Paul’s Thorn In the Flesh

There has been a lot of debate through the centuries regarding the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” He refers to it in 2 Corinthians 12:7: “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!”

Many believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a physical ailment that caused physical suffering and hindered his work as an apostle. Some try and connect Galatians 6:11, in which Paul indicates he is writing large letters with his own hand to point to a potential eye problem or near blindness.

I’ve always argued that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not a physical ailment, it was a person, someone who caused great stress and contention in Paul’s life. John MacArthur argues that Paul’s thorn was in fact a demonic messenger of Satan who used the deceivers within the church at Corinth to cause a rebellion against Paul’s authority. This makes a lot of sense to me.

This year I celebrated 25 years in full-time ministry. Over those many years, I can tell you without exception that the times that brought the most personal stress and strife were rooted in interpersonal conflict. During these times the voice of discouragement rings strong within my ears. I often tease my co-workers that I’m tempted to respond to the “Open Interview” sign on the door at the Kum & Go down the street. Nothing sounds better at that moment than to stand at a cash register and ask two simple questions: “cash back?” and “receipt?”

In this week’s one-chapter epistle, 3 John, we meet first hand one of these “demons of discouragement,” a  man by the name of Diotrephes. We all know him. He’s the man (or woman) in the church who loves the spotlight, hates accountability, speaks unkindly of others, gossips, criticizes others trying to serve, isolates and tries to run off those who resist his or her “leadership.” Yes, the “spirit of Diotrephes” is alive and well in churches all across the world today.

As if recognizing that we needed a good example to follow rather than the evil example of Diotrephes, John gives us Gaius. Fortunately, churches see many more living examples of Gaius than of Diotrephes. Gaius focused on a godly spiritual life, was well regarded by other believers because of his life example, spoke truth, showed hospitality to both believers and outsiders, was generous and giving, cared greatly for the missionaries, did not aspire fame or the spotlight.

Gaius stands as a shining example of Christian leadership and maturity within the body of Christ. It is my prayer this week that each of us seek to exhibit the qualities John highlights about Gaius as we live and serve together in this great mission endeavor we call First Family.

–Chris Eller

This week’s R2R distinctive Faithfulness (Proverbs 3:3-4): I have established a good name with God and with others based on my long-term loyalty to those relationships.


For this week’s devotional study, download this week’s issue of The Compass.