What’s Your Biggest Weakness, Session 1 – Lessons From the Apostle Paul
By Don Salmans
What’s your biggest weakness? Has God given you a “thorn in the flesh” and how have you responded to it? In this first session on weakness, Don Salmans looks at the life of the apostle Paul and how he was given a “thorn in the flesh” to help him overcome his weakness.
Don Salmans was born and raised in the United States on the Kansas prairies. Through the influence of godly parents he trusted in Christ at an early age. He met Martie, his wife to be, at a Christian camp when they were in high school. Don is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. Don produces God’s Extravagant Love, Trust In The Midst Of Trouble, and Facing Your Fears for our Christian internet radio station, HopeStreamRadio. Contact us if you would like to learn more about how God changes lives.
Erwin Lutzer shares the story of a young man who we will call Joe. “Discouragement was etched indelibly on his face. He spoke with urgency and only occasionally showed the trace of a smile. ‘Living for Christ is fine if you are on the top of the pile,’ he surmised with conviction, ‘but it’s a different story when you are at the bottom.’”
“After high school, Joe was accepted for Royal Canadian Mounted Police training in Canada. From the first day, he sincerely tried to be a witness to his comrades. He read his Bible, refused to share sordid jokes, and would not participate in sensual amusements. In short, he ‘lived for Christ,’ as most preachers urge us to do.”
“And that was the beginning of his troubles! Friends dubbed him ‘the religious nut.’ Some scorned his piety. Others schemed to have him blamed for activities he did not do. He was ousted (often literally) from the games and social events of his companions.”
“He got the lowest score in examinations and barely passed in practical achievements. He was not a leader, nor did he have a winsome personality. Worse yet, he commanded little or no respect.”
“As we talked together, he stared aimlessly into space. ‘My friends are rejecting Christ,’ he commented, ‘but maybe it’s just because they don’t want to be like me, and on that score I don’t blame them. Who’d want to be like me?’ He forced a smile to hold back the tears. ‘I’m a failure and I know it!’” pp. 13-14 Failure: The Back Door to Success Erwin Lutzer
How do we respond to our own personal failures, struggles or weaknesses? Paul gives us insight from – 2 Corinthians 12:4-10 (He writes that he) “4 was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. 5 On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses…
7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul was –
- Faced with Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:7 “7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself!”
In the context of 2 Corinthians 10:1-13:10 Paul is defending himself against false teachers who are attacking him, his apostleship and his ministry. Paul in his defense surprisingly brings up his weakness. From this we learn certain things about responding to our own weakness. In the context, Paul writes in – 2 Corinthians 12:7 “7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,”
He elaborates in NLT 2 Corinthians 12:4 “But I do know that I was caught up into paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be told.” What Paul heard in these visions was so amazing that he was not permitted to share them with others.
And then he says in 2 Corinthians 12:7 “for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself,” or as stated in the NLT 2 Corinthians 12:7 “even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up,” The wonderful things Paul was allowed to see could have resulted in spiritual pride. Pride is a destructive force. And as one writes “Paul’s great experience in heaven could have ruined his ministry on earth;” Wiersbe p.135
And then he states in 2 Corinthians 12:7 “for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself!”
God gave a gift no one would want. Paul refers to it as a thorn. The word used here is not of a little sticker or thorn from a rose bush but a “stake use for impaling or torturing someone” NLKG 417 This was a very painful problem.
My wife’s brother Paul working on their farm once had a pitch fork accidentally thrust through his leg. We are talking of intense pain. And this was the case for Paul, the pain was intense.
There are a variety of views of what this referred to by “a thorn in the flesh”. Some suggest it was referring migraine headaches, some form of eye trouble or perhaps malaria. Others think it could be referring to some kind of emotional pain such as extreme sorrow over his fellow unbelieving Jews. Still others think it might refer to social problems involving persecution. However, many believe it probably did refer to some recurring physical problem.
Yet the reality is that we really don’t know for sure what the thorn was. Actually, I believe it is to our advantage not to know, for if we did we might limit the application of this passage to just one problem when it can have application to a variety of situations. As a thorn in the flesh, one thing is clear, it was painful. Furthermore, it was humiliating, as it was given to prevent pride. Also, don’t overlook the fact that this problem was given by God.
One reminds us that God “permitted Satan to buffet Paul in order to keep him from becoming proud.” Wiersbe Listen to the words again 2 Corinthians 12:7 “there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself!”
Warren Wiersbe writes “God permitted Satan to afflict Paul, just as He permitted Satan to afflict Job (see Job 1-2). While we do not fully understand the origin of evil in this universe, or all the purposes God had in mind when He permitted evil to come, we do know that God controls evil and can use it even for His own glory.”
Some teach that if God loves us He would never allow pain in our lives, however note the phrase – 2 Corinthians 12:7 “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-” To torment or buffet means literally “to strike with the fist”. The same word is used in Matthew 26:67 67 Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists;”
The Problem Of Weakness
A young man I know was beat up by some thugs that left him with permanent damage. Paul was being beat up by the problem and it was painful, humiliating and exasperating. And again, this was to prevent pride. Which to God is a far bigger problem than pain.
Yet this is a huge problem for Paul and we dare not minimize it. We could call this the problem of weakness. Note 2 Corinthians 12:9 “my weaknesses,” Weaknesses are those things which hinder our lives and humiliate our strength.
Are you struggling with some weakness that is wearing you out? We all have something. Let me encourage you God had an answer for Paul and He has an answer for you. Hang in there, God has more to say to us through Paul.
Don and Martie live in Ontario where he preaches in various churches in the area. Much of his time is invested in his own local church, Edmison Heights Bible Chapel, where he is currently an elder. Don and Martie have been married 43 years and have two grown sons and seven grandchildren. One of his greatest joys in this season of his life is simply spending time with his grand kids.
Images Courtesy Of
Weakness – NeuPaddy
RCMP – keijj44
Thorn – MagTig
The Bible – Pexels
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