Thorn In The Flesh

Bible Readings for the day: Isaiah 27:1-28:29, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Psalm 106:40-48
Meditational Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
1  I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2  I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.
Pastor's Ponderings Illustration3  And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—
4  and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.
5  On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—
6  though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.
7  So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
9  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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

My thoughts and mind jumped all over the place as I read all of today’s lessons; there was no one great thought or insight that jumped out at me as I read God’s Word.  Lots and lots of thoughts and insights jumped out at me and made it difficult for me to choose the one thing that struck me.  I had no idea what I would contemplate until it came time to write down the meditational verses!  I thought I was going with Psalm 106, but as I went to type in the passage, I thought I would go with 2 Corinthians 12.

2 Corinthians 12 gives me a new insight into God’s Word, an insight I never contemplated before.  When I was in junior and senior high school, the conventional wisdom was that Paul was epileptic; a good many people believed that he suffered an epileptic seizure on his way to Damascus.  I was in junior and senior high school in the 1960s and 70s; there was this need to explain everything clinically.  The conventional wisdom believed that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was epilepsy.  As I matured in the faith, I didn’t necessarily believe the epilepsy explanation.  But I did accept something without giving it much thought, I accepted that Paul’s thorn in the flesh could not be separated from his Damascus road experience.  I don’t know if anyone explicitly taught that, but it was something I picked up and didn’t consider very much.

I didn’t consider it very much until today as I read 2 Corinthians 12 again.  Whenever I read this passage in the past I would focus on Paul’s pleading with the Lord; I would focus on the Lord’s promise to Paul; these are all good things to focus on!  But today I learned something new.  After 30 plus years as a pastor with all of the study that went with it, today I learned something new.  In verses 2 through 6, Paul tells us why he received his thorn in the flesh.  He was granted a vision that few other people have every been granted:  to see heaven itself!  It was a great and glorious vision!  Paul was afflicted with his thorn in the flesh after receiving this vision!  The thorn in the flesh played no part, absolutely no part, in Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.  Some of the things I accepted over the years get demolished by God’s Word.  I guess I could get upset with that, but God’s Word needs to confront me and my preconceived ideas, the conventional wisdom I embrace, and cause me to question whether or not it’s true (the conventional wisdom, not God’s Word).

I share (and see the importance of) Luther’s statement before the Emperor at the Diet of Worms (April 1521), “my conscience is held captive by the Word of God.”  What I believe and do must always be weighed against God’s clearly revealed Word.  My thoughts, my beliefs, my preconceived ideas, my conventional wisdom, my prejudices, all must be weighed against God’s Word.  The good news today is that I’m not too old to learn something new and that God isn’t finished teaching me yet!

And, now, all of the Pauline scholars will come out of the woodwork and demolish what I learned today!

A prayer:  “Lord, open my mind and heart to your Word.  Where I am wrong, correct me.  Thank you for continuing to speak to us in your Word.  Give me a willing heart to hear what you have to say.  Amen!”

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 585 South St. (Route 75), Suffield CT 06078 USA

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