Thorn in the Flesh
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Q: What did Paul mean the by the Thorn in his flesh. Was it really someone making things difficult for him? In reading a book, "The untold Story", by Frank Viola – it is reported that a Jewish brethren headed up by one man was going along and undoing the work Paul and Barnabas was doing and that this is the man Paul called, the thorn in his flesh. What do you say? Dan
A: Being the contrarian that I am, I do not agree with that view. The reasoning given by those teaching this view goes along the line that Jews spoke in metaphors all the time, which is not true. Some of the sages did but in writing reports or letters this was not usually the practice. Teachers in debates with one another might use metaphors or allegorical speech to out-point their opponent. Our Lord did this quit a bit, to the point of confusing his closest of disciples.
One of the other things those teaching this view about a fellow Jew heading up a bunch of legalistic rowdies to torment Paul is that the verses mentioning this problem Paul was suffering from is referred to as an "he", or sent by "Satan". Let’s have a look then, using some common sense and spiritual reasoning.
(2Co 12:7-9) 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. NIV
At first it may sound as if it is a person with statements like, "a messenger of Satan", but notice what Paul says in the very next line, "…to take it away from me", as opposed to , "…to take him away from me"? The Paul makes a point out of his suffering, to boast not in strength but in weakness, a weakness that seems to be apparent to other. Perhaps a limp or even a shortness of breath, something in the flesh, not of the flesh. He did not give a medical reason because "it" may not have been something an x-ray revealed or an MRI uncovered, just a "sharp pain in the side". This is a man used to walking 20 miles a day, remember.
A third point to consider is that when Paul had an adversary he was not bashful to name names. He did not suffer fools, especially those doing spiritual harm to those he planted in the Christ.
(Eph 5:11) Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
(1Ti 1:20) … among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
Paul did not hesitate to expose those offending the Gospel he taught. Also, it you read the letter to the Galatians you will see it is all about others coming in and tuurning them to another kind of Gospel. He suggests that he did not know who they were but they were going to get what was due them. He admonishes the Galatian believers to stay strong in the Gospel he taught them from the beginning. An account is even give by Paul of an encounter with Peter, James and John – again, he names names and exposes something that is not right according to the Gospel of Peace. In Gal 2:9 Paul makes it plain that it was agreed by these pillars of the Church that he and Barnabas would be the Apostles to the Gentiles while Peter would be the Apostle to the Jews, then in verse 11-13 we read how Paul with stood the hypocrisy of the Jewish brethren, naming Peter as the greater of the offenders, and even Barnabas, his right hand man, being led astray.
When we see the actions and words of Paul in defending the faith within and without the body we can see he was never shy about calling out anyone that subverted the Gospel. With this understanding of Paul’s character we can safely say, it seems to me, that Paul would not have couched his "thorn in the side" as some mysterious person. No, he would have named him and told us what the real trouble was and then, like Hymenaeus and Alexander, he would have thrown him out to Satan, as he did them.
My question would be, how is it Paul was able to hand these two over to Satan? How this was done we are not told. Paul having that kind of authority, however, over enemies of the Message would seem to mean he did not have to ask permission, or make requests for the removal of a "thorn in the flesh" if this were to mean a person. This, then, seems to me to be a physical pain, something hampering and tormenting Paul in the flesh. Perhaps, with all of the walking and climbing and quick escapes from death he needed a hip replacement. Whatever it was it seems obvious that it was not some person leading a bunch of Jews trying to undo the Gospel he taught, as we have already read, he was not above naming names and pointing the finger at those offending the message.
The message to the Galatians is full of information and exposes the concept of the "Ideal Church" as non-existent. The power struggles, the hypocrisy, and personality conflicts are all there and give us a picture of how they, even in the first century, were no different than we are today. Exposing those teaching a false message, a false Christ leading people astray, like Alexander and Hymenaeus were doing is actually part of being a true believer and defender of the faith once delivered.
If each believer, professing the Christ of the Bible, would study the words of his or her own bible and hold the feet of those professing to be teachers, preacher, pastors or priests to the fire there would be less chance for the wolves to ravage at will the people of God. What has happened, however, is nearly everyone has been beaten into submission by those threats of going to "hell" if you judge anyone. Never tell anyone they are doing wrong or what they have done is evil. We live in a time when most are beaten into submission and up becomes down and down up.
(Pro 26:12) Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
(Pro 30:12) There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth.
(Isa 30:9-11) For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, "Do not see," and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel." ESV
(Act 10:34-35) Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right. NIV
On the one hand men do, or end up doing what is right in their own eyes – this can lead to anarchy. A nation without laws is hardly a nation at all and men without law is little more than beasts of the field. Doing what is right with God, our Creator would be to read His word and determine what He says is right and to attempt to follow His principles of conduct. This, then, would be doing what is right in His eyes, not ours.
One simple questions leads to so much more. Thanks for the opportunity to answer your question and to elaborate on the humanity of the Church, even the First Century Church.
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