Enjoying Grace Amongst the Thorns

When Thorns Become Gifts

2 Corinthians 12:7-9

October 11, 2015 AM

Pastor Craig Ledbetter

Bible Baptist Church, Ballincollig, Cork, Ireland



I.       Introduction (2Cor 12:7)


A.    God gave the great apostle Paul, faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus, a thorn in his flesh, as a gift! A thorn is not something we would ever give as a gift to someone

B.     As surprised as we would be at such a gift, Paul attempted to have it returned

C.     Only to be told no, again and again.

D.    It was then, and only then, that


1.      Paul changed more than he had ever thought possible

2.      It was then that Paul learned absolute contentment, and found more strength to do even greater things than he had ever done before

3.      It was because of a thorn – the GIFT of a thorn, that Paul learned to really enjoy GRACE!


II.    Message


A.    The Apostle Paul’s Revelations (2Cor 12:1-7a)


1.      Since getting converted in Acts 9, Paul did some amazing things


a.       God showed Paul more about the future, about the truths of salvation, and spiritual warfare than He would show anyone other than the apostle John


1)      At one point, as described here in 2Cor chapter 12, he was stoned, and at death went up to heaven and saw everything there

2)      That doesn’t happen to everybody

3)      He seemed to have had a direct line from heaven, Like very few others throughout history

4)      He was supernaturally given constant new information, and inspiration from God

5)      Abundance of revelations

6)      He went everywhere teaching and preaching the life changing truths of the New Testament BEFORE the New Testament was ever written


b.      He actually wrote MORE of our Bible than ANY OTHER writer besides Moses!


1)      14 total New Testament books – that’s 1/3rd of the New Testament

2)      When taken together, they are more than the Book of Psalms, than Isaiah, and twice as much as wise Solomon wrote!


c.       Paul personally started more churches than anyone else, all across Syria, Turkey, Greece and southern Europe

d.      He boldly preached the Gospel in front of kings and queens, princes and rulers

e.       He could speak in any language needed – he said, “I speak in tongues more than ye all”


2.      All of these things were HIS accomplishments

3.      All of those accomplishments would easily and constantly be a source of pride for Paul

4.      So God did Paul a favour!


B.     God’s Balancing Gift (2Cor 12:7)


1.       There was GIVEN to me…”

2.      God gave Paul a gift – the gift of a painful thorn

3.      Not as a punishment – Paul had done nothing wrong


a.       It is in all of our nature to gloat and think highly of ourselves when we are successful

b.      And PAUL was surely successful as a Christian!


4.      But it was given as a BALANCE - God’s gift was meant to balance out all God’s blessings, all the goodness, all the revelations, all the wonders and miracles of his life as an apostle
Grace for Pride

5.      And that gift was described the following three ways:


a.       A Thorn in his flesh

b.      The Messenger of Satan

c.       To Buffet him


6.      Think about such a thing – a Thorn


a.       A barb, a prickle, a stiff part of a plant that is hard and pointed and sharp enough to deeply pierce skin when touched!

b.      Many plants have thorns – cactus, brier bushes, and especially rose bushes

c.       Now, we all love the rose

d.      But God did not give Paul a rose, He graciously gave Paul the thorn!

e.       And it was not kept in a box on his shelf

f.       But was buried deep in his flesh


7.      This was no simple thorn


a.       This thorn was held, and activated and controlled by demonic forces – by Satan

b.      Whenever Paul would attempt to do God’s will for the day, that thorn would cut and afflict him

c.       Whenever he was tolerating it, that was when Satan would urge his messenger/demon to twist that thorn and cause Paul to stop and consider quitting

d.      If any of you have ever had a thorn, piece of glass, or splinter even, deep in your skin, you know a little how Paul felt

e.       You would want it OUT! You almost couldn't think about anything else except getting that thorn OUT of your flesh!

f.       EXAMPLE:


1)      I have a cracked tooth. Haven’t decided what to do about it yet. Went to two dentists – and am none the better yet. Do you know what I do? I avoid aggravating it! Don’t chew on that side much, and don’t drink very cold liquids on that side.

2)      But can you imagine someone having a string attached to that tooth, and whenever they feel like stopping me, and hurting me, and afflicting me, they pull on that tooth?

3)      THAT is a little of how Paul felt day by day!


8.      Notice the words, “to buffet me


a.       Buffet means to strike over and over

b.      To Afflict constantly

c.       Like these boxers when they work on the speed bag

d.      Only, PAUL was the punching bag!


9.      Remember, this was a gift that GOD gave him. But Wow! What a way to describe a gift from God


C.    An Unwanted Gift (2Cor 12:8)


1.      I have had some unwanted gifts in my life, but this takes the case!

2.      At first, he naturally rejected such a gift


a.       The great and wise apostle Paul did not see that thorn as good

b.      Did not think he deserved such pain and hurt


3.      Think about this thorn in Paul’s flesh


a.       Always piercing deeper

b.      Always hurting

c.       Always crippling him in pain

d.      Always uncomfortable

e.       Always present

f.       Always afflicting him

g.      Always hindering him, and holding him back – limiting him


4.      No! This thorn was NOT what Paul would have asked for


a.       As far as he could understand, a thorn certainly would NOT be of any help to him live the Christian life

b.      It certainly could not help him served God and live a life for souls getting saved

c.       This thorn simply was an unwanted gift

d.      Didn’t ask for it – didn’t want it


5.      And so he wanted it removed!


D.    A Desperate Prayer (2Cor 12:8)


1.       For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.”

2.      So Paul begins to pray – good place to start


a.       He couldn’t get rid of it

b.      No doctor could cut it out

c.       No friend could remove it

d.      So it was time to pray and ask GOD to take it away!


3.      And I mean, he prayed


a.       Not just some simple, half-hearted words tossed up towards heaven…

b.      But real prayer!

c.       When you are in pain, afflicted, hurting – that is the time to pray!

d.      He prayed right – he knew how to pray and ask God for things

e.       He prayed believing God would heal him

f.       He prayed earnestly

g.      And persistently

h.      He literally begged God to take away the thorn that brought him agony

i.        All are the right way to pray


4.      And yet, the thorn remained!


a.       How many of US have prayed and asked and begged GOD to fix something wrong in our lives, take away some continuous sorrow or pain…

b.      Only to see nothing happen – still day after day the same hurt, and trouble


E.     A Quiet Resign (2Cor 12:9)


1.      Think of Paul going to court:


a.       Evidence in hand, and presenting his side of the case, that he should NOT have to live with this thorn in his flesh – that there HAS to be a way to remove it! and being told, no, he has lost the case

b.      And then Paul going before the same judge on appeal, and presenting his case again, but this time with more evidence and more passion… only being told again, No, he has lost the appeal

c.       And then Paul going again before the same judge and making his case, the best he ever could, taking the longest time to explain in every detail why he is right to reject this “gift”… and the judge (God) replying, No.


2.      What do you think Paul should do then? After three appeals before the throne of heaven…

3.      Resign


a.       Not quit living, not give up on God, not resign from serving God, or being an apostle

b.      No. But instead, close his case, and accept the JUDGES’ ruling (God’s will over his)

c.       Acquiesce – it means to accept God’s will, agree with it, concede that it is right, and live with it – no longer fighting it!

d.      Paul decided to do just as Jesus did – prayed HOW MANY TIMES in the Garden for God to take away the cup? THREE times. And always acquiesced – yielded to the will of God

e.       Paul remembers the CROWN of thorns placed upon his Saviour’s brow!

f.       And all God asked Paul to accept was just ONE thorn!


4.      So, we NEED to pray about everything – that is for certain!


a.       Ask God to help you in every way you need

b.      Nothing wrong with Asking God to give you a new Boss

c.       Nothing wrong with begging God to take away a cyst or a tumour


5.      But at some point, there needs to be a yielding to the will of God, that brings rest


a.       Or else, we will become bitter when we don’t get OUR way – our will done

b.      Remember, God most often does NOT give us what we want when we pray – He most often says NO

c.       I wish He didn’t say no so often! I wish God just did what “I” think would be best, because “I” often believe that “I” know best

d.      But then, the world would be in an even bigger mess!


6.      Paul was a great man of faith – a great and persistent fighter

7.      But he knew when to quit, especially when he discovered he was fighting against God

8.      This is so important!

9.      This is how GRACE works in us


a.       It does NOT remove the thorn

b.      It does not take away all the pain

c.       It does not fix the problems

d.      It gives us the ability to keep going – keep forgiving, keep serving, keep loving, keep believing, keep giving, keep praising God – even though we are hurting!

e.       If you ever learn to yield to God, it will be ONLY because you have allowed God’s GRACE to work in you as you hurt!


10.  Only in our resigning, will we start to rejoice and enjoy God’s greater grace! It is part of trusting God, and leaning on HIM, and loving Him more than ourselves!


F.     The Greatest Benefit of the Thorn… is Grace


1.      This is the hard part of the growing Christian’s life - Understanding how GETTING GRACE is more important than getting rid of pain, and trouble

2.      Grace is God’s kindness towards us when we don’t deserve it – His help, when we are not worthy of it!

3.      In reality, it is more important to have God’s grace, than any of His blessings!

4.      Some Illustrations may help you to better understand…


a.       Who needs God? We know everyone does, but who KNOWS they need God? Those who are weak, and infirm, and do not have the necessary strength for each day

b.      When we are successfully living the Christian life, and doing God’s will, WHO is just outside the door of our lives seeking to ruin and soil us? Satan

c.       How does he get in and take over successful Christian lives? Our pride

d.      What did God give Paul so that his life would not be the devil’s playground? NOT more successes, but a thorn


5.      But WHY the thorn? How could something so painful be so good?

6.      So that Paul would learn to rely on God’s grace instead of God’s blessings!

7.      MANY a believer has received such gifts, for their good


a.       You don’t find many men of great wealth and power in the Bible, who live by faith and gladly give their lives for Christ no matter the cost!

b.      Consider Job (Job 1:20,21)

c.       Jacob (Gen 32:21)

d.      Samson – He enjoyed his strengths, never giving honour to God until he was humbled and blinded and made weak!


1)      Jdg 16:20,21  And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him. But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.

2)      Jdg 16:28-30  And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, ... And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson ... bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.


e.       How about Hannah (1Sam 1,2) – it was her lack, her weakness that caused her to enjoy the supernatural power of God in giving her a baby boy named Samuel!

f.       Ultimately they all rejoiced IN the grace that came alive in the midst of the troubles and pains and afflictions


g.      Fanny Crosby (1820-1915), wrote more than 8,000 Gospel hymns.


1)      All the way my Savior leads me;


a)      What have I to ask beside?

b)      Can I doubt His tender mercy,

c)      Who through life has been my Guide?

d)     Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,

e)      Here by faith in Him to dwell!

f)       For I know, whate’er befall me,

g)      Jesus doeth all things well;

h)      For I know, whate’er befall me,

i)        Jesus doeth all things well.


2)      Tell me the story of Jesus,


a)      Write on my heart every word.

b)      Tell me the story most precious,

c)      Sweetest that ever was heard.

d)     Tell how the angels in chorus,

e)      Sang as they welcomed His birth.

f)       “Glory to God in the highest!

g)      Peace and good tidings to earth.”


3)      Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!


a)      Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;

b)      Redeemed through His infinite mercy,

c)      His child and forever I am.


4)      Made blind accidentally in infancy, when she was only eight years old she wrote:


5)      Oh, what a happy soul I am,

6)      Although I cannot see,

7)      I am resolved that in this world

8)      Contented I will be.

9)      How many blessings I enjoy

10)  That other people don’t!

11)  To weep and sigh because I’m blind,

12)  I cannot, and I won’t.


13)  Crosby said of her blindness, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”


h.      Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932), another author of some of our well-known hymns, also learned to draw on this supply of grace. As a young adult she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis that left her progressively crippled and eventually unable to rise from her bed. To alleviate pain and discomfort, she rested and slept on soft pillows. Her body developed serious bedsores and finally she suffered the ravages of cancer. Yet her attitude through all the struggles with pain and confinement was that of submission, faith and trust in God to give her the grace and strength she needed. With pen pushed through gnarled fingers and held by swollen joints, she continued to write her verses, which provided solace and comfort for herself, her friends, and the world. The following are two of her verses:


1)      He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,

2)      He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;

3)      To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,

4)      To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

5)      When we have exhausted our store of endurance,

6)      When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

7)      When we reach the end of our hoarded resources

8)      Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

9)      His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

10)  His power no boundary known unto men;

11)  For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

12)  He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.


III. Application – Let’s Wrap this up…


A.    So, Why The Thorn?


1.      Why does God bring deep hurt into our lives? Not just that He allows it, but actually gives it to us? Why?

2.      More than that, Why is Satan given such liberty to afflict a child of God with that thorn?

3.      And then, Why does God say No to our often requests to be free from such troubles?

4.      Why does God seek to weaken us in our ministries instead of make us stronger?


B.     Certainly not to hurt us – works all things for good!

C.    Here is the Reasons


1.      To humble us – that great work of God on our attitude about ourselves

2.      To keep us real and relevant – so that hurting people can relate to us, and can actually be comforted by us

3.      To expose my weaknesses, your weaknesses and limits – remind us how much we need HIM to be our strength AND our song

4.      To cause us to yearn for the power of Christ to be at work through us instead of our great abilities and strengths that we THINK we have


a.       Someone may be a great popular speaker


1)      There is no honour for God when that person speaks

2)      But God gets all the glory when a man with a lisp, speaks from his heart the glorious words of life from this Book!


b.      Someone may be a great singer


1)      God gets no praise when he or she raises the roof – the singer does!

2)      But God gets all the glory when someone makes a JOYFUL NOISE with all their heart, through tears and sorrows and pain!



c.       Someone may be incredibly wise and intelligent


1)      There is no honour for God when they come up with answers to problems

2)      But when someone is forced to pray and beg God for wisdom to know what to do, then when God shows them the answer, everyone praises GOD, and not the man!

d.      Someone may be stunning and beautiful


1)      There is no honour for God when that person walks into a room

2)      But when someone limps in, or is rolled in in a wheelchair, and they are beaming, ear to ear with the Joy of the Holy Spirit – wow! THAT’S when God is glorified!


D.    I bet YOU have a thorn or two


1.      Something that is hindering you, hurting you, afflicting you


a.       Maybe it is your past – constantly afflicting you even decades later

b.      Maybe it is your marriage

c.       Maybe it is a health problem that won’t go away

d.      ALL the above are weakness, and infirmities

e.       If you are a born again child of God, then they are all good things


2.      So, Quit asking God to take it away

3.      And begin to thank God for the grace that He gives in the pain

4.      And start to yield to God’s sufficient grace, allowing it to be all you need

5.      Watch GOD’S ability and strength be greater than yours ever was!

6.      That is going to be hard

7.      But ask Job if God’s grace was worth experiencing on that ash heap

8.      Ask Samson is his blindness actually made him stronger than ever

9.      Ask Paul is his thorn was really all that bad, compared to the grace that took over in his life

E.     If you are NOT born again… if you are only religious… every hurt is wasted!


1.      Then beware – none of your troubles have any meaning or purpose in the long run.

2.      Only Jesus Christ can take your life and save it, and make everything work out for good.

3.      But you have got to let Him save you.

4.      Ask Him to forgive you all your sins, and cleanse your guilt, and give you the gift of God which is eternal life