Blessed Thorns

Michael Beck

“And 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)

One of the greatest pitfalls any minister can fall into is to have an overinflated sense of his own importance. The Apostle Paul did more for the spread of Christianity than any other man. His letters comprise 28% of the New Testament. What would our understanding of the gospel be today without the contribtions of this great apostle? But as important as Paul was to God’s plan, God saw fit to humble him lest he should be “exalted above measure.” If God felt the need to keep Paul’s ego in check because of the “abundance of revelations” given to him, what must he do for any of us, lest pride be our downfall?

Jesus spoke of the difficulty of the rich entering into the kingdom of heaven. An “abundance” of anything places us in a precarious position. Woe unto you when all men speak well of you! Our friends can expose us to more danger than our enemies. Their flattering mouths can work ruin in our lives. Naturally, we all would rather be praised than criticized. Ahab had no fondness for the prophet Micaiah. “… But I hate him; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always evil” (2 Chron. 18:7)

A thorn in the flesh can be a pain in the neck, always contradicting us when we think we’ve made a good point; or, second-guessing our decisions, making us feel stupid or incompetent. For a minister, it can be a “Mordecai” who refuses to bow or “reverence” the Reverend in all he says and does. How far down the warpath are we apt to go when we encounter opposition?

Paul came to realize that the first evidence of his apostleship was not his great deeds, but his patience in the face of criticism. “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all PATIENCE, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” (2 Cor. 12:12) He was willing to be thought of as weak and contemptible – a second-rate apostle at best.

We can become so afraid of the slander of our enemies that we rise up in anger to silence them. We believe they are going to harm the great work of God that we’re doing. But our own overheated response to their reproach will do more harm to our reputation and work than anything their criticism can do.

Paul warned us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. (Rom. 12:3) If anyone should have thought much of himself it was Paul. But God loved him too much to let that happen. Don’t go to war against the thorns in your flesh? Bless them – they are doing more good in your life than you even realize.

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.