The Purpose of Thorns by Rick Burdette
2 Corinthians 12:7-12:10
2 Cor 12: 7-10
Why did God put thorns on roses? Well, here is the answer from a Harvard Science Professor…
Rose plants have prickles not thorns. Prickles are sharp-pointed hairs that contain epidermal and subepidermal tissues. A thorn is a short, sharp modified stem. Roses use prickles to ward off predators which may help extend their life.
New answer, but the rose didn’t choose to have a thorn…excuse me “prickle”
Now evolution might teach that the rose plant miraculously sensed its need to not be “ate” and so over millions of years “prickles” evolved to protect its beautiful blooms from being munched upon.
For those of us that approach the world through a “biblical” world view we would say, “God designed the rose’s beauty and put the thorns there for its protection. Without the thorns it just wouldn’t last very long…hmmmmm.
There could be a biblical application to that theory…in fact some intelligent good teaching ministers might even develop an entire series about thorns and roses from 2 Cor 12: Listen to it
2 Cor 12: 1-10
The saying look at my heart…look at my motives, it was never about money…ever. But these “Super apostles” have tried to offer you a different Jesus with a different spirit…”Wake Up…the spirit of Christ isn’t selfish or self focused…Jesus is the head of the church…but always showed a servant’s heart…haven’t I saved you free of charge…
And then Paul gives a warning about those men…
2 Cor 11: 13-15 “Their end will be what their actions deserve”
It’s in His defense of who he is that Paul shares Chapter 12…it’s his glory and his pain…He’s standing there spiritually speaking in his “boxer” shorts…as if he’s speaking about himself and his experience.
“I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago was caught up into the 3rd Heaven…I don’t know whether he was in his body or if it was just his spirit…God knows. He heard heavenly expressions…beyond his ability to share. I’ll boast about a man like that.”
Mystical people have as their aim a religious experience where they see God…dreams, visions, circumstantial experiences…where you experience the presence of God…all are beyond reality…
Mystical stuff is scary and sometime “stupid or satanic”
Seeing Jesus in a piece of toast or after taking Peyton buttons…mystical, but certainly not trustworthy…
So as Paul tells this mystery about being in heaven and experiencing the presence of God as proof of his calling…why should the Corinthian’s believe him, why should anyone? Well, what happened 14 years before he wrote this helps us understand his glory…and his thorn.
Some believe this happened at his conversion…during the 3 days he was blind…but many, myself included believe it took place after Saul was stoned in Lystra…the timing is about right…Paul is preaching, but Jews from Iconium and Antioch (remember this is the place he was ordained in) they persuaded the crowd to stone Paul…they did, and then they dragged him out of the city, presuming he was dead…(and he might have been, who knows…was he still in his body or not…God knows)
After the crowd leaves the disciples gather around Paul’s’ body and pray…and he gets up and went back into the city to preach the gospel once more.
It would take something pretty motivating to get someone to go back to the place they’d just been stoned to death.
Mystical things aren’t stupid or frivolous….but Paul hadn’t told anyone this for 14 years, nor does he mention it again…He’s been accused of boasting being a braggart…so why does he do this here…in defense of his ministry….because for Him it’s one of the most powerful reinforcements of God’s teaching his life and he doesn’t care if anyone else believes him…what God has done to call and convince Paul, the former blasphemous, violent and aggressive, arrogant sinner constantly rattles around in his heart. The dog rescued from the pound is always grateful.
[I remember a “mystical “ part of my conversion…there were several, but the one that continually…convinces me of God’s pursuit has to do with a car…and 7 starters…I’ve shared this with very close friends and family, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared it from the pulpit…during the later part of my rebellious life when God began to convict me of my sin and also put Godly people in my life I was torn between surrender and selfishness…I hadn’t completely chosen to turn my life over to God…I had this car…a Fiat…I hadn’t gone back to school, yet and was still working at K.F. C. until the start of the New Year…and for a 2 month time period it drove perfect when I was going to work or to youth group or a church activity…but it wouldn’t start when I got into it to go and get high or head to a party..I put 7 starters on that car in 2 months…and after I gave my life to Christ I never had to put a starter on it again….]
Was that a miracle…a mystical miracle…it was for me and it’s not something I share very easily because of how personally powerful it is to me and how mysterious it is…
Does God do that for everyone? Does God strike everyone blind on the road to Damascus? Does God always provide fish that break nets caught in deep water? No… and if you’ve ever had it happen to you…you understand it’s power and why Paul says, “I know a man”
I believe if God is going to allow you to suffer in His name as a chosen instrument…His grace is sufficient and in faith He gives you a little glimpse of why it’s worth it.
Remember Saul’s ego? Remember the violent, persecuting, aggressive blasphemer (his words not mine…)
Well, even though he is going to be made completely new in Christ II Cor 5:12 says “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation…the old things have gone and new things have come.”
It’s his attitude that’s changed…not his persecuting
II THE PURPOSE OF THORNS
“To keep one from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations there was given one a thorn in my flesh A messenger of Satan to torment me.”
Hey, this was not something Paul understood immediately, nor accepted easily.
He pleased (literally fervently begged, over and over again) 3 times “LORD TAKE THIS FROM ME”
I can’t live with this…I can’t function with this…take it away…get rid of it, NOW PLEASE PLEASE!!!
I don’t know what it is: was it the memory of Steven’s face? Was it malaria, epilepsy, a bad back, his eyesight…singleness…The word for thorn…”SKOLOPS” literally means “STAKE”…
It feels like a stake driven into his body and its being twisted, flesh makes us believe it’s physical or sexual in nature, but we don’t know.
It might be why Paul reminds the Corinthians that these so called “Super Leaders” haven’t repented of their impurity and sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged (see 12:21)
14 years earlier Paul was a young man..How would you like to commit yourself to being single so you can concentrate solely on the Kingdom of God? In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7 he tells us he did just that.
Remember, it’s a messenger from Satan…but God has allowed and continues to allow it to be present in Paul’s life…God said, “No….Keep it”
And thorns exist in the lives of committed followers of Christ for at least 3 reason..
*First, “To keep a check on our egos”
[If you believe that you are that and a bag of chips…a thorn, a severe weakness is a continuous reminder…No…No you’re not.]
Paul came to understand this purpose —“To keep me from becoming conceited”
It’s really hard to be conceited with scars…It’s really hard to brag about your glory, when the prick of the thorn reminds you of your weakness.
It’s been 14 years…Paul didn’t understand or accept this truth immediately. It taught him the 2nd purpose of a thorn.
*Secondly: To trust God’s grace to be sufficient. How much is enough? I don’t know.
There’s different kinds of pain…I’d rather you cut off my arm than to bury my wife.
The real truth is…I don’t get to choose, nor does God need my advice in the process. In the midst of the pain, as the thorn seems to twist I say, “I can’t take it… this is too much…God why would you let me go through this…Stop it…Stop it now…
But like silver in the flame…he won’t let one be destroyed…he won’t put more on me than I can bear…His goal is to purify, make one holy…conform one, shape one into the glorious image of his son…and that requires me going through the flames…sometimes, literally.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose…for those God foreknew. He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, so He might be the first born among many brothers” (Rom. 8:28, 29)
God doesn’t allow the thorn to hurt you, to ruin you…He allows the thorn so in your brokenness and surrender to His grace He can shape you to be like his Son Jesus.
This promise is only true for those who have accepted His call, and be adopted as His sons and daughters…
Satan has oversight over those on their own who are destroyed by sin and mastered by its damage.
Only as God’s child can Christ’s power rest on you…Trust god’s grace to be sufficient takes faith in the pain, trust for the “NO”, surrender to His plan in the agony.
And I’ll conclude with the 3rd purpose for Thorns
*Third) Thorns allow us to show the world God’s power. Not only is His power made perfect in our weakness…it’s displayed most clearly when we say to the world with our faith, “this is too big for me to handle. But it’s not too big for my God!”
It’s my belief that the scars become a way for us to witness to others who have been burned or go through a divorce or struggle with a stutter.
My daughter told me last night that she was in 3rd grade before she even realized I had scars. One of her friends said, “What happened to your dad?” and she didn’t know what they were talking about. I thought everybody’s father had one leg until I was 5 years old. The people that dearly love us don’t see the scars or because of the love they become invisible. The scars aren’t who we are. They are visible witnesses of God’s grace and every single person here today has scars…some you can even see!