Daily Archives: September 16, 2021

WHAT WAS PAUL’S THORN?

WHAT WAS PAUL’S THORN?

Many interesting theories have been suggested in answer to the question, “What was Paul’s thorn?” Some suggest that it was a physical ailment, a sickness, or a serious eye condition, backed up by his use of a scribe to write his letters.

Does Paul himself answer this question? What lessons can Paul’s “thorn” offer us in our walk with the Lord?

Firstly, where in the Bible does the idea of a thorn originate?

55 But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live. 56 And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.”

Numbers 33:55-56 NLT

Befote Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land, God warned His people not to tolerate idol-worshippers among them. If they failed to rid the land of the Canaanites, the Canaanites’ idolatry would be both a constant irritation to them and a lure to participate in their ungodly behaviour.

In the New Covenant, what the Canaanites were to Israel, the flesh is to the believer. The Apostle Paul warned the Galatians that there is a relentless war going on between the flesh and the spirit, triggered by the people and circumstances in our lives that rub us up the wrong way, and our reactions to them.

The flesh demands that we retaliate while the Spirit calls us to resist the temptation to react by remaining in the love of God because He is the supreme authority in all our circumstances. Through these uncomfortable or trying circumstances, God calls us to reign over our flesh by receiving His grace to overcome.

The bottom line in this war between flesh and spirit is the issue of idolatry. When we allow our flesh to dictate our responses to the tests, we declare ourselves to be god. We think we know better than God; we make our own rules and are, at that moment, eating “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, declaring independence from God and no need of Him to help us in this war.

What is idolatry?

18 I am making this covenant with you so that no one among you—no man, woman, clan, or tribe—will turn away from the Lord our God to worship these gods of other nations, and so that no root among you bears bitter and poisonous fruit.

Deuteronomy 29:18 NLT

The writer to the Hebrews speaks of idolatry as a poisonous root of bitterness.

14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. 15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

Hebrews 12:14,15 NLT

Idolatry is that attitude that I don’t need God. I am self-sufficient; I can navigate life’s problems on my own. However, by doing so, I inadvertently put my confidence in some other source. most often money or some person or thing I lean on for support. I am essentially my own god because I replace the true God with my own solutions and act on my own wisdom.

When I react in anger or bitterness to some affront to the god I am, I compound my accuser’s sin with my own which does not solve the issue. It only makes it worse.

During Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, which was his calling, he was confronted by hostility from the Jews, the Gentiles, the Roman government and even the geographical environment in which he worked. He was tired and frustrated by all these hindrances, this “thorn in his side”, these ungodly people who interfered with his ministry. He begged the Lord three times to take it (the thorn) away.

What Paul did not realise that, though the “thorn” was from Satan, designed to stop him from doing God’s will, it was the very instrument the Lord was using to teach Paul how to overcome the danger of his flesh.

God was using the very hatred and opposition to the gospel Paul was experiencing to protect him from the danger of thinking that his “supernatural revelations” made him better than others. Pride would cut him off from fellowship with Jesus.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

1 Peter 5:6 NLT

Paul’s greatest asset was not the revelations that gave him understanding of the message he was called to proclaim or the eloquence with which he preached and taught. He was not to revel in the visions of heaven and eternity he was privileged to experience. His greatest asset was the “thorn” of opposition and persecution, of hardships and deprivation that kept him in intimate touch with his Lord because of his need for humble dependence on Him.

Paul would never fully experience the power to overcome his fleshly responses without the tests that exposed his weakness. The very weakness of his flesh qualified him to receive all the grace he needed to maintain his close connection to Jesus and to draw his life from Him.

God knows exactly what form our “thorn” should take to keep us dependant on the power of His grace to overcome our weakness. Instead of viewing our thorn as a hindrance, we should recognise that God gift-wraps His grace in a package that appears distasteful to us.

The wrapping may appear unsightly, but the gift within is valuable beyond understanding. Only as we open the package and unwrap the grace, will we appreciate the love that gave us the gift. God’s passion is to bind us to Him in loving trust and unity. He will do whatever it takes to keep our hearts in submission to Him.

FAITH IS THE GLUE

FAITH IS THE GLUE

“Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in Him. But, because of the Pharisees, they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

“Then Jesus cried out, ‘Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.'” John 12:42-46 NIV.

Secret believers! Held captive by fear!

This is the power of false religion. Because religion has its origin in the human mind, it needs humans to defend it and force to keep people from leaving when they know the truth; force, the only way humans know how to exercise power. Fear holds people in bondage and force protects their loyalty.

These religious leaders were bound by the fear of what their colleagues would do to them if they followed Jesus. Is it possible to believe but not to follow? Jesus said not. To follow Him means to take up the cross. Anyone who carried a cross was on the way to death. A disciple is one who has embraced his rabbi, his rabbi’s yoke, and everything his rabbi stands for. He is no longer his own person. He has died. These Jewish leaders, whom John said believed in Him, had not yet fully embraced Jesus as Lord. They were afraid.

However, fear and force cannot bind the conscience when it is convinced of the truth. How was it that the apostles and many thousands after them, were willing to lay down their lives rather than deny that Jesus is Lord? Did He threaten them with death if they refused to acknowledge Him? Did He destroy Peter for denying him with oaths and curses? What changed cowering men into courageous witnesses? The resurrection convinced them that He was the Son of God and not even death could scare them into submission to the Roman authorities or the bullying religious leaders.

The reward for believing in Jesus far outweighs the cost! There is a revelation of the face of the Father in the face of Jesus that is reserved for those who recognize and embrace the truth that He and the Father are one.

Throughout the history of His people, Jesus had dealings with them in many different ways. He met Moses through the miracle of a desert bush that burned with an unearthly fire but was not consumed, and revealed His name to him on the mountain. He revealed His glory in dreams and visions to His prophets, men like Isaiah and Ezekiel; He gave His personal protection to Daniel in the den of lions and his three colleagues in Nebuchadnezzar’s fire; He spoke in an audible voice to Abraham and Jacob and even wrestled with Jacob until Jacob prevailed and became a prince with God… but they never saw His face.

Now He was here on earth in person, in human form so that all men might see the face of God in Him; but only those who believed the truth of who He was would recognize in Him the nature of the Father He represented. To some, He was a blasphemer; to others at best a prophet or just a good man. Only to those who believed in Him was He the face of the Father.

John lived and walked with Him for three and a half years. To him, Jesus was the Word become flesh…”We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. Paul met Him on the Damascus road and, from then on He was, to him “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Colossians 1:15. To the unknown writer to the Hebrews, He was “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being…” Hebrews 1:3.

How did Jesus respond to Philip’s request, ‘”Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us’?“ Jesus answered, ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.'” John 14:8, 9.

The miracle is that Jesus is just Jesus, good man, prophet perhaps, until faith opens the eyes and the heart sees Him as the Son of God and a mirror image of the Father. This is the glue that binds us to Him. We are not held to loyalty by fear or threats of death. To believe in Him is to see Him and to see Him is to recognise the Father in Him, to love Him and to embrace Him as the Son of God.

Acknowledgement

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.