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. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Paul was a man who had some impressive spiritual experiences, so much so that it might be easy for him to become proud, exalted above measure. Because of this danger of pride, God allowed a thorn in Paul’s flesh– something to trouble him.
It seems that everyone could see the thorn in the flesh Paul suffered from – it was no secret. His heavenly vision (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) was a secret until now, but everyone saw the thorn. Some among the Corinthian Christians probably thought less of Paul because of his thorn in the flesh, but they knew nothing of the amazing spiritual experience that lay behind it.
What is a thorn in the flesh? When we think of a thorn, we think of a somewhat minor irritation. But the root word Paul used for thorn here describes a tent stake, not a thumbtack. This trouble was a messenger of Satan to Paul. In a strange way, the thorn was given – ultimately given by God – but it was also a messenger of Satan.
To buffet me means that this thorn in the flesh – the messenger of Satan – “punched” Paul. He felt that he was beaten black and blue by this messenger of Satan. Paul, punched about by the devil? Who would have thought it?
The following verse tells us that Paul prayed about this thorn, pleading three times that God would take it away. Yet God, in His wisdom, allowed it to remain. When his passionate and repeated plea was not answered, it must have concerned Paul. It added another dimension to this trial.
It had a physical dimension in that it was a thorn in the flesh.
It had a mental dimension in that it was a messenger of Satan.
It had a spiritual dimension in that it was an unanswered prayer.
What exactly was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? We simply don’t have enough information to say precisely. Some see it mainly as spiritual harassment. Others think it was persecution. Many suggest that it was a physical or mental ailment. Some say this was Paul’s struggle with lustful and sinful thoughts.
Each of these suggestions is possible, but God had a definite purpose in not revealing the exact nature of Paul’s thorn. If we knew exactly what Paul’s thorn was, then everybody who was afflicted – but not in exactly the same way – might doubt that Paul’s experience and God’s provision was relevant for them. God wanted everyone with any kind of thorn in the flesh to be able to put themselves in Paul’s place.
God’s answer to Paul’s thorn is revealed starting at 2 Corinthians 12:9 – but that answer is relevant to your thorn. God cares about and provides for your trouble.