Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
2 Corinthians 12:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Paul’s Visions and Revelations
12 It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3 And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 5 On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6 But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7 even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep[a] me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.[b] 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[c] is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
There is something mysterious about the scripture text for today. Pick up almost any commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and it will attempt to solve the mystery or report on other scholars’ attempts. That mystery generally becomes the focus for most of us when we study this passage. It is the mystery of the “thorn” that stuck in Paul’s flesh.
Paul was tormented by something, which he called a “skolops in the flesh,” which is usually translated a “thorn” in the flesh, but can be much more excruciating than that. Some scholars suggest a better translation would be a “stake” in the flesh. It is natural that we would want to focus on this mystery because Paul was tormented by something and we want to know what it was. No one knows, but everyone has his or her favorite theory, from temptation to persecution to epilepsy to chronic attacks of malarial fever to eye problems.
Nineteenth Century Theologian Soren Kierkegaard observed that this passage ”…seems to have afforded an uncommonly favorable opportunity for everyone to become an interpreter of the Bible.”
It is the thorn that so often gets the attention in the passage. Why do we usually focus on the thorn? We ask about what the thorn in the flesh might have been and forget the central idea of what Paul is saying. Sure, we focus on the thorn because the thorn is a mystery, but I think that tendency to focus on the thorns goes way beyond our study of this text. I think we focus on the thorn because it seems that the thorns are what stand out and get our attention in life itself.
It is easy to focus on the thorn because the thorn is easy to identify with. When we gather together to talk, doesn’t the conversation often turn to the hurts, to the pain, to the problems–to the thorns around us? Let’s face it. 2020 has been a very thorny year. Thorns abound. No, just as Paul’s word was stronger than “thorn,” we would have to say Not thorns. Stakes. Sharp Stakes.
But, there is something else here in this passage of scripture. In fact, there is something else in life, as well—something besides the thorns. It very often grows among the thorns. In fact, I would say that it is one of the few things that will grow very well among thorns. If we read past the thorn, Paul helps us understand that something else.
Ever since I first met Paul through his letters, I’ve wondered at his life. What was it that kept him going through the imprisonments, the beatings, the five times he received the 39 lashes, the 3 times he was beaten with rods, the stoning, the shipwrecks, the robbers, danger from his own people, and, in his own words: “danger from the Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (II Corinthians 11:23-27)? On top of all that, Paul had that thorn in his flesh and he prayed repeatedly for the thorn to be taken from him, but he received a different answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Paul gives us a name for what we have seen growing among the thorns: grace. We are surrounded by God’s grace and God’s grace is sufficient for us in our times of greatest need.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster