When Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul, he encountered many obstacles in his Christian life. He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, and chased from city to city. But perhaps his worst problem was the one he wrote about to the Christians at Corinth:

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. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness [2 Cor. 12:7–9, KJV].

The exact nature of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” has been the subject of endless speculation and countless term papers. Even the translators are not quite sure what to do with the phrase. The King James interpreters gave it its literal meaning. The Today’s English Version reads, “I was given a painful physical ailment.…” This follows the common line of interpretation, that the thorn in the flesh of Paul probably was physical. The New English Version also follows this line: “I was given a sharp physical pain.…” But in the footnote, an alternative reading is given: “Or, a painful wound to my pride (literally a stake, or thorn, for the flesh.)” Here is another idea, that Paul’s thorn was not a physical ailment but rather a wound to his pride. Behind the uncertainty about the nature of Paul’s thorn lies a real message to every Christian: no matter what his own thorn, God’s grace is sufficient.

For many Christians, the thorn is literally in the flesh. The thing that seems to be a curse to their Christian life is blindness or deafness or some other serious physical ailment.

Not long ago I was visiting ...

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