Go to Main Study

#7.8 WHY PAUL WILLINGLY SUFFERED HIS "THORN" IN THE FLESH

This bible study explains why Paul was prepared to suffer his thorn in the flesh. It uses a Greek Unicode font and is printer friendly.

Search this website

#7.81 So that the power and life of Jesus could be manifested in his body

2 CORINTHIANS 4:10-11 (Paul)
10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our mortal flesh.

2 CORINTHIANS 12:9-10 (Paul)
9 And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

GALATIANS 2:20 (Paul)
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Note: The scripture teaches that the more we conform ourselves to the suffering and self denial that Jesus also went through, the more the power and the life of Christ is manifested in us. Thus the wounds which Paul bore in his body through persecution, were a likeness of the wounds which Jesus bore on the cross, and this is what he was referring to with statements like:

(2 Corinthians 1:5) "the sufferings of Christ abound in us,"
(2 Corinthians 4:10) "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,"
(Galatians 6:17) "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."
(Colossians 1:24) "the afflictions of Christ in my flesh".

The result of this was that the power and life of Christ was manifested in his mortal body (2.Corinthians 4:10-11; Galatians 2:20), and his weakness in his situation allowed the strength of Christ to be manifested through him (2 Corinthians 12:9). This enabled him to do all things which he could never do of his own strength and power (Philippians 4:13), and was one reason why he gloried in it. Notice also that one of the results of persecution is that "the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you:" (1 Peter 4:14), just like Paul said, "that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:9). Have you ever known the power of Christ rest upon someone because they were sick? Neither does the scripture teach it. Sickness is the power of the devil resting upon a person (Job 2:7; Luke 13:16; John 10:10; Acts 10:38), which confirms again that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was the effects of persecution, and not a sickness.

#7.82 Because the more the affliction, the more they multiply

EXODUS 1:11-12
11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Ramses.
12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.

2 CORINTHIANS 1:5-6 (Paul)
5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ.
6 And whether we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.

PHILIPPIANS 1:12-13 (Paul)
12 But I would that you understand, brethren, that the things which happened to me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel;
13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;

Note: God is a just God, and he has a way of compensating for unfair situations that a person encounters, especially those suffered for his sake. Notice for example, how God blessed Leah with children when Jacob loved Rachel more than her (Genesis 29:30-31), and how the more the children of Israel were afflicted in Egypt, the more they multiplied (Exodus 1:12). So Paul's compensation for the persecutions that he endured was that the power and life of Christ was manifest through him, and with more miracles and healings, so more people believed and were saved. To the Corinthians he said it was, "for your consolation and salvation" (2 Corinthians 1:6), and to the Philippians, "to the furtherance of the gospel;" (Philippians 1:12). Therefore Paul was prepared to accept his "thorn", and glory in it, because by enduring it God was blessing his ministry more.

#7.83 Because it encouraged others to speak the word of God boldly

PHILIPPIANS 1:12-14 (Paul)
12 But I would that you understand, brethren, that the things which happened to me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel;
13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;
14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, growing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Note: Many people were afraid of persecution, but when they saw and heard the testimonies of Paul's deliverance through his persecutions, this gave them encouragement and a willingness to speak out more boldly about Jesus. So again, this would be a comfort to Paul to know this, and an encouragement to him to continue to endure.

#7.84 Because it proved that he was a joint-heir with Christ

ROMANS 8:16-18 (Paul)
16 The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are you not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Note: Paul knew what the scripture teaches, that suffering with Christ is an essential part of salvation:

(John 15:20) "If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you;"
(Romans 6:8) "if we are dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him."
(Philippians 1:29) "to you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;"
(2 Timothy 2:11-12) "If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him,"
(2 Timothy 3:12) "Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
(1 Peter 2:21) "For even for this were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps:"
(1 Peter 4:1) "Forasmuch then as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind,".

Paul even went so far as to say to the Corinthians, "your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer:" (2 Corinthians 1:6). He seems to make a condition of being joint-heir with Christ, "If so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together." (Romans 8:17). So Paul could rejoice in the certainty that he was a joint-heir with Christ, because of the sufferings that he endured for his sake, as foretold by Jesus (Acts 9:16).

#7.85 Because his suffering benefited the church

EPHESIANS 3:13 (Paul)
13 Therefore I desire that you do not faint at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

COLOSSIANS 1:24 (Paul)
24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church.

Note: As has been explained before (See #7.83 Note), the more that Paul was prepared to endure, the more God was prepared to bless his ministry. Therefore he could expect God to answer his prayers which he was continually praying for the churches (Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Colossians 1:9-14), and say that his sufferings were for the church's sake.

#7.86 Because his suffering glorified God

1 PETER 4:14
14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you; for the spirit of glory and God rests upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

Note: As all persecution for Christ's sake glorifies God, it was for God's glory that Paul endured his "thorn in the flesh". Sickness does not glorify God, healing does that (Matthew 15:30-31; Luke 2:24-26; 7:12-16; 13:10-12; 17:12-15; 18:42-43), again showing that Paul's "thorn" was people persecuting him, and not a sickness.

#7.87 Because he had a great reward in heaven

MATTHEW 5:11-12 (Jesus)
11 Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

JAMES 1:12
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation1: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Note: The word of God often indicates that after the resurrection, the righteous will get rewards for the works that they have done in this life (Matthew 10:42; Luke 19:37; 1 Corinthians 3:13-14; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; Revelation 2:10; 22:12), and one of those rewards will be for the persecution that they have suffered for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:11). The word translated temptation1 (Gr. πειρασμός, Gtr. peirasmos) (James 1:12) has already been discussed earlier (See #7.6 Note 2; #7.7 Note) where it has been shown to be used concerning persecution, and Paul's "thorn in the flesh" in particular. Thus one very good reason why Paul was prepared to endure his "thorn" was because he knew that he had a great reward awaiting him in heaven.

#7.9 CONTRARY SCRIPTURES EXPLAINED

#7.91 The Galatians would have plucked their eyes out for Paul

GALATIANS 4:13-15 (Paul)
13 You know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel to you at the first.
14 And my temptation which was in my flesh you despised not, nor rejected: but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
15 Where is the blessedness you spoke of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

Note 1: Some have tried to use this scripture to say that Paul had an eye affliction which was carried over from his blindness on the road to Damascus, and that the Galatians would have been willing to pluck their own eyes out and give them to him, if it would have helped him. Such reasoning is far removed from rightly dividing the word of God, and is contradicted by many scriptures, including this whole study. The Galatians plucking their eyes out would be an absurd solution, even if Paul did have an eye affliction, wouldn't it? Nowhere can we find in scripture where God failed to heal anybody properly, and when he healed Paul (Acts 9:17-18; 22:13), he was perfectly healed: "his work is perfect:" (Deuteronomy 32:4). We have also seen evidence that Paul was past the place of being afflicted by sickness (See #7.5 Note). Others have suggested that this was nothing more than a casual remark by Paul, similar to expressions today, "I would do anything for you", or "I would die for you", or "I would cut off my right arm for you". However, Paul was not a man for casual remarks, and in view Jesus words, "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37), this explanation is unsatisfactory.

Note 2: So what does it mean? In the Old Testament when an important adversary was taken captive, the victors often took the captive's eyes out, as a permanent means of ensuring that he did not escape and oppose them again. The Philistines did it to Samson (Judges 16:21), and the Babylonians did it to Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:7).
When Paul became a Christian, in a sense he was "captured" from the world by Jesus. He referred to himself as, "I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:1), "the prisoner of the Lord," (Ephesians 4:1), "me his prisoner," (2 Timothy 1:8), and "Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ," (Philemon 1:1). Having counted everything about his former life as loss, and referred to them as "dung" (Philippians 3:8 KJV), Paul had effectively made his escape almost impossible, and became equivalent to a prisoner with his eyes taken out. When he said to the Galatians, "you would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me." (Galatians 4:15), he was expressing how willing they were, at that time, to voluntarily become prisoners of Christ along with him, giving themselves totally over to his teaching, in such a way that escaping again would have been almost impossible. However, this is not something that they could do in an instant, it takes time, and dedication in seeking God. Since that time they had in fact been seduced by false teachers, and had slipped back under the law (Galatians 3:1-29; 4:1-31). Nevertheless, this explanation enables us to dispense with any idea that Paul had a physical eye affliction.

#7.92 Paul wrote a large letter

GALATIANS 6:11 (Paul)
11 You see how large1 a letter2 I have written3 to you with my own hand.

Note: Those who have tried to make Paul's thorn some sort of eye affliction, have tried to use this scripture to say, that because of his impaired vision, Paul had to write with large letters. However, if we examine this verse carefully, we find some interesting facts:

(1) The word translated how large1 (Gr. πηλίκοις, Gtr. pelikois) is the dative, plural, neuter, of the adjective "pelikos", which primarily means "how large?" or "how great?", and can be used in a physical, figurative, or spiritual sense. It only occurs one other time in the New Testament, where it is translated "how great" (Hebrews 7:4), and where it refers to the spiritual stature of Melchizedek. So this could be applied here to mean that Paul's letters were spiritually great, which they certainly were. On the other hand, this word occurs twice in the Septuagint, where both times in the same verse it is translated "what" (Zechariah 2:2). In the first instance it literally means "how wide", and in the second instance "how long", referring to the size of Jerusalem. So it is not out of keeping with the use of this word for it to refer to the length of his writing, rather than the size of individual letters. Paul wrote letters to other churches, and instructed them to be passed round (Colossians 4:16), so each church would receive more than one letter to read. Also this agrees with the thought that this could have been the longest letter that Paul wrote with his own hand, the other longer ones being dictated.

(2) The word translated a letter2 (Gr. γράμμασιν, Gtr. grammasin) is the dative, plural, of the noun "gramma". It can mean a letter in the sense of an alphabetical symbol (Luke 23:38; Romans 2:29; 2 Corinthians 3:6), or a letter in the sense of a writing of some sort (Luke 16:6; John 5:47; Acts 28:21). The latter fits perfectly with the previous point.

(3) The word translated I have written3 (Gr. ἔγραψα, Gtr. egrapsa) is the first person, singular, aorist, indicative, active, of the verb "grapho", "I write". Literally this whole phrase translates as "see by (or with, or in) how great (or large) letters I wrote to you". Of course, Paul could be referring to certain passages where the letters were heavily written, thickened, or enlarged for emphasis, rather like we would use capitals or underlining when we wish to emphasize today; but as we have seen, it could also refer to the spiritual greatness, or the length of the letters that he wrote. Nevertheless, regardless of which one of these explanations we accept, Paul's thorn couldn't have been an eye affliction, this whole study disproves it.

If you have benefited from reading this study, then please tell your friends about this website.
If you have a website of your own, consider linking to Logos Apostolic website.
Please copy and paste this link into Facebook and Twitter to all your friends who would like to know what Paul's thorn in the flesh was and give it a Google+.

Arrow pointing left What was Paul's thorn? || Home Page || Bible Study Index

Top