(J. R. Miller, "The Building of Character" 1894)
"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
Paul tells us that his "thorn" was given to him—to keep him humble, and save him from spiritual peril. Without it, he would have been exalted above measure and would have lost his spirituality. We do not know how much of his deep insight into the things of God, and his power in service for his Master—Paul owed to this torturing "thorn". It seemed to hinder him, and it caused him incessant suffering—but it detained him in the low valley of humility, made him ever conscious of his own weakness and insufficiency, and thus kept him near to Christ whose home is with the humble.
There are few people who have not
some "thorn" rankling in their flesh—
In one it is an infirmity of speech;
in another an infirmity of sight;
in another an infirmity of hearing.
Or it may be lameness;
or a slow but incurable disease;
or constitutional timidity,
or excessive nervousness;
or a disfiguring bodily deformity;
or an infirmity of temper.
Or it may be in one's home—which
is cold, unloving, and uncongenial;
or it may be some moral failure;
or it may be a bitter personal disappointment
through untrue friendship or unrequited love.
Who has not his "thorn"?
We should never forget that in one sense, our "thorn" is a "messenger of Satan," who desires by it—to hurt our life, to mar our peace, to spoil the divine beauty in us, and to break our communion with Christ.
On the other hand, however, Christ Himself has a loving design in our "thorn." He wants it to be a blessing to us. He would have it keep us humble—and save us from becoming vain. Or He means it to soften our hearts—and make us more gentle. He would have the uncongenial things in our environment to discipline us into heavenly-mindedness, give us greater self-control, and help us to keep our hearts loving and sweet—amid harshness and unlovingness. He would have our pain teach us endurance and patience; and our sorrow and loss teach us faith.
Thus, our "thorn" may either be a choice blessing to us—or it may do us irreparable harm. If we allow it to fret us; if we chafe, resist, and complain; if we lose faith and lose heart—it will spoil our life! But if we accept it in the faith that in its ugly burden—it has a blessing for us; if we endure it patiently, submissively, unmurmuringly; if we seek grace to keep our heart gentle and true amid all the trial, temptation, and suffering it causes—it will work good for us, and out of its bitterness—will come sweet fruit!