What Was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?

In my book, Stop Trying to Fix Yourself, I speak of the Apostle Paul and how the thorn in his flesh put him into a position where he had to accept a physical struggle that made him weak, but this weakness became his greatest asset. He explains, “I will take pleasure in my infirmities…for when I am weak, then I am strong,” referring to the strength of the Lord that empowers us when the flesh is no longer our focus.

 

Though I don’t believe this should be controversial, it has created a bit of controversy – especially in Christian circles that believe God will never allow a Christian to have a physical problem. Since this comes up frequently, I thought it would be good to answer these objections in a post. Let’s begin by focusing on an important principle for interpreting scripture. As much as we are able, we should approach scripture with an open mind. Problems arise when we are so emotionally invested in a doctrine that we cannot accept what is plainly stated in scripture. When we impose our ideology on scripture, instead of drawing our understanding from the Bible, it becomes hard to get past preconceived ideas.

 

We all struggle to overcome this, but we should also be willing to search the scriptures to see if what we are being taught is true – and to see if what we believe is true. Many misconceptions I once held dear have died slow and painful deaths as the scriptures challenged my ideas. Some ideas I held on to, but the more I studied, the more I had to let go of beliefs that could not be supported by scripture. When I say a doctrine can’t be supported, I am referring to looking at passages in context. Nearly any belief can be proven when scriptures are taken out of context.

 

It is argued by many well known teachers that the Apostle Paul’s thorn in his flesh was not a physical problem, but rather it was the persecution he endured. The reason this is important to many is because there is a belief that God will never allow sickness to enter the life of anyone who has faith. Before digging into this, let’s stop for a moment and analyze this idea.

 

Will God allow persecution? Obviously he will, for the Bible says that any who live godly will suffer persecution. What about physical harm to the believer? Even in the Bible, we see physical pain inflicted upon Jesus’ followers. Many were killed by the damage done to their bodies. So the logic is, God will allow a sword, bullet, or whip to damage our bodies, but he will never allow an infirmity to damage our body. Is there a difference?

 

As one teacher put it, “If Jesus suffered for it on the cross, we won’t, for by His stripes we are healed.” He was beaten, so why weren’t His disciples spared this penalty? Some argue that sickness is an attack of the devil, but so is persecution. Let’s look at the passage that has bothered some people, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

7 And 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.
8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 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.

 

Let’s first dispel the idea that persecution was Paul’s thorn. In Acts 14:22, Paul has just been stoned and left for dead, but he recovers and immediately visits the disciples to encourage them. Knowing people may be shaken by this type of persecution, the Bible says he strengthened the disciples by saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”

 

In Acts 5, Peter and John are arrested for preaching Christ, even though they performed an undeniable miracle. They were persecuted and then beaten at the stocks as a stern warning not to keep preaching, and Acts 5:41 says they left the council after being beaten and began rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ. So are we now to believe that the other apostles rejoiced that they suffered for Christ, but Paul was tormented because he was being persecuted? He first encouraged the church to be strong because persecutions were something we endured on the path to heaven, but when it came to himself, he begged God to keep him out of persecution?

 

Don’t forget that when God called Paul, his ministry began with God telling him, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16) Every apostle was persecuted heavily. Every apostle except John was tortured and killed because they would not stop telling people about the new life of the Spirit through Christ. But even John was beaten, persecuted, and banned to a penal colony, isolated from the church on the isle of Patmos for his faith.

 

It’s undeniable that persecution was part of the early church, and has been a part of the church for thousands of years. In many countries, Christians are being tortured and killed for their faith even as I write. In Hebrews 11:35 we are told that many believers refused to accept deliverance, knowing they would obtain a better resurrection. Does God allow His children to suffer? Why? Not one thing that is lost in this life has value. We are giving up health, life, and possessions for the sake of Christ, knowing that what God returns to us is far better than what we lose.

 

Paul’s thorn of the flesh is NOT persecutions, though he was persecuted. Let’s go back and look at Paul’s conclusion concerning his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:

 9b Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 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.

 

Persecutions are mentioned. So is needs. So is distress. More importantly, so are infirmities. It was the first thing Paul mentions. Infirmity is mentioned 13 times in the New Testament. 100% of the time it is referring to a physical problem. In fact, the word infirmity (astheneia in the Greek) means physical frailty, feebleness of health, illness, disease, or sickness. It does not mean persecution. By Paul’s own testimony, his infirmity was an attack of Satan, but was actually a gift of God to produce weakness so he learned to receive the strength of the Spirit – which was far better.

 

According to Paul, pride was a struggle, and so he didn’t get lifted up in pride, God gave him a thorn in the flesh. I know this flies in the face of the belief system of many who say God will never inflict a believer, but as we shall see, this is not what the Bible teaches. We’ll look at another example in a moment, but let’s see how Paul discusses his own infirmity.

 

In Galatians 4:13, Paul says that he preached to them through his physical infirmity. Some translations say ‘because of physical infirmity’, but the word is ‘dia’, which means ‘through or with’. Either way, Paul clearly says it was a physical infirmity. In Galatians 4:14 Paul again affirms this by saying, “My trial that was in my flesh, you did not despise or reject.” Let me reiterate this. Paul said, “I preached to you through physical infirmity/illness, and you did not reject the trial that was in my flesh.” There is no way to escape the truth that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a physical problem that people could see, and some rejected him because of it – but not those who believed his preaching in Galatia.

 

Paul then gives a clue as to what that infirmity could be in the very next verse. “For I bear witness that if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.” If you read the full context of Paul’s discussion, he makes it clear that the people he reached with the gospel did not turn away from Paul because of the infirmity of his flesh, but as they grew to love Paul, in their compassion, they wanted to take away his thorn, and if they could have, they loved him enough to give him their own eyes to ease his infirmity. There is no other reason they would have wanted to give Paul their own eyes.

 

Let’s throw another monkey wrench into this doctrine that limits God’s authority to use the flesh as He chooses. Look at Exodus 4:11

So the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?

 

Who made the mute, the deaf, and the blind? According to God’s own word, He did. According to Psalm 139, God knit us together in the womb, and we are made exactly as God intended. Why does God allow disabilities at birth? He doesn’t always give the answer, but He does assure is that whatever we miss in this life, becomes a better resurrection in the life to come.

 

Then there is Job. Job went through immense suffering from the hand of Satan, but who began this challenge? Look at Job 1:8

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”

 

God challenged Satan to consider Job’s faithfulness, and then God permitted Satan to afflict him, but with specific boundaries. God allowed Satan to rob Job of everything, including his health.

 

Job’s friends accused him of having secret sin or some reason that this evil came upon him. They said, “God would never do this to a righteous man.” They all were very religious, and one even said, “The Lord said to me,” and then gave Job counsel from his own heart while claiming it was the word of God. All three of Job’s friends rebuked Job for claiming he was standing upon faith. Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him,” and expressed his confidence that in the end, God would rescue him. The only thing Job said wrong was, “When I see God, I’m going to ask why.” Then when God appeared, God said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” God then asks Job where he was when the earth was founded. Since Job was wise enough to question God, the Lord asked him questions and says, “Tell Me, if you have understanding. The one who corrects the Almighty, let him answer it.”

 

That was the moment Job understood that God had the right to do as He pleased. He also found out that what God permits Satan to steal, He abundantly restores. Job received ten times what he lost, for God’s goal was always to bless. Through the infirmity of Job’s flesh, he suffered, but that suffering established him in the Lord’s strength, and made it clear that all good comes through God, and Satan has no power to defeat God’s will for Job’s life.

 

To Job’s friends, the ones who said, “God would never do this,” God said in Job 42:7

And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.

 

God made Job’s friends, the ones who claimed to be wise counselors and condemned the suffering Job, to come and submit to Job. God said He would not even hear their prayers, but Job had to petition for them before they would be forgiven.

 

Similar situations happen in the church today. When my grandfather was dying of cancer, the church heaped the burden of guilt upon them by saying things like, “There must be secret sin in his life.” To my grandmother, one person said, “You are the reason he is dying. If you had enough faith, you could raise him off that bed.”

 

Is this what the Bible teaches? That we should condemn the sick? Does the Bible teach us to criticize people for not having enough faith? Or does it teach us to bear one another’s burdens. I have many friends in various healing movements. One thing they all have in common is scolding the ailing. If someone gets a cold, they are the first to tell them they shouldn’t be sick. If I had a prayer need, I wouldn’t tell them because I would hear how I shouldn’t have a need – I just don’t have enough faith.

 

Have they never read the letters the Apostles sent to the churches? Nearly every letter expresses prayer needs. When imprisoned, Paul pleaded for the church to send him a cloak before winter. He praised the Philippian church for meeting his needs.

 

What about 2 Timothy 4:20 where Paul said he had to leave one of his missionary helpers in Miletus because he was sick? Or what about Philippians 2 when Paul talks about his companion, Epaphroditus who became very sick and almost died? Or what about 1 Timothy 5:23, where Paul tells Timothy to drink a little wine because of his stomach problems, and his frequent infirmities?

 

Do you know one thing that is missing in all these accounts of sickness in the Bible? Not one time does a minister of God condemn the sick, nor do they tell them they shouldn’t be sick. Does God heal? Absolutely. I have friends that were miraculously healed. I have a relative that had terminal cancer as a baby. The doctors gave up and called the family in to say their good-byes. They gathered and prayed, and the child was instantly healed. Nearly 50 years later, he is still healthy and cancer-free. I have a friend of the family that had cancer of the mouth. She is not active in church and is not part of any healing ministry. The night before she was to go in for surgery, she poured her heart out to the Lord. When she went in the next morning, cancer could not be found.

 

Yet others pray, claim divine health, and do all the right things according to what people teach, but are not healed. Why? According to the book of James, the prayer of faith will heal the sick. I’ll also add that the elders are responsible for praying for the sick, and no where do we see the church condemning the sick. But also keep in mind that the Bible says that God deals each person a measure of faith and that faith is a gift of the Spirit. Faith is not produced by man. You can’t muster up enough human faith to do the work of the Spirit.

 

God did not explain why Paul could miraculously heal the unchurched people he encountered in Acts 28:8-9, but did not give Paul the power to heal Epaphraditus, Timothy, or Trophimus. Indeed we should pray for the sick with expectation, but ultimately healing is a gift of the Spirit and is according to a purpose we, like Job, cannot see.

 

People put God into a box, and then they have to explain away scriptures that don’t fit in that box. Because of doctrines like these, people are distracted from the truth. Instead of seeking God, they are seeking their will. Paul struggled with this. Three times he begged God to heal him, but God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

 

Sadly, the teachings of some cause people to reject this. Instead of walking by faith, they are demanding their own will. Unless God gives them the miracle they demand, they are paralyzed in their walk, and if God doesn’t give them the answer they want, their life becomes one of confusion, disappointment, and frustration.

 

Expect the miraculous, but don’t forget that the miraculous might be God’s strength in your weakness. Don’t short-change yourself by demanding the strength of the physical when God is calling you into the power of the Spirit.

 

Eddie Snipes 2015

Stop Trying to Fix Yourself!

Everyone has struggles of the flesh. Whether your struggles are life-controlling issues, such as substance abuse, Stop Trying to Fix Yourselfuncontrollable habits, or you are longing for more meaning in your life of faith, this book explores the scriptural teachings that guarantee the life lived more abundantly. Jesus said, “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Most religious practices (even those under the title of Christianity) are built on a flawed principle. They seek to strengthen the flesh and depend on coping mechanisms, and try to force our source of weakness to become our strength. This can only create very limited success, and is often a guarantee of failure. God’s design is to die to our weakness, and grow in the life where the Spirit is more than willing to empower us to live and thrive in a fruitful life, built around acceptance and perfect fellowship with God. You can’t fix the flesh. You can’t fix yourself. It’s God’s job to subdue your sinful flesh and empower you to live and thrive in the life of the Spirit. God is your strength; not your condemner. God is your righteousness, not your punisher. As you learn to walk in the Spirit, you’ll understand the Bible’s statement, “Now all things are of God. Old things have passed away. Behold all things are new.” You were meant to bloom in every circumstance, and the Bible says that a joyful and fruitful life is a guarantee. This book explores the principles that help you grow in this promise! The ebook version is only 99 cents.

What would Jesus say to Bruce Jenner?

One of the biggest mistakes Christians make is demanding the world to live by a Christian standard. According to the Bible, we are all born into a fallen nature. Before I became a The_Revelation_of_Gr_Cover_for_KindleChristian, I tried to be religious, but I could not live by the perfect standard of Christ. After becoming a Christian, I didn’t do much better. My struggles didn’t improve until I learned what the Bible meant that I am a new creation, and for this reason, I am called to walk according to the Spirit. Or as the Apostle Paul put it, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives through me.”

The truth is, a fallen nature cannot live by an eternal spiritual standard. Bruce Jenner’s gender identity crisis is not the problem – it’s a symptom. The problem is that in the flesh – or our old natural state, we are all slaves to our passions. It just happens to be that some people’s passions are socially acceptable. I don’t see Christians blowing up over a sailor that has a girl in every port. Or the countless people in the church that give in to their passions with the opposite sex. Or what about people whose God is their belly (Philippians 3:19). What about the warning of Proverbs 23:20, which tells us not to mix company with gluttons, and to put a knife to our own throat if our appetites are aroused by the foods of the glutton?

This is the very reason why Romans 2:1 says that we who judge others are condemning ourselves, for we are guilty of the same things. The truth is, we are all born in the same boat as Jenner, even though our symptoms may be different.

What is the response the church should be making? Is it to wag our fingers at someone who is clearly tormented by their inner struggles, and condemn them for making choices that they hope will meet their needs? Is this really what the Bible teaches? Or could it be that Jesus showed us how to reach starving souls?

The woman caught in adultery is one of my favorite examples of ministry. Just as we see in the church today, religious people threw this woman at Jesus’ feet and said, “This woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law condemns her to die by stoning, what to you say?”

Why did they come to Jesus? They didn’t need His permission. The Bible says that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but bring them into salvation. The same message is given to the church by Christ. He said, “You are not of the world, but I have called you out of the world.” This is the heart of the great commission. Jesus did not command His disciples to force the world to live like Christians. He commanded them to go out into the world, call others out of the world, and make disciples.

The world knew that Jesus lived contrary to it. This includes the religious world. They thought they were serving God, but the Bible calls them enemies of the cross. Jesus even warned that they would persecute His followers while thinking they were doing God a service. Why did religion hate Christ? Because He was full of grace and truth. Grace does not condemn sin. Grace overcomes sin with the goodness of God. This is why the Bible says that our righteousness is worthless to God, but His righteousness is a gift to us. We are righteous by becoming receivers of grace, not accomplishers of the law. In fact, the Bible says that by the deeds of the law, no one will be justified in God’s sight.

The woman in adultery is the evidence of this truth. Instead of pointing at the woman’s sins, Jesus pointed at the sins of her accusers. When He stooped down, He wrote things on the ground that began convicting them. I imagine Him writing things like, Adultery = to lust is adultery in our heart. Thievery = he that is greedy is a thief in his heart. He that covets is guilty of idolatry. One by one, Jesus exposed their hidden sins, then He stood up and said, “Let the one who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her.”

Grace was given to the woman before the call to sin no more was issued. “Are there none to accuse you? Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.”

The thieving tax collector Zacchaeus was hated by the religious community. He robbed people with the Roman tax system, was greedy, covetous, and guilty by any religious standard. Yet without pointing out a single sin, Zacchaeus was transformed by grace when He spent time with Christ. As he was filled with the love of God, he volunteered his money. “I will give half my money to the poor, and if I have robbed anyone, I will repay four times what I took.”

Ironically, the religious rich young ruler refused to part with his money in Luke 18, but the sinful scoundrel who was anti-religious eagerly gave up this world once he experienced the grace of Christ.

And we haven’t even gotten into the prostitute, Mary Magdalene, the foul mouthed fisherman named Peter, or the other thieving tax collector Matthew. Matthew and Peter both abandoned their sin without Jesus pointing out their faults. Once they saw the value of the new life of Christ, their old life suddenly looked like trash. They soon became the apostles that Jesus used to present the church of the New Covenant. Or what about Paul. He was a murderer of Christians, yet Jesus called him through grace, and the very religious Paul declared that his old life was nothing but a dung heap compared to the excellence of knowing Christ.

Another great example was the woman at the well. She was living in open sin. Her sinful reputation was so shameful that she would not go to the well to draw water until the heat of the day. The other women came for water in the cool morning and the cool of the evening, but to avoid the scornful looks and whispers of gossip, she came during the high noon time of the day. In a culture when divorce was almost unheard of, she was a five time divorcee, and was shacking up with a man who wasn’t her husband. She was the town tramp.

Just as it is with the struggles of someone like Bruce Jenner, her life was a symptom of her problem. She couldn’t fulfill the need of her soul, so she bounced from relationship to relationship. She was openly living in adultery, yet Jesus didn’t address her sin. He addressed her need. Her soul was parched and starving, and her life was a symptom of that problem. So how did Jesus address this? He focused on her need; not her lifestyle. “I can give you living water.” He explained that not only could He satisfy her soul, but this living water would become a spring of life that would flow out from her.

As He spoke, she began to recognize her need, though she still believed this need could be satisfied in her flesh. Jesus used the need of her flesh to reveal the only source of satisfaction and fulfillment; the life of the Spirit.

Are we ministering like Jesus did? Are we looking at the Bruce Jenners of the world who are trying to fulfill their need with the dry things of this life, and telling them about the living waters? Did the scorn and condemnation of religious people change the woman at the well? The religious community scolded her, and this only caused her to avoid them. Beating her over the head with the law didn’t do anything to rescue her from her sin.

The truth is that we don’t need to shove condemnation into anyone’s face. We don’t even need to tell them that they are sinners. According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin. That is His job; not ours. Our job is to point others to the living water. When we unveil the grace of Christ, the Spirit unveils the true need – to be rescued from a parched soul corrupted by sin – and in doing so, people are able to see the life-giving living water that is given freely as an act of God’s grace. Grace is the unearned and unearnable love of God.

Trying to chew moisture out of dead sticks only looks good because the spring of life has never been seen. To tell someone to stop trying to draw life from death sounds foolish to someone who sees this as the only hope of their soul. To tell the Jenners of this world to stop trying to find satisfaction from their passions seems foolish. It’s something that cannot be comprehended until they see life. And the church is repelling instead of drawing.

Why were sinners drawn to Christ, but religion hated Him? Why are only religious people drawn to the church, but the church repels sinners. It repels even those who are seeking answers. If sinners are repelled by the church, but were drawn to Christ, what does this tell us about the spirit of our churches?

The Bible tells us that the way of the Spirit is incomprehensible to the natural mind. Yet we are trying to force people into a way of thinking and living that cannot be lived outside of the Spirit. Instead of condemning, we should be pointing others to the living water.

Until Bruce Jenner or any other person is transformed from within, constraining them from the outside is only building frustration, and driving them away from life. We have to remember one of the basic truths of faith. No one can live until they die. When we put our trust in Christ, we were crucified with Christ, buried with Christ, and a new life was given to us as a gift of God. We are born from above, with a new spirit, which has a new nature. That nature is the only way we can live in righteousness. Bruce doesn’t have that nature. Until he does, condemnation is fruitless and we, are becoming the very people who drove the woman at the well into isolation.

Our call is to be like Christ. We should be showing the world that the Spirit is life to their parched soul, and when someone gets a glimpse of true life, their life of the flesh will become worthless. Or as Jesus said, the kingdom of God is like the man who found a treasure in a field. For the joy of obtaining that treasure, he sold everything he had to buy that field. Everything in this life becomes worthless once we discover the treasure of the Spirit. Until then, demanding someone to sell out seems foolish. Grace must come first. Until then, all affection, passion, and value will be on what cannot satisfy – the life of this world.

Let us become preachers of living water instead of condemners of parched souls.

Eddie Snipes

Grace conference 2015

I will be the speaker at the Grace Camp in Washington this year. If you would like to attend, below is the information. You can find out more information at www.gracecamp.org

GRACE CAMP OS 2015 (9/25-9/27/15)

LEARN AND CELEBRATE GOD’S GRACE (AT THE BEACH)

Download a PDF flyer by clicking here.

GUEST SPEAKER: Eddie Snipes. Eddie is the father of five children, and is the pastor of Hollydale Baptist church. He has served as the president of the Christian Authors Guild, served in management in a Fortune 500 corporation, served as pastor and interim pastor, and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year. Some of his titles include Abounding Grace, It is Finished, The Promise of a Sound mind, and many other books founded upon grace. Find out more information about Eddie www.exchangedlife.com or eddiesnipes.com. DATES/TIMES:

  • Session #1: Friday Evening 9/25/15: 6:300pm – 9:00pm, Introduction to Grace and Living in the Spirit.
  • Session #2: Saturday Morning 9/26/15: 9:30 am to 12:00 pm, Understanding the Flesh and the Spirit.
  • Lunch & Fellowship: Saturday 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm (restaurant of your choice)
  • Session #3: Saturday  9 /26/15: 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, The Crucified Life.
  • Break: Saturday 3:00 pm – 3:30 pm
  • Session #4: Saturday  9 /26/15: 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm, The Resurrected Life.
  • Dinner & Fellowship: Saturday 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm (restaurant of your choice)
  • Session #5: Saturday Evening 9/26/15: 6:30 pm – 9:00pm, The Spirit-Filled Life.
  • Church Services: Sunday Morning 9/27/15: Attend a local Ocean Shores church. List to be provided.
  • Recreation: Sunday Mid-Day +  9/27/15: FREE TIME in Ocean Shores and/or travel home.

LOCATION: Galilean Lutheran Church, 824 Ocean Shores Blvd NW, Ocean Shores, WA 98569.  Click here for directions and map. COST: You will need to provide your own transportation, lodging and meals for the event. There will be a free will offering taken at each session. The donations will go to pay for the costs of the camp, a speaker honorarium and hopefully some to go to scholarships for those needing financial help with transportation or lodging costs. Make your checks payable to “Boundless Grace Ministries”. Click here to Register.

Limited Discounted Lodging Available: We have reserved a limited number of rooms at the Quality Inn in Ocean Shores which is a 1/2 block from Galilean Lutheran Church where we are holding this year’s Grace Camp OS 2014. Rooms begin at $68.00 per night for a non-ocean view room to $118.00 per night for an ocean view suite. Includes free high-speed Internet access, hot breakfast, coffee, local calls and weekday newspaper. • Guests will need to call in directly to Quality Inn at (360) 289-2040 (Ask for “Grace Camp Discount”). Guarantee your rooms before 8/25/15 to get these rates. • Link: http://www.qualityinn.com/hotel-ocean_shores-washington-WA111#rsm-rate-RACK . Remember to call (360) 289-2040 and ask for “Grace Camp Discount” and NOT book on-line to get these discounted rates.