Sometimes, it's hard to understand why God would allow suffering in our lives. We wonder, if God is truly devoted to our success as one of His ambassadors, then why would He allow physical obstacles to block our progress?
Today, on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll addresses this relevant question. What you're about to hear is message number eight in a brand new series called Clinging to Hope. In this portion of our study, we'll discover that even the Apostle Paul suffered from a disability.
Chuck titled today's message, When Thorns Rip Our Pride. If you have come with a Bible today, please turn to the letter of 2 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, the 12th chapter. You who love God's Word probably know that this is the most autobiographical letter of the Apostle Paul. Here he unveils more about his private world and life than in any other of his writings, and those who make a study of Paul are all good students of 2 Corinthians. In this letter, he reveals things revealed nowhere else in all the New Testament.
And this 12th chapter is a case in point. It speaks volumes to those of us living today, especially those who are on a search for significance. You will discover soon in the reading of 2 Corinthians 12 that God has other plans in mind for you than you are becoming significant.
He certainly did for Paul. I'll be reading verses 2 through 10 in the New Living Translation, 2 Corinthians 12. Paul writes, I was caught up to the third heaven 14 years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don't know.
Only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body, but I do know that I was caught up to paradise. And I heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell. That experience is worth boasting about, but I'm not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so because I would be telling the truth, but I won't do it because I don't want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, my grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I'm glad to boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ can work through me. That's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses and in the insults and hardships, persecutions and troubles that I suffer for Christ for when I am weak, then I am strong. What an unusual revelation to come across in the writing of scripture.
You certainly will not come across it in today's writings from most any author. You're listening to Insight for Living. To study the Bible with Chuck Swindoll, be sure to download his Searching the Scriptures studies by going to Insight.org slash Hope.
And now the message from Chuck titled, When Thorns Rip Our Pride. Our God is a master teacher. He is relentlessly at it, teaching us constantly lessons he wants us to learn. That means that he is instructing us and changing us, shaping and reshaping us. And yes, even correcting us. And his goal is to shape us into the image of his son, Jesus Christ. J.B. Phillips has paraphrased Romans 8, 29. God chose us to bear the family likeness of his son.
That's worth thinking about. No day in the year is ever wasted with God. No disappointment is ever outside the realm of his appointment for us.
No test we face is ever needless or pointless. And so no sudden surprise is either sudden or surprising to him. He's got it all wired, put together beautifully because remember, he is the potter and we are the clay. He is at work, if you will, on our lump of clay, shaping, reshaping, changing us to be most like his son.
Let's face it, he has his work cut out for him. He teaches us to trust by reminding us how helpless we are at times. He teaches us patience by making us wait for what we want. He teaches us values by escorting us through the consequences of our wrongdoings. He teaches us wisdom by allowing us to fail, make mistakes, and learn from them. He teaches us grace by not stopping difficulty or hardship.
And listen to this. He teaches us humility by sending forms that rip away our pride. If there is anything God despises in the realm of sin in our lives, it is pride. In the list of things he hates in Proverbs 6, the very first in the list is a proud heart. By the way, speaking of that, it is a difficult lesson for three categories of people to learn.
The highly intelligent, the greatly gifted, and the deeply religious. The reason for that is, in each case, other people are impressed by those things, and they're quick to applaud, and our pride is quick to bow, taking the credit. And so the Lord knows that. And in the process of our lives, he begins to apply what I have termed foreign therapy.
It's God's preferred method, hard as it is to hear it, to cut us down to size, to knock us off our high horse. When he brings thorns to humble us, it often becomes an epical event nobody expected. Talk about highly intelligent, greatly gifted, and deeply religious. How about the Apostle Paul?
Anyone who has made a study of Paul in the first century, living in the first century, has been impressed, of course. His resume is like none other. His accomplishments are peerless. It came to achievements, and even the things he endured, no one was in his category.
Plenty of room for pride. And believe me, in Paul's unsaved state, he was dripping with it. And then along came the Damascus Road experience, where a light fell from heaven and struck Paul and knocked him to his knees and finally blinded him, silenced him, and reminded him again and again through his life that he's not the one in charge. He may be intelligent, he may be gifted, and he certainly was a spiritually minded man deep enough to write profound truths that to this day, centuries after the writing, still stumped the deepest thinking theologians.
Paul had much to learn about humility. And by the way, while I'm listing the things he accomplished, let's not forget chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, names, an experience he had like no other. He tells us here and nowhere else in scripture that he was caught up in the third heaven paradise, men and women, that is the throne room of God, he was there. He doesn't recall because of the ecstasy of the moment, whether he was in the body or out of the body, he can't remember when he writes of it. But what stands out to me is that it was, hear this, 14 years ago.
And for the first time, he's telling us. How many people do you know who would be caught up in the third heaven would wait 14 years to tell you about it? My mentor Ray Steadman writes of this in his work on 2 Corinthians. It's really worth hearing.
Listen to Steadman's words. This is very remarkable, especially in these days when we have a rash of books appearing, all of which tell us of something unusual or a fantastic experience of people who supposedly died, went to heaven, then came back. If you look at these books, they are all very descriptive of what the writers saw. I know one thing about them, not one of them would have waited 14 years before rushing into print.
These people immediately arranged lecture tours, television interviews, and welcome a celebrity status. You do not see anything like this with the Apostle Paul. In fact, he says, I haven't even spoken of this for 14 years.
And I do so reluctantly now. I don't want to boast about it. In fact, what I want to boast about, I haven't even got to yet, close quote. Paul despised the thought of being on a pedestal. Her people would look up to him to the point of worshipping him, falling before him. He was a mere man with his own problems, even though he had been to the third heaven and had that experience where he received revelation that couldn't really be put into words. You don't have a book about the revelations I received when I was in paradise with God. But you do read in chapter 12 what God used to keep him from strutting around like a local celebrity because he had had an experience no one else had had. Verse five tells us something. That experience, he writes, is worth boasting about.
But I'm not going to go there. I will boast only about my weaknesses. What an interesting statement for a man to make who is highly intelligent, greatly gifted, chiefly spiritual, saying, if I have anything to boast about, let me get vulnerable and tell you of my weaknesses. Where did he learn that? Where did he gain that insight? He's about to tell us. He says if I wanted to, I would not be a fool in doing so because I'd be telling the truth. But I won't do that because I don't want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message. How many people do you know are willing to say that?
Very, very few. How did Paul learn that? He certainly didn't learn it from the Greeks he studied. He certainly didn't learn it at the feet of the masters he studied under, learned from.
He didn't learn it from his peers. He learned it from the thorn, from the thorn. Look at how he writes about that in verse seven. Even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God, to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me, to buffet me, and he adds again, to keep me from becoming proud, before speaking of the thorn, he says, to keep me from being proud, and he tells of the thorn, to keep me from being proud. It's clear why the thorn was sent. Now you can imagine all kinds of speculations have been written and suggested regarding the identity of the thorn, because it is crucial to an understanding of all this.
I want to spend time here and deliberately hover over the thorn in the flesh. First, the Greek word skolops, S-K-O-L-O-P-S, skolops, is a very rare Greek term. It means a sharp stake, like a stake you would drive in the ground, something that would pierce deeply, a skolops. What are the speculations? John Calvin, theologian of yesteryear in the days of the Reformation, said it was the spiritual temptation to doubt and to waver in his faith, he doesn't know that, it's only speculation.
Martin Luther suggested that it was opposition from persecution, from his many enemies. He doesn't know that, it's speculation. Roman Catholic writers have suggested that his thorn would be carnal temptations of a sexual nature. They don't know that, it's only speculation, because the identity of the thorn itself is not revealed here or elsewhere in any part of scripture. So there have been other suggestions, listen to several, a physical deformity, a disability, a disfigurement, serious and severe migraine, a hunchback, epilepsy, recurring fever that almost put him out of his mind on occasion, speech impediment of some kind, failing eyesight, or some serious eye disease, some form of ophthalmalia.
We know if none of these or one of these may have been that. When you get to Galatians 6 and verse 11, Paul has by then taken his own pen, his own stylus and ending the letter writes, you see with what large letters I write these words. He wrote in large unseals, large capital letters, and many think he wrote that in the original manuscript, large because of his eyesight that was failing may have been, may have been the headache. We don't know why.
He just says, I'm writing with large letters. Linsky, a reliable Lutheran theologian suggests something sharp, something painful that came deep in the flesh, which is why it's called a thorn in the flesh. The verb translated buffet or your Bible may read torment, the thorn came to torment me, is a rare term and it's the idea from the Greek of blows that are struck with a closed fist. It's derived from the word that means knuckles that make the blow sting and crush its victim. Linsky even suggests the thorn was given to fisticuff me. The idea is to beat me down, to beat me up. The thorn assaulted Paul like an implacable demon repeatedly attacking the man.
Now why? Why the thorn? Why such a devastating, relentless pain? And before I go further answering that, will you remember every time you read Paul, he's writing in pain. He was never free of pain and he states the reason to keep me from proudly exalting myself, to keep me from being conceited, strutting around like a celebrity among my contemporaries. Paul's transparency is refreshing, isn't it? It's remarkable that this apostle was willing to acknowledge his weakness. You're listening to Inside for Living and to learn more about this ministry, visit us online at insideworld.org. We're just getting started with Chuck Swindoll's message called When Thorns Rip Our Pride and there's much more he wants to show us. But first I'll remind you that Chuck has written a 12-chapter book that runs parallel with this series.
It's also called Clinging to Hope and it contains an entire chapter on the topic we address today. Paul's thorn in the flesh was an impediment for sure. In fact, his suffering was something he dealt with every single day.
So how about you? Has God allowed suffering to enter your life? Well, Chuck's book is designed to restore your hope even when suffering from a mysterious thorn in the flesh that won't go away. To purchase a copy of Chuck's new book called Clinging to Hope, go to inside.org slash hope or call us.
If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888. This daily Bible teaching program and the resources we create are just for you. But you know, we don't work in isolation or without the partnership of like-minded friends like you. So if it's been a while since you've given a contribution or perhaps you've never done so, we invite you to reach out today. When you partner financially with Insight for Living, you're making it possible for people to freely access Chuck's teaching in the very same way that someone once did for you. If you give a donation today, call us, if you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888 or go online to inside.org slash donate. And then on Sunday morning, a reminder you can join the online worship service at Stonebriar Community Church. Just log on to your Facebook account and search for Pastor Chuck Swindoll. You'll find a link to our live feed there.
Or you can stream the service directly from insight.org slash Sundays. Cruise ships leave the harbor for Alaska all the time, but there's only one that's hosted by Insight for Living Ministries. More invited to travel with Chuck Swindoll this summer. Every moment of your vacation is thoughtfully prepared and protected so that you can enjoy the perfect balance of rest, adventure, relaxation, sightseeing, and just plain fun, all in the company of those who share your respect for God's word and God's creation.
Yeah, I'll put it this way. God had a very good day when he created Alaska. I was awestruck by the majestic mountains, the wildlife, the quaint little seaports. All my life, I've wanted to see a glacier when I stepped out on the deck of our ship and witnessed the massive wall of ice.
Wow, it was truly breathtaking. Escape with Insight for Living Ministries to the Great Frontier, July 1st through July 8th, 2023. Call 1-888-447-0444, that's 1-888-447-0444, or learn more at insight.org slash events.
The Tour to Alaska is paid for and made possible by only those who choose to attend. I'm Bill Meyer. Join us when Chuck Swindoll continues his message about clinging to hope when thorns rip our pride. It's Monday on Insight for Living. The preceding message, when thorns rip our pride, was copyrighted in 2019 and 2022, and the sound recording was copyrighted in 2022 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved worldwide. Duplication of copyrighted material for commercial use is strictly prohibited.
Whisper: small.en / 2022-11-05 19:39:29 / 2022-11-05 19:43:51 / 4