V77Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!. Paul had an exceptionally outstanding experience of which he could be very proud. Someone said once: ‘It is not dangerous to be in the third heaven but to have been there’. In order that he is not conceited by “the surpassing greatness of the revelations” God gave him a bodyguard as a preventive. And what sort of bodyguard! It was “a messenger of satan” to beat him with his fist. That was not a pleasant company. Since no less than fourteen years this servant of satan accompanied him.
This messenger angel of satan caused to him “a thorn in the flesh”. No one would like to go near a thorn bush, for it will cause only pain. The angel of satan saw to it that the pain had a lasting effect and he did not do it gently. Paul felt as if he was beaten with fists. Some say that this thorn meant a disease in his eyes. This is deduced from Galatians 6 (Gal 6:1111See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.). It could also be a speech impediment as deduced by some from chapter 10 of the letter which we are dealing with at the moment (2Cor 10:1010For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.”).
V8-98Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.9And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.. Anyway it was something that constantly reminded him of his own weaknesses. He would be happy to have been delivered from it, for he prayed for it, even three times. The Lord did not answer that prayer but He gave him a balm for the pain, namely, His grace.
What a comfort and a consolation this answer has been for many through the centuries! Even today the consolation derived from this answer is still available undiminished to you. May be you are also bearing something that you would like to get rid of and despite your earnest prayers the long awaited deliverance has not yet come. I trust that you can say from experience that the Lord said to you also: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Have you already prayed for more than three times and yet you have not received the answer? Does it seem that that your prayer would not be answered? Then I may point you to a man who also had a very difficult life. He is none other than Jeremiah. He was sitting right in the midst of suffering. Yet he says in Lamentations 3: “For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men” (Lam 3:31-3331Fo the Lod will not eject foeve,32Fo if He causes gief, Then He will have compassion Accoding to His abundant lovingkindness.33Fo He does not afflict willingly O gieve the sons of men.). This is the language of faith, the language you also can speak.
The greatest victory that satan can win is that we begin to doubt the love of God because He does not give what we ask for. We are not to begrudge him this victory. God uses your problem to keep you small and weak so that He can manifest His power fully in your weakness. You must understand that everyone who serves Him will always have something which keeps him weak in his life. This is God’s way to keep us from pride and that we do not forget that we need Him in all things.
Incidentally, these verses do not mean that we are allowed to pray only three times for a thing. The Bible is full of exhortations to persevere in prayer. See for instance in Luke 18 (Lk 18:1-81Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,2saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.3There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’4For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man,5yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’”6And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge *said;7now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?8I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”). These verses make it very clear that God allows certain things in your life to keep you humble. You prayed several times for a thing, but after a certain period you are convinced that you should not pray further about it because He considers that it is better you live with it. At the same time you will experience His help and strength in a way which you would not have learnt otherwise.
V1010Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.. This prompts Paul to say that he is well content with weaknesses. Were they not opportunities in which Christ’s power became visible in his life? He would gladly do and suffer anything for the sake of Christ. He was always very happy to see less of himself and more of Christ. He practiced what we read in John 3: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:3030He must increase, but I must decrease.).
When this is the deepest desire of your heart you will not balk at trials and afflictions which would show forth how weak you are and how strong Christ is. When you are weak in the face of all these difficulties then you are strong, for the power of Christ dwells in you. The power of Christ takes possession of you, because you cannot overcome difficulties in your own strength.
I would like to come back to Paul’s three time prayer. This is reminiscent of the three time prayer of the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. We find this in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22 (Mt 26:36-4636Then Jesus *came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”37And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.38Then He *said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”39And He went a little beyond [them], and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”40And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “So, you [men] could not keep watch with Me for one hour?41Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”42He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”43Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.44And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.45Then He *came to the disciples and *said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.46Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”; Mk 14:32-4232They *came to a place named Gethsemane; and He *said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.”33And He *took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled.34And He *said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.”35And He went a little beyond [them], and fell to the ground and [began] to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by.36And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”37And He *came and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?38Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”39Again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.40And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.41And He *came the third time, and *said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.42Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”; Lk 22:39-4639And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him.40When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”41And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and [began] to pray,42saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”43Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.44And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.45When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow,46and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”). There He asks His Father three times if it would be possible that the cup (the judgment on the cross) pass from Him.
Of course there is a big difference between this prayer and that of Paul. Paul prayed that he might be delivered from something which kept him from pride. This makes clear that sin was present in Paul and its action was to be restrained.
But the case with the Lord Jesus was different. In Him there was no sin. That is why He prayed to the Father so, because He did not like to come in contact with sin. The horror of the cup that the Lord had to drink was that it made Him sin. He must take upon Himself the sins of those who believed and those who are going to believe and thereby suffer God’s complete judgment. It was impossible for Him to long for that. It was his imperfection that led Paul to pray. But for the Lord Jesus it was His perfection that constrained Him to pray.
Another point to note is what the Lord Jesus immediately added to His prayer: “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” He was in complete agreement with the way the Father decided for Him. He never wanted to choose a way other than what the Father decided for Him, but He abhorred the prospect of coming into contact with sin which would cause a separation between Him and His God. That is the reason for His prayer. After that prayer there is perfect peace into His heart and then He allowed His enemies to capture Him to accomplish the whole work He was destined to finish saying: “The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (Jn 18:1111So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”).
It will enrich your faith life and your prayer life when you learn to say: ‘Not my will but Yours be done.’ The submissiveness of your will to the will of God is the secret of peace in your heart in the midst of so many things that you wish were different otherwise.
Now read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 again.
Reflection: Do you have ‘a thorn in the flesh’ in your life? What do you think of God’s will for you?