7Therefore, to keep me from becoming arrogant due to the extraordinary nature of these revelations, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me, so that I would not become arrogant. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that he would take it away from me. 9And he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will be glad to boast all the more in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may shelter me. 10That is why I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For whenever I am weak, then am I strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (EHV)
The apostle Paul had a problem. He called his problem a “thorn in my flesh.” Exactly what this problem was we don’t know for certain. It appears to have been some sort of physical ailment. Some have speculated that it may have been epilepsy, others malaria. Paul doesn’t tell us. What he does tell us is that it was allowed to torment him to keep him from becoming arrogant. Paul had received some incredible gifts from the Lord, including the extraordinary revelations he speaks of in these verses. Beyond that, Paul had experienced some amazing success in planting congregations all over Asia Minor and even into Greece over multiple missionary journeys. It might have been easy for Paul to become arrogant, to have thought highly of himself and of his own abilities due to such great gifts.
But this was exactly why the Lord allowed Paul to be tormented by this “thorn in the flesh.” Even though Paul pleaded with the Lord three different times to take this problem away, the Lord saw fit in His wisdom to allow Paul to continue to have to deal with it. Sound familiar? We have been given a “thorn in the flesh” too in the form of our current Covid-19 circumstance. Have you prayed to the Lord to take it away? I’m guessing you have, and more than once. Whether a person has been infected with this virus or not, the impact of this virus among us is being felt by everyone. Why would the Lord allow such a thing? Why hasn’t the Lord simply removed this virus from among us in answer to what I’m sure by this time have been millions of prayers to do just that? What are we to learn from this? What did Paul learn?
Paul learned to “delight” in his thorn in the flesh. Really? Did he actually find enjoyment in being tormented by some physical ailment? Of course not. What he delighted in was the Lord’s answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul came to understand that his thorn in the flesh kept him grounded, kept him reliant on the Lord instead of himself. The simple fact that Paul had to deal with this thorn in the flesh and still was able to enjoy the successes of his work was proof positive that it was not Paul who had accomplished those successes, but it was the Lord who had accomplished them through Paul – perhaps even in spite of Paul. Paul learned to delight in his weakness – and even in insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties – because these things drove him to the throne of the Lord Jesus for help and for strength and for comfort, and because these thing made it clear and obvious that any and all successes Paul may have experiences were blessings from the hand of his gracious Savior. In fact, Paul even learned that real strength came only when he was “weak,” only when he abandoned his own “strength” and relied on the Lord’s strength for all things.
Is it possible the Lord is attempting to teach us a similar lesson? With all of our “successes,” have we perhaps become arrogant to a certain extent? Have we begun to rely on our own strength for accomplishment and forgotten that without the Lord nothing can be accomplished? Have we perhaps even pushed into the background the greatest accomplishment of all time – the payment for sin and the re-opening of heaven that was accomplished by Christ on Calvary and at the empty tomb – an accomplishment that you and I can take no credit for whatsoever and yet an accomplishment that Christ completed because you and I needed it more than any other?
Covid-19 will eventually pass and we will eventually return to some state of “normalcy.” But in this sin-filled world we can also be certain that eventually something will come along to take its place. Let’s take the opportunity to learn again with Paul the most important lessons – we have a loving God whose grace is always sufficient for us. We have a loving God whose grace moved Him to send His Son into our world to pay for all sin on His cross, and to open heaven for us by His glorious resurrection from the dead. We have a loving God who still forgives all our sins – even our sins of “arrogance” by which we forget to rely on Him for all things. We have a loving God who continually blesses us even and especially in our “weaknesses.” We have a loving God by whose strength we will “weather the storm” of this current difficulty and by whose strength we will again be made strong. Continue to turn to Him in prayer – pleading with Him to see us through even as He has invited us to do, and praising Him for His great love by which He has already rescued us from sin, death and hell and made us His own dearly loved children. Continue to turn to Him in His Word where He promises He is with you to the end of the age, and where His Holy Spirit is active to grant you peace and comfort and the strength to carry on. Let us say with Paul, with all confidence, “whenever I am weak, then am I strong.”