “ (NASB)
We do not know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. The word translated thorn means “a sharp stake used for torturing or impaling someone.” It was a physical affliction of some kind that brought pain and distress to Paul. Some Bible students think that Paul had an eye affliction (see Gal. 6:11); but we cannot know for sure. It is a good thing that we do not know, because we would try to “spiritualize it”.
v. 7 “a messenger of Satan…”
God permitted Satan to afflict Paul, just as He permitted Satan to afflict Job (see Job 1-2). While we do not fully understand the origin of evil in this universe, or all the purposes God had in mind when He permitted evil to come, we do know that God controls evil and can use it even for His own glory. Satan cannot work against a believer without the permission of God. Everything that the enemy did to Job and Paul was permitted by the will of God.
- 7 “to torment (buffet) me—to keep me from exalting myself”
Satan was permitted to buffet (torment) Paul. The word means “to beat, to strike with the fist.” The tense of the verb indicates that this pain was either constant or recurring. This was a serious matter.
v. 8 “I implored (prayed to) the Lord three times that it might leave me”
No wonder he prayed three times, as his Lord had done in the Garden (Mark 14:32-41) that the affliction might be removed from him.
It is certainly a normal thing for a Christian to ask God for deliverance from sickness and pain. However, please know always the following:
- God has not obligated Himself to heal every believer whenever he prays; but He has encouraged us to bring our burdens and needs to Him. Paul did not know whether this “thorn in the flesh” was a temporary testing from God, or a permanent experience he would have to learn to live with.
- There are those who want us to believe that an afflicted Christian is a disgrace to God. “If you are obeying the Lord and claiming all that you have in Christ,” they say, “then you will never be sick.”
I have never found that teaching in the Bible. The Lord never promised believers freedom from sickness or suffering.
- Paul did not receive “instant healing” and maybe not any physical healing at all. He was not alone. The same was true for others, such as Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) and Elisha (2 Kings 13:14)