Our Bodies for God's Glory & Satan's Defeat
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
There’s an aspect to this passage that we would not be getting into on the Sunday either side of this newsletter, so I wanted to explore it with you here: How would you apply “demonic harassment” in the form of some “thorn of suffering” to the rest of your life? We read from Paul earlier in the chapter that he is “caught up to paradise and heard things that he is not permitted to tell”! (12:4) What an “unspeakable privilege”…and with that came a “thorn”. God gave Paul an “unspeakable joy” while knowing that it would lead to conceit, unless He provided this thorn as well!
This is hard for us to grasp on so many levels, because although we’re given eternal spirits, our bodies & current perspectives are finite. For example, considering the example of Isaiah 6, doesn’t seeing God humble you, keeping you from becoming conceited? Wouldn’t beholding eternal realities drive us towards MORE godliness, not less? Doesn’t God love us to the extent that He would NOT tempt anyone (James 1:13), or lead any of us into temptation (Matthew 6:13)? Perhaps we’d better understand this “thorn”! Paul had credited the danger of being conceited as due to these heavenly revelations. God, therefore, could have kept him from this danger by withholding these revelations altogether, or He could give them to Paul with the addition of a constant reminder of the need for humility! We don’t know what kind of pain/suffering was given to Paul, and we’ll leave our speculations for another day.
Some people, based on their view of God, struggle with the very idea that He could send a “thorn”, but He did, and He does! AND, according to Paul’s own words, this thorn has a GOOD purpose (much like God sent a worm in Jonah 4 to eat the plant that provided shade for Jonah, as a tool to teach!). I’m sure we all know that Satan would not want to minimize conceit in us, though he would want us to experience pain from various kinds of “thorns”. So it IS God’s Plan to work through Satan’s desire for pain in Paul, to accomplish the greater outcome of humility in His servant!
In one sense Satan sent the thorn, but with the Spirit’s insight Paul also sees that God sent the thorn. God can use the “Prince of Power of the Air” (Eph 2:2), and other fallen angels, to undo what even demons want to accomplish in you! Just like in Job 1, God can use Satan to defeat the power of Satan! So this is not merely isolated to Paul’s experience. Think about how God used Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and Satan entering into Judas (John 13:27), to accomplish the greatest act of love known to humanity!
What did Jesus Christ accomplish on the cross in the spiritual realm, regarding Satan’s influence? “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15). God “disarmed” Satan’s greatest power through death! Satan’s greatest weapon against us was our own unforgiven sin! “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.” (Romans 8:33) Satan’s accusations against Christians are now groundless! Perhaps, as in the 2 Corinthians 12 passage, it is that Satan doesn’t realize just how much he is being used of God to thwart his own purposes, bringing about salvation and godliness for God’s people! Praise God! Pride was Satan’s downfall, and God is using Satan to fight Paul’s pride!
The question is, “Can God do the same thing with you?” Absolutely. Here then, is the application for us: God has given YOU these exceedingly great revelations of Himself in His Word, through His Spirit, and He doesn’t want that to cause us eternal spiritual harm, but He IS willing to enable physical pain and suffering for us if it means spiritual GAIN! The problem lies in how you regard your thorn: Paul, initially, asked God to take away his, three times! God’s answer to him was essentially “NO”, and that was for his good! The reason God gives Paul is, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). So yes, this “thorn” will make Paul weak in one sense, and it will be so that any power that IS demonstrated will be credited to GOD working through him!
What God is doing through Paul is in perfecting the manifestation of His Spirit’s power in Paul’s life. After those three seasons of prayer, Paul recognizes something that we all need to understand: Paul’s life in Christ is put on display before the world to show them God’s Glory and victory over Satan’s defeat (vv9-10). It may have taken awhile for Paul to get this, but he finally learned to be content with whatever weaknesses he displayed to demonstrate God’s strength. If we get this, then we too should be able to “delight” in these things. When we are weak (in Christ), then we are strong (v10)! Of course there are many who would decry this today. Yet as Christians, we are to mimic His apparent weakness by carrying our “crosses” or “thorns” for the sake of defeating Satan’s dominion through God’s power!