Paul's thorn in the flesh and weakness are not his!

The weakness that Paul refereed was not the deficit weakness(e.g. our sins or defects) that we usually attribute it to. On the contrary, it was his strengths that were inadequate for the challenge so that he needed the grace and power of God. Even his strengths is not enough. We must develop our strengths and not boast our deficit weaknesses. Our strengths, better called gifts. are of the Lord and we need to steward them carefully. We need to build and use our strengths under the direction of the Lord not for our own glory but for His glory to benefit the community of His body. It is about our strengths not being enough for the God's appointment that we may grow up further in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Verses that tell us our Weakness is Good! Do they really say that?
2Co 12:9 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2Co 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Why was the thorn given?
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, of his success in surviving and overcoming the beatings, shipwrecked, toils, hardships, hunger, thirst, sleepless nights etc in 1Cor 11:23-29, that may cause Paul to proud 

What is the 'thorn' ?
To understand the real meaning of any word, we need to see it in the context.  The purpose was to stop Paul from being proud and forget about God. The origin of the thorn is from the devil as Paul clearly stated and it is to harass him.  The Greek word for harass is G2852 kolaphizō, Thayer Definition:
1) to strike with the fist, give one a blow with the fist
2) to maltreat, treat with violence and contumely

Hence, it is obvious that the thorn refer to the persecutions that were incited by the devils. Wherever Paul went, the persecution seems to follow him shortly after. He was not able to shake them off. They just came after him. This view is further supported in 12:10 where weaknesses are lumped together with insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities (his life story in chapter 11). 

Some famous preacher put it well. He said 'the thorn of the flesh' in modern term is 'the pains of the neck' or the 'pains of backside' referring not to sickness but to people that irritate us.   

What is then the meaning of weakness?
Weakness then does not refer to our deficit or sins. It actually refers to our strengths, especially in the case of Paul, that are seemingly insufficient to meet the challenge that God has called him. Who can bear what Paul had went through? While Paul could take good charge of his talents and positions as given by God, he could not control the behavior of the people that went after him, from city to city. There are many great preachers nowadays with a great following, enjoyed great popularity and prosperity but for Paul, his life was filled with challenges and persecutions, imprisonments and eventual martyrdom.  They have what the Chinese called a smooth sailing kind of life. Paul had it the rough kind. 

Therefore, the meaning of weakness is not about deficit but about lack of enough strengths for the challenge. Putting it another way, if we think we can accomplish something easily because of our strengths, it only means that the something is too low a goal. To make sure our strength can grow, God will give us challenges greater than our present strengths that He may bring us to a greater height. The weakness is defined from the external challenge or mission that God has assigned us to. The weakness does not refer to our deficit but on the contrary to our strengths.!

What should me our attitudes to our strengths and weaknesses?
We should be discovering our strengths, more appropriately called our gifts,  and developing them for use by God. Strengths and weaknesses are not to be defined internally but according to the external missions or tasks that we are given to accomplish. God will assign us tasks that we may develop our unique gifting (strengths) for His greater use. We must therefore diligently steward our gifts and not to boast of our deficits as if they are a glory for God. We must correct our deficits and often draw upon the complementary gifts (strengths) of others, to form a team that together work effectively for the glory of God, with each contributing our gifts to the work.

Lim Liat (C) 26 Jan 2013

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