Sometimes God puts challenging people in our lives to remind us that, without Him, we are broken too. Lest we get too puffed up in our spiritual growth, sometimes God will place people in our lives to serve as a reminder to us of everything we have been forgiven.
In 2 Corinthians, Chapter 12, Paul spoke of a, “thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (v. 7). We are never told what Paul’s thorn was and although many speculations abound, it could have been anything from a particular emotion he may have struggled with, or a particular person, or both, or neither. However, in my own personal experience, it is my emotions and the people that incite those emotions in me, which seem to be my thorn of torment, reminding me of my own weakness toward sin.
It is no casual confession for me to say that many times, the people that seem to torment me the most, are those who have the very same flaws that I have overcome or may continue to struggle with myself. To which God must continually remind me, I would never have overcome those flaws if not for His grace and His grace alone, which is the very same thing He reminded Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” (v. 8).
For example, when I feel like someone is manipulating another person for their personal gain, I feel contempt. I feel great contempt against manipulation because God has placed in my heart a raging desire for truth. Thus, in my quest for truth, my contempt against all things non-truth is a thorn in my side because it is an emotion that can easily and seamlessly turn into resentment, bitterness, rage, criticism, condemnation and grudge-bearing, all of which are sinful. Contempt, which is disapproval tinged with disgust, is not necessarily a sinful emotion in and of itself. It is quite likely Jesus felt contempt when He overturned the money changer’s tables in the temple (Matt 21:11-13). However, my personal temptation towards contempt is a messenger of Satan in my flesh, reminding me of my own personal proclivity towards sinful emotions.
Jesus had full mastery over His emotions and although He may have been superficially tempted by sinful emotions, He never, ever indulged in them because He was utterly sinless and always in control of His thoughts, emotions and behavior. I, however, am not, therefore, for me personally, contempt is a harbinger of other emotions crouching at my door (Gen 4:7). It is a thorn that pierces my flesh to remind me that I am vulnerable to temptation, which makes me vulnerable to sin.
Why make such candid, intimate confessions and expose myself? Because when we expose our flaws, we give the enemy nothing to work with. When we acknowledge and confess our sins and areas of weakness, we shine the light of truth upon any potential foothold for the enemy in our life and rob him of the opportunity to do his work in secret. I feel very strongly that this was one of the many reasons that Paul himself was so candid in his confessions about his own shortcomings. He was simply exposing any potential within himself towards sin, and in so doing, fully submitting himself to God to work in those areas in his life.
We all have thorns in our flesh. For some of us, those thorns may be harbinger emotions that easily and quickly lead us to sinful emotions crouching at our door. For example, admiration can be a harbinger of lust, immoral arousal, covetousness, envy, dissatisfaction or ingratitude, all of which are sinful emotions. Confidence can be a harbinger of pride, insensitivity or narcissism. Harbinger emotions are thorns in our flesh, messengers of Satan to remind us of our own sinfulness, our own weaknesses, and our desperate need for Jesus every moment of every day. They are thorns of temptation which serve to sharpen us, refine our flesh, and drive us into the arms of our loving Father Who is mighty to save and always eager to pour out His endless grace upon us.
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 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.’ 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 Cor 12:7-10)