FIRST-TRUMP#top..........Sound the alarm in Zion..... ...........................

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. A Priest sounds the alarm on a shofar

 

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THORN IN THE FLESH

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?


7And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2Cor 12:)


It is commonly understood that the massager from Satan, the thorn in the flesh Paul is referring to was an eye problem. Not to discount the possibility that Paul did in fact have such a problem, I doubt very seriously that he was talking about such a trivial matter as poor eyesight in such an important passage as this one is. I find this to be a problem with many of the interpretations of Scripture, they minimize and/or detract from the real message that God has for us by glossing them over with triviality. Let's see if such might be the case with this passage:

What is the reason Paul was given this thorn in the flesh? Consider that Paul had just had an experience few people other than John had ever been given. How easy it would be to have an inflated ego having been so honored by God Himself. Although I have had a moment or two of minor privileges, they do not compare with even the smallest of Paul's, and they tend to cause my ego to fly our of sight. I suspect you too have had your share of such experiences. Poor eyesight would do nothing to squash such an ego boost. In fact, having poor eyesight might be looked upon as a handicap, especially for an evangelist and a writer such as Paul was. We all know how we give special glory to those who must overcome a handicap in order to succeed.


"Lest I should be exalted above measure." Twice in a very short space Paul gave his reasons for the thorn in his flesh. Why was Paul given the thorn? So he wouldn't be exalted above measure. I ask again: Why was Paul given the thorn in the flesh? I repeat the question because I suspect people miss this, especially preachers and theologians if they think Paul is talking about mere eyesight.


"The messenger of Satan." Messenger is the very same word used throughout the Bible for Angel. "Angel (Aggls)" means "a messenger," a person who brings "tidings," a pastor. For information purposes, the word "Pastor" is only used once in the New Testament (Eph 4:11) where Paul is telling the Church that God has given the Church pastors, teachers and etc for the edifying of the body of Christ. The word for pastor has been translated "shepherd" 17 times in the New Testament, indicating the words are interchangeable. However, the eight times pastor appears in the Old Testament it is prefixed with a "Woe unto the." Something to think about I should think. All but 3 of the 17 times the word "shepherd" appears in the New Testament it refers to Jesus as the Chief, or the Good Shepherd. The 3 remaining times is in Luke and speaks of the shepherds called to the birth of Jesus. The word "shepherd appears 64 times in the Old Testament, and almost every time a shepherd is mentioned there is a negative connotation to it, the few exceptions are when the Shepherd referred to is a prophetic statement about Jesus.

It might appear that what I have told you has nothing to do with the thorn in Paul's side. And in fact it has very little to do with his thorn. But at the same time it is clear that shepherds and pastors are a thorn in God's side, and the pastors of the churches of the day was Paul's big burden that he had to constantly correct and put back on course.

What should that tell us about pastors?


"The messenger of Satan." The use of a definite article might indicate it was Satan himself that was afflicting Paul. However I see no such definite article in the Greek, which would mean that "a" messenger would be more appropriate under the circumstances. If there was such a definite article then we might think of it in the same way as we would think of "The Angel of the Lord," as opposed to "An Angel of the Lord." Under the circumstances this is a moot point.


"Thorn in the flesh." Flesh speaks of our desires, our passions, as contrasted to our soul or our spirit. If you or I said we were having trouble with our flesh we would generally mean that we were having problems with temptations and the yielding to them. It would seem to me that Paul has this same intention in mind. Let's see if such a concept might fit what Paul is saying here in this passage:


"My strength is made perfect in weakness." Paul wanted this thorn, whatever it was, to be removed. Obviously he was powerless to remove it himself. But from the context of this passage, if he were able to remove the thing that bothered him, it would only serve to add to his ego, which apparently is the reason God wouldn't take it away. Does this make sense in your way of thinking? I will assume that you are at least curious where I am going with this, even if you are far from agreeing with my reasoning.


"Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." In the paragraph above we see where God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. The stronger we are in our own eyes, and the more self-sufficient we are, the less power we afford the Lord. God wants us humble, meek, and totally dependant on Him. Whatever glory we retain for our self takes away from the Glory that is due God only. (I won't give references to this statement because anyone who is unaware of this foundational truth is a long way from understanding what I am talking about here.) Paul says "I rather glory in my infirmities," meaning that whatever weakness he has, he will glory in them, including the thorn in his flesh. It is apparent that Paul is determined to receive some glory: If not from his accomplishments, then for his lack of accomplishments. We've seen this in others (and perhaps and very possibly in ourselves as well) where even the loser has to retain pride with such statements as "Well, we played fair at least," or "They cheated, otherwise I would have won," and like statements as these. Hold on to that glory till the end, that's the way of us who are in the flesh.


"For when I am weak, then am I strong." Here we have more evidence that Paul is going to hold on to his ego even to the bitter end. He appears to be saying he is humble because he is not glorying over the experience given to him. But it doesn't sound like he is very humble to me. Does he to you?


6But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:)

This statement was made by a fellow Apostle. Note two things about this statement that especially applies to Paul and that must cause him much distress. The first thing to notice is that God resists the proud. If Paul has a problem with pride at all, especially since his life's effort has been to rise above all others, as will be seen in a moment, then he would desire with all his heart to have his pride taken from him. Isn't that true of you? Haven't you cried out to God to have Him remove some form of temptation or other fleshly weakness, and for some reason He just doesn't seem to hear our cries? Maybe you haven't had this experience, but I have, and I still do. They weary me no end. But as hard as I try, I just can't seem to get past these barriers that stand between me and the closeness to God that I once had, and that I desire so much.

The second point to notice is that James says if we resist the devil he will flee from us. Yet Paul is stuck with a persistent devil he just can not shake. Can you imagine what Paul must think when he reads this letter from James?


5Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 6Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: (1 Peter 5:)

Then to rub salt in his wounds, Paul must endure Peter saying the same thing as James did. Consider that at one time Paul had to rebuke this affirmed leader of the Apostles. How that must have bolstered his ego to have to correct the Apostle of the Apostles (Gal 2:11). Peter, if anyone, would know about pride, and the workings of Satan on pride (Luke 22:31-35).

Anything less than perfection is sin. Adam found this out much to his, and to our hurt.


21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. (Mark 7:)

These are the Words of Jesus. Note the company pride and foolishness is bound with in this passage. Having read this, if you were desiring to be the very best you could be, wouldn't you want to be free of all pride and foolishness? Me too. Keep this in mind as we read further:


1This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2Tim 3:)

This passage reads very much like that of Jesus' above. However, this statement was made by Paul himself. One might ascertain from this that Paul is in agreement that pride runs with a bad crowd, as seen by the associations he, Paul has made here.


29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Rom 1:)

We have here almost the same words as those in the passage above. But included here is the strong statement that those who do such things (including the proud) is worthy of death. Now, let's take a look at some of the statements Paul has made about himself (only those that come to my mind, there are many others I'm sure) and see if we might ascertain what his thorn in his flesh might be:


"I rather glory in my infirmities."

This part of a verse was taken from our original example passage. I have placed it here as an introduction to the other statements Paul has made concerning himself. Paul speaks of his infirmities. Infirmity means: "Feebleness, frailty, weakness, of mind or body." Because of the use of the word infirmities it is thought that Paul had a physical affliction. But what if his problem wasn't physical, but emotional or Spiritual?


"10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. 12Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:)

Paul spoke a great deal about perfection and the need to be perfect. It is as if his greatest quest was to be the best and the greatest of the Disciples of Jesus, and the best of the Apostles. And if pure volumes of writing given to us through the ages is any sign, he has surely attained that goal. I'm sure Paul had higher motives than this for what he did, but nonetheless he has clearly given us a lot of examples and instructions on becoming the highest quality disciple of our Lord.


"5For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles."

This is not something I would expect a humble person to say. How about you?


"16I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little."

"18Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also."

"Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also."

Remember, in Mark 7:21 Jesus Himself said that pride and foolishness defiles a man. Here Paul claims both for himself, does he not?


"22Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. 23Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft."

Here the list goes on and on telling about how he has done more, been abused more, and suffered more for Christ than has anyone else. Humility is not an accusation that can easily be placed on such a man as Paul.


"30If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities." (2Cor 12:)

All the above statements were made in 2 Cor chapter 12. We might say that this is Paul's credentials, or his resumé. I would call it his bragging papers. Note how once again Paul brags on his infirmities. Have you come to any conclusion as to what Paul's infirmities might be? Remember, an infirmity can be emotional or spiritual as well as physical.


"4Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ," (Phil 3:)

Notice how Paul not only brags about all he was before his conversion, but he also brags about all that he gave up for the Lord. No matter what Paul does, or that he doesn't do, he counts them as bragging rights. I'm afraid if I was to brag on myself but half as much as he brags on himself, I would feel very much down on myself.

Sin has a way of humbling us. When we start to condemn someone for something that they are doing, we then have to look at our self and remember that we have no room to talk. We may speak of another person's sin or weakness, and hopefully try to help them overcome that problem, but condemnation (unless we are truly blind to our own problems) will not be present when we view the problems and shortcomings of others.


"14For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." (Rom 7:)

Can you relate to Paul's struggle with his fleshly desires? I surely can. Oh how I would love to be free of my desires and my temptations. What I wouldn't give to have someone lift this burden of lust, shame and guilt off my shoulders. But no matter how much I plead to God to take them from me, He just will not do so. It's as if He is telling me that I must carry my burden until I have gained the strength and the ability to overcome the burden that I have placed upon myself. It is the overcomer who will be with the Lord. We must overcome as He has overcome if we expect to share in His rewards (Rev 3:21; John 16:33).

What I am talking about here has nothing to do with being saved, but that is an entirely different issue.

I want more than anything else to serve the Lord as He desires me to serve him. In order to accomplish this I must do as He did, and that is to overcome the world, which is my worldly desires. We are fortunate in that we are able to watch others in their own struggle to overcome the world. We have Peter who had his battle with pride; and we have Job who, although called perfect by God Himself, had his hidden sin, which was that of pride in his perfection. And what is pertinent here, we have Paul's struggle that has even more bearing on us today than does that of Job or Peter.

Paul's struggle is one that each of us, in one form or another, can relate to. We all have our proud side. And unless we haven't matured to the point of recognizing our problem, or labeling our pride as a sin that causes a barrier between us and the Lord, we struggle with our ego.

By redirecting our attention off Paul's efforts to overcome his weaknesses, calling his weakness something so benign as his eyesight, we lose the lesson Paul's experience has to teach us. This is true of many issues, as well as stories and parables in the Bible. We isolate them and catagorize them as interesting little stories designed for children, surrounded by a bunch of words that have no meaning or interest to us. But God's Word is a wealth of information that must be deciphered by the Holy Spirit if it is to be of use to us.

Whether Paul's thorn in the flesh was in fact his ego is of little importance. I may be way off base and the theologians have it right in that his problem was his eyesight and no more than that. Regardless, I think you can see that by looking beyond the obvious, there is much to learn if we will only take the time to study God's Word.

The purpose of this piece is twofold. One I have had a desire to understand what Paul meant when he talked about having a struggle with the flesh in Romans chapter 7. The explanations I've read or heard on this passage seemed to me to be nothing more than a way to slip past the subject without having an explanation. To me there is something that calls out for an understanding of what Paul was saying, and what he was experiencing. Was he in fact having a problem with his flesh? I couldn't see how someone who had lived such an exemplary life could have a problem, unless it was that of zeal and anger, which he obviously exhibited. But zeal he used for the benefit of others, and for the purposes of the Lord. And it was fairly clear that he had overcome anger by the fact that he forgave those who brutally abused him. This being the case, what else might be the thorn in his flesh? And, which leads to my second reason for this study, what can I learn from Paul's problem that will it help me overcome my own habitual shortcomings?

I think I have been successful in these endeavors, that is, to discover what Romans 7 is about. And I think I've learned what Paul's problem was. Whether this helps me to overcome my problem, or to understand it better is yet to be seen. But now I no longer feel alone in my struggle. And for that I give much thanks to Paul, even if what I have learned turns out to be a misguided conclusion.


"6For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." (2Tim 4:)

Question: Did Paul ever overcome his thorn of pride, do you think?


 

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