Thorn In the Flesh

Much speculation has been given as to exactly what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. Regardless of the physical, emotional, or spiritual meaning, the purpose of it was that Paul would remain humbled and dependent on the Holy Spirit throughout his ministry. He was in a position to learn that it was the power of Christ, not his own strength, that would sustain him.

As I speculated on this passage, I was moved to seek for myself the meaning of “thorn in the flesh”, although I knew I would not be able to find a definitive answer. Nevertheless, digging into God’s word is always a good idea and meditating on his word is always productive (Isaiah 55:11); so, I researched other passages for a more complete picture of Paul’s situation. First, Acts 9 records the account of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus: A great light from heaven flashed all around him and Jesus spoke to him. Immediately, Paul was completely blinded for 3 days, after which he was baptized. Secondly, we learn later that Paul’s eyesight had declined, resulting in difficulty writing (Galatians 6:11). Perhaps these earlier incidents resulted in permanently weakened eyesight—the thorn in the flesh(?)

It appears that although Paul experienced some level of impaired vision, spiritually he “saw” more clearly than ever: Immediately after his baptism, he entered the synagogue and proclaimed this truth about Jesus, “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). With diminished vision, Paul was likely dependent to some extent on others and not able to carry out his own pursuits with his own strength as he had before his conversion. Most importantly, because of this thorn, he remained humble before the Lord throughout his ministry. Undoubtedly he felt much like Job, who declared—“I had heard of Thee by hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see Thee.” (Job 42:5). May we follow Paul’s faithful example when we experience prolonged or permanent “thorns in the flesh” and aspire to genuinely declare as he did, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ might rest upon Me.”