It wasn’t a thorn, but it was a huge splinter, as splinters go – a sliver over an inch long as I recall – and we couldn’t get it out. Matt had apparently scooted along the bleachers in the gym of Green Country Christian Academy in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was young and the sliced-off piece of wood gouged him deeply in his upper back leg. It didn’t bleed much, but we knew it hurt; it had to come out. It was imbedded securely and neither his mother nor I had the stomach or the expertise to remove it; so off we went to the clinic. Once we surrendered to the idea that we needed a trained professional to remove the splinter, the battle was about over. In the doctor’s office, with a helpful nurse assisting and anxious parents half-looking, it took only a second for the physician to douse it with antiseptic and pull the shard right out. Matt didn’t even seem to wince. When thorns or splinters are so severely imbedded that they can’t be plucked easily by a steady hand and a pair of tweezers, the only option for the cure is surrender. We had to surrender to the right person – a well-trained medical professional. You see, thorns fester and worsen if not surrendered.
The Apostle Paul wrote about having a deeply embedded spiritual thorn that was festering in his very soul: To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Corinthians 12:7) I believe it was a spiritual thorn festering in his life possibly as an addictive tendency or at least a character defect. Perhaps he was susceptible to lust or grandiosity. He certainly mentioned sexual immorality in all of his writings that mention lists of sins. Additionally, he seemed to be prone to doing some “boasting” at times. As a single man he would have been tempted by the proximity of beautiful women who would have naturally become “followers” of the Way. Perhaps he was strong enough never to succumb to those womanly wiles, yet the thorn festered just below the surface of his being until he surrendered it to the Great Physician. As the apostle to the Gentiles having had a special revelation from Jesus on the Damascus road, it would have been easy for him to have thought more highly of himself than he ought given the “surpassingly great revelations” mentioned above. So what did Paul do? He turned to the perfectly-trained medical professional in his life, the Great Physician; but God didn’t answer the way Paul hoped: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9a)
Apparently Paul was as satisfied with the answer as Matt and we were with the doctor’s almost painless removal of that splinter. Matt’s wound healed well and quickly and, within a short time, he was never bothered by it again – though his dad still cringes at the splinter-image conjured by this blog. Paul responded in this way: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 9b-10)
On the other hand, I’m not so sure Paul was never bothered again by his thorn in the flesh (read that double negative carefully and you’ll see it makes sense). He may have had that character defect – whatever it was: lust, grandiosity, or something else – rear its ugly head from time to time. He penned these “difficult to understand” words in Romans 7:14-20 (read them slowly and aloud in order to grasp the reality of the message): We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
If you got a little lost in those verses, read them again more slowly and aloud. This just might be one of those scriptures of Paul’s of which Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:15-16: Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
James chimed in on the issue of festering thorns – although not calling them that – when he penned James 1:14-15: But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. The evil desire might be the character defect such as lust, grandiosity, resentment, fear, etc., that can, over time, fester and grow into full-fledged sin leading to death.
Then there is the wisdom of Proverbs 5:22-23 that enlightens us a little more about such behaviors: The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly. Sounds to me like a description of addictive sin ensnaring and holding fast that comes from lack of discipline and excess of follow.So here’s the invitation: any burden, any festering thorn can be brought in surrender to the Great Physician. He will either remove it or make the way for you to escape the rancid effects. There’s a lot of wisdom in the Bible…read it to be wise; believe it to be saved; live it to be holy.
- ▼ March (5)