2 Corinthians 12:7 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.
God relates to us by grace. Grace allows us to know God and be known by God. Grace restores us and empowers us. Grace is what unites us to Christ. God’s glory is his grace.
This is why embracing our weakness is so important. Without understanding our weakness, we would not receive the grace of God. This is why God allows the thorn. The thorn exists to destroy our self-exaltation. Now we are ready to receive grace.
But it is this next phrase that is a bit disconcerting – a messenger of Satan.
Is Paul saying that his thorn was from both God and Satan? The short answer: Yes.
The longer answer:
Christian, you are in the midst of a severe spiritual war. In fact, your union with Christ is what initiated this war in your heart and soul. Because Christ is in you and you are in Christ, you are now, by nature, engaged in a battle between the spirit and the flesh. And our enemy, Satan, knows that he can limit your impact by feeding your flesh, that is, by causing you to exalt yourself and justify yourself. By causing you to resist grace.
But God is in the business of growing and transforming you into Christ’s love and holiness by his grace, as you rely on this grace. God also knows that we have a default setting toward pride and resisting grace. God will allow what he needs to in order to see your heart become more and more dependent upon his life.
Yes, the thorn is from Satan. It is from a demonic source. A force that seeks to destroy. A force that is meant for evil. But in Christ, what is meant for evil, God uses for good. God is sovereign, so that even Satan is ultimately controlled by God (remember Job?). The thorn came actively from Satan and passively from God by his allowance. And yes, God refused to remove it:
2 Corinthians 12:8-9. 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.”
Satan sent the thorn to destroy with doubts, and self-righteousness. Satan wants you to question God and his word and his ways. “If God wants me to minister well, why doesn’t he just remove this thorn of suffering from me?” Satan wants you to believe that the thorn proves God’s malicious intent toward you.
But God “sent” (allowed) the thorn to release the heart of Paul from pride and bring it into the power of grace. This is the great plot twist of our faith. The thing that comes from Satan is what God is using to keep your from Satan. From pride. From destruction.
But isn’t this a gamble? What if it didn’t work? What if the thorn had really destroyed Paul instead of humbling him? What if it destroys me? The answer is, there is no gamble for those who are in Christ. In Christ the deeper desire of the heart will win. The one who is in the Spirit will not succumb to the flesh, not ultimately. Why? Because the Spirit is in you. The Trinity indwells us so that nothing can conquer our hearts. Now, the thorn is not a punishment from God, it is a progressive deliverance by God from the great sin of self-righteousness.
This truly is a game changer for us. It changes how we see and interpret all of our suffering. All that is evil gets processed into good as it passes through the cross. This is “to live is Christ” – to receive both the evil of the thorn and the redemption of the thorn at the same time. Everything that is meant to destroy us, including death itself, will only make us stronger in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Does it surprise or bother you that the evil in your life is allowed by God? Why would God allow this? How does union with Christ allow you to process evil, including the cross itself? Have you seen how something meant for bad in your life has been used by God for you to receive his grace and thus glorify him?