2 Corinthians 12:7-10
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 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.”
If there is one thing that people try to avoid its pain. Our typical response to pain is to run because instead of seeing pain as productive we seem to only see it as a problem. We rebel at the suggestion of it, recoil at the sight of it, and reject any notion that it might be beneficial. Yet the truth is that the lessons of life are almost always taught in the classroom of calamity. Yet few of us are willing to be a student in the classroom of suffering. When it comes to pain, here in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul provides us with a proper perspective. First Paul reminds us that pain is:
- Part of life
From a logical point of view, one would think that God would be gracious and reward those who do good with less pain. Especially when it comes to those who are sold out to serving Him, but I want you to notice that even preachers like Paul don’t get a free pass when it comes to pain. In fact, the opposite is true, as Paul passionately pursued God’s plan of proclaiming peace to all people he seemed to endure an incredible amount of pain. His “resume of suffering” appears in the previous chapter, in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, and includes multiple imprisonments, beatings, floggings, canings, life-threatening experiences, as well as stoning and shipwrecks where he spent a night and a day stuck floating in the open sea. There were times of torment and trials when he didn’t have enough food, clothing, sleep, or friends. He was chased by bandits and infuriated religious leaders, and he carried the pain of being betrayed by false friends. Paul also battled temptation and experienced anxiety over the young churches that he started. So when we come to this passage we need to remember that Paul is not being flippant about pain, for he was a regular student in the school of suffering. Paul refers to this pain as his “thorn in the flesh.” How bad was this particular pain, well the passage tells us that it was a hurt straight from hell, it was a “messenger from Satan,” sent to torment him. Paul didn’t just put up with this pain he prayed and asked God to remove the pain. Not only because pain is not fun but also because from a human perspective Paul could have done more without the pain. He could have planted more churches, written more letters, won more converts for Christ. Paul didn’t just petition God once, he persisted in prayer asking again and again. On three separate occasions, Paul pleaded with God to remove his pain, yet this passage makes it clear that God didn’t take away His thorn of suffering. When it comes to pain we need to remember that our Savior walked the streets of suffering. He understood the pain of loss as He wept at Lazarus tomb or the pain of God’s people as he wept over unrepentant Jerusalem. He experienced the agony of both the physical pain of the cross, as well as the personal pain of betrayal. He suffered the pain of scourging as well as the pain of disappointment and discouragement. He was ridiculed and rejected so that we could be redeemed. Jesus walked the path of pain and so will we. Look life often starts with pain as the doctor slaps the baby’s bottom, and in some aspects, goes downhill from there. The truth is we already know that pain is a part of life the real question is are we looking for the positives in our pain? That is what Paul did and it’s what we can do as well. It’s here in the passage that second Paul reminds us that:
- Pain has a purpose.
Now, this point of theology is really tough because there is a fine line here that we need to be careful not to cross, lest we cause even more pain to someone who is suffering. We must never glibly explain someone’s pain as a work of God. Not only is it not wise to tell someone in pain that God “won’t give them more than they can bear” but it is also not biblical. Because that passage in 1 Corinthians 10:13, is clearly dealing with avoiding temptation, not overcoming pain. Instead, this idea that pain has a purpose is best used as a self-study. Instead of trying to provide purpose to everyone else’s pain we should look at this passage first for our own personal pain. It is in these seasons of suffering that we discover at least part of the purpose for our pain. Pain can provide a path to maturity found through no other process. These are lessons that can only be learned through the school of suffering, and only the student enrolled there is allowed to make the discovery. As we look at this passage Paul concluded for himself that his “thorn” was meant to keep him from becoming conceited about his miraculous life and ministry. As we look at Paul’s pain we discover some positive purposes, for instance in Philippi, Paul and Silas were beaten publicly and then put in prison. Yet instead of pouting they chose to praise and that night the jailer was saved. Out of their suffering came salvation, which begs a difficult question, am I willing to endure hardship so that others can hear the hope of the Gospel? While Paul experienced the pain of prison the jailer experienced the Prince of peace. Do I care more about a problem free life or proclaiming the giver of life? Out of their suffering, a seed was planted and the story of salvation spread. But like Paul in the midst of our pain, most of us struggle to see any purpose because pain has a way of clouding the vision of pain’s purpose. In the midst of the suffering, it is extremely difficult to find the purpose of our pain, and even more challenging to celebrate that purpose. Unless, of course, faith plays a role, and we chose to look at pain though the lens of faith and not just our feelings. Pain can provide a platform for accelerated growth that nothing else can rival. Most of our growth comes in the groaning times, not in the good times. The problem is that we want to grow we just don’t want the groaning. It takes a tenacious faith to pray to a God who allows the suffering and say, “God, I don’t know the purpose of this pain, but I trust the person behind the purpose.” There are no guarantees for any of us, we are not promised a pain-free life or even a clear understanding of the purpose of our pain. But pain can be profitable and instead of running from God in the midst of our hurts we need to run to Him. If you are in a season of suffering and there seems to be no end in sight instead of blaming God and running from Him start believing and resting in Him. Because only God has the ability to bring power out of our pain.