From the Word
7 And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7–10, RSV
And must this mighty apostle, O merciful God, be subject to trials lest he exalt himself because of his great revelations? Then how should others, how should such infirm beings as we, be free from self-exaltation? The thorn stands for something painful and afflicting. In “a thorn of the flesh” the thought is not of an instrumentality whereby the flesh stings, but of something that stings the flesh. The Greek text impels us to think of a thorn for the flesh. We may imagine Paul as saying: “As a clog to a dog’s neck, as a ring in a bear’s nose, a bit in a horse’s mouth, or a gag in the mouth of a swine, so is my thorn a clog to my body lest I exalt myself.”
Paul himself explains the nature of the clog, or thorn. He calls it “a messenger of Satan,” a devil, to “buffet” him, or to jog him. Hence a spiritual trial cannot be meant. The explanation appeals to me that the persecutions and sufferings, which the apostle recounts, constitute the devil’s flaying. Thus his meaning would be: I have received great revelations, for which reason the clog is bound to the dog; that is, the many dangers and misfortunes with which the angel of the devil buffets and humiliates my body will make me forget to exalt myself. They are the thorn in my flesh, or upon my body; for God will not permit it to come upon my soul.
The text seems to imply some peculiar work of the devil upon Paul’s body, for it says, the thorn, or clog, is the messenger which Satan employs to beat his body; also that the apostle thrice, diligently but unavailingly, besought the Lord to remove it. I do not imagine him praying for the cessation of persecutions in a spirit of unwillingness to suffer them. But since he does not specify the affliction, we must let it remain a secret, a distress only known to himself. It is enough for us to know that while God had given him great revelations, revelations beyond human ken, he also bound the clog to him — gave him a thorn for his body — to prevent the exaltation of himself; and the knowledge of the buffetings and flaying caused by this clog, or devil, are likewise beyond human ken.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 105–06.
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