“Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Paul had been blessed. He was an inspired apostle of Christ. Moreover, he was allowed a peek into Paradise (2 Corinthians 12:1-6 cf. Luke 23:43).
God allowed Paul to be afflicted. The affliction in some way was from Satan. However, God allowed the affliction to help keep Paul humble.
What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? We are not told, and not enough information has been provided to conclude with certainty. However, many speculations exist: (1) Many believe that this was a physical ailment (Galatians 4:13-15; 1 Corinthians 2:3-5 cf. 2 Corinthians 10:10, notice the word “weakness” and “weak”), perhaps affecting his eyes (Galatians 4:13-15; 6:11 cf. Acts 9:8-9, 17-18). Satan was once allowed to afflict Job’s body (Job 2:6-7). (2) Some believe that this was some physical injury which came through persecution (Acts 14:19; Galatians 6:18; 2 Corinthians 11:22-30). This would explain how Satan was involved. (3) Some have suggested that it was the memory he had of the past (1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8). (4) Some believe that it was his Jewish opponents. “Flesh” is sometimes used of Jews and Judaism (Galatians 3:1-3; Philippians 3:3-6; 2 Corinthians 5:15-16). The Canaanites were thorns in the side of Israel (Numbers 33:55). In my mind some of these fit better than do others. Still it is unwise to be dogmatic.
“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’ ” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
The Lord is in control. He chose not to remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Two reasons are stated. First, His grace is sufficient. Second, His strength is made perfect in weakness (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
When afflicted, we should remember God’s grace. Let us stay focused. Paul wrote, “I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18); “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Jesus said, “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).
When afflicted, we should remember that sometimes it is through our weakness that the power of God is seen. Paul wrote, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5). Paul was not trying to attract people to Christianity by his own intellect and wisdom, oratory skills, physical persona or handsomeness. He wanted their faith to be in God and not man.
“Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Paul accepted his condition, and not only accepted it, he boast in it. He did so because such allowed the power of Christ to be manifest through him. It also help to keep him humble. If one is not aware of limitations and weaknesses physically and intellectually, then pride can become a real problem. God knew what Paul needed, and Paul trusted Him (as should we).