Thorn in the Flesh

A question from a blog reader:

I just started reading The Bondage Breaker and I am finding it extremely hopeful! I promise you I will read it from cover to cover, because I need freedom in my life. You tell the story of Dee, the minister’s daughter, who had asked God to give her a thorn in the flesh like the one the Apostle Paul had. Here is what confuses me: Paul prayed for deliverance, but was told "My grace is sufficient for you." Does this mean that Paul was harassed by that demon for the rest of his ministry? If so, how was he free in Christ and how can people who are similarly harassed today expect to be free in Christ?

The “thorn in the flesh” was indeed an “angel of Satan.” God can use any means available to accomplish His will – even the devil. He sent an evil spirit upon Saul in the Old Testament. Paul said, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). That probably means to expel him from the church and let him be subject to the god of this world. We really don’t know how this affected Paul. Some have suggested poor eyesight, and we don’t know how long the thorn in the flesh lasted, but I would assume as long as it was necessary to keep Paul from exalting himself.

Peter was arguing with the other disciples about who was the greatest (Lu. 22:24), and that pride cost him dearly. God had kicked Satan out of heaven because of his pride, so he demanded that God act accordingly towards Peter and let him sift Peter like wheat (vs. 31). God let him, and prayed that Peter’s faith may not fail. Peter boasted that he was willing to die for Jesus, but he ended up denying him three times. I think God sent that messenger of Satan to Paul to prevent that from happening again.

You cannot universally apply Paul’s case to the general population unless you have been “caught up to the third heaven,” whatever that is. However, you can expect to be disciplined by God if you are prideful. God is opposed to the proud. It is better to choose humility than to be humbled. Finally, God’s discipline is always for our good, and Paul was a better man for it.

Dr. Neil

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