Paul’s vision and his thorn are a great reminder that there can be a great tension between surpassing greatness and agony. Paul describes a vision he had 14 years prior, though he refers to himself as “a man in Christ.” He’s clearly distancing himself from the vision of heaven, which we doesn’t know whether was “in the body or out of the body” (2 Cor. 12:2,3). Paul was not going to boast of this experience “so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me” (vs. 6).
Then Paul argues, “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” (vs. 7). Three times Paul begged for the thorn to be removed, but God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (vs. 9).
We don’t know for sure what the thorn in the flesh was, but it’s possible it refers to his persecutions. Whatever it was, Paul was willing to boast about his weaknesses because the power of Christ “rests upon me” when Paul is weak. As Christians, we should be equipped to endure weakness. In fact, Paul embraced his weakness as a thing that brings about Christ’s power.
When Paul first came into Corinth, he was alone for the first time since he began his missionary journeys. He had been chased out of Macedonia and had to separate from the rest of his companions. He boarded a ship and sailed down to Athens, preached there, then moved into Corinth. For whatever reason, Paul was fearful and felt very alone.
When Timothy and Silas finally joined Paul in Corinth, Luke says that “Paul was occupied with the word” (Acts 18:5). This is interesting because Paul told the Corinthians that, when he first came, he “decided to known nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul was very, very focused on Jesus and the cross. In fact this was his sole focus.
Paul makes it clear that Paul came to Corinth in weakness and in fear and much trembling. Though he later says that he imparted wisdom to the mature, at first his message was not shrouded in lofty speech and wisdom. Rather, it was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5).
Sometimes we get so troubled with getting our message right that we lose focus on Jesus and the cross. The irony is that the message ends up getting diluted. Paul was more interested in remaining focused on Christ and him crucified than he was getting his speeches right. Because Paul maintained this focus, he was able to witness by way of demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This is what transformed people in Corinth. Where the Spirit of God is at work, there is life!
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