Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh - The Warrior's Journey®

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

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“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) 

Paul continues to list his sufferings, achievements, and revelations. But he doesn’t do this for the pleasure of bragging. Quite the opposite.  Paul hates every minute of this shameless boasting. But he does it to let the Corinthians know that they have no reason to feel ashamed. Just because they were not evangelized by one of the “Twelve Apostles” does not mean they’re not a legitimate church. For Paul is every bit as much an apostle as they are – and more so in persecutions, miracles, and revelations. 

But Paul cannot even speak of these staggering divine revelations without also mentioning his weakness. Yes, to keep Paul from becoming proud and conceited, God allowed a humiliating weakness in his life. What specifically is this weakness? We don’t know. Paul deliberately uses cryptic language so that we won’t figure it out. It’s simply too personal a matter to discuss openly. It’s enough for us to know that it’s a weakness which protects Paul from self-exaltation and spiritual pride.  Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (something physical?) and “messenger of Satan” (something spiritual?) repeatedly makes Paul desperately dependent upon God’s grace and love. Though Paul prayed repeatedly to be delivered from this humiliating weakness, God refused. 

And why would God ever want to remove something from our lives that makes us more and more dependent upon Him? Don’t we all have some structural weakness? Aren’t we all cursed (or blessed) with some fatal flaw that runs through the length of our character, something which brings us to our knees – pleading for God’s forgiveness and strength? Yes, we hate it with all our being. We plead with God to remove it. Yet God dare not do so. For without it we’ll become proud, conceited, and arrogant in our minds – and alarmingly puny in our spirit.   

How did Paul deal with this persistent problem? He depended upon God’s grace – His un-earned, un-merited, and un-deserved favor and love. For Paul knew that when he acknowledged his weakness before God and his need for God to compensate for that weakness, the power of Christ would rest upon him (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). In humble dependence upon God, Paul’s weakness was turned to divine strength. 


  • Is there weakness in your life, perhaps something too personal to discuss with another human being? But can’t you discuss it with God – who already knows? 
  • If God already knows about your “dark side,” will He be shocked by your failure? 
  • God knows all about us and loves us all the same. May His tender love bind us  closer and closer to His side! 

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