Thorn In The Flesh

2 Cor 12:7-9

7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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.

Just before this Scriptural passage, Paul wrote about having the miraculous experience of being caught up to the third heaven.

It is natural human weakness to be conceited when one has great miraculous experience, visions and revelations, even Paul was not an exception.

I believe the messenger of the enemy was not a physical infirmity or disease but a real person in either a demonic being, or servants of the enemy in the church masquerading as servants of righteousness like the “super apostles”, undermining his ministry. Or someone like Alexander who did great harm to his ministry whom he had to warn Timothy and the church.

And it is important to note that God was the One who sent the messenger of the enemy to harass and humble Paul for the very purpose of training him not to be conceited.

In what way was Paul conceited ?

How did Paul plead with God to remove the harassment ?   Is it by pleading that God would bind the enemy when He was the One who sent in the first place?   How did the enemy’s messenger harass him ?

It must be so troubling a trial that Paul had to plead 3 times.  But nevertheless when the Lord told him that His grace was sufficient for him,  Paul eventually realized that a successful ministry rested on a weak servant in order for Christ’s power to manifest even more in him.

1 Cor 1:27-31

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


The Word of God is truly amazing for it anticipates that those who are given such surpassing gifts in the last days are likely to be conceited and this experience of Paul serves as a warning.  I see it as a comfort as well that when one encounters such trial will readily call to mind this experience of Paul and realizes God is in control and His power is made perfect in weakness and not strength in the surpassing gifts.

Postscript (12 March 2024) :

John MacArthur in his handbook mentioned,”Paul’s use of the word messenger (Greek, angellos, or angel) from Satan suggests the thorn in the flesh…was a demon, not a physical illness.  Of the 188 uses of the Greek word angellos in the NT, at least 180 refer to angels.  This particular angel was from Satan, a demon afflicting Paul.  Perhaps the best explanation for this demon is that he was indwelling the ringleader of the Corinthian conspiracy, the leader of the false apostles.  Through them he was tearing apart Paul’s beloved church and thus driving a painful stake through Paul.  Added support for this view comes from the context of chapters 10-13, in which Paul engages his enemies…The verb translated “buffet” always refer to ill treatment from other people (Matt 26:67; Mk 14:65; 1 Cor 4:11; 1 Pet 2:20).  Finally the OT frequently describes Israel’s enemies as thorns (Num 33:55; Josh 23:13; Ezek 28:24). ”


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