A Thorn in the Flesh

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Topics: Power, Pride, Weakness

Study Guide

In this passage, Paul addresses the issue of suffering. Our innate response—especially in our culture—is to avoid suffering if at all possible. However, Paul explains that weakness keeps us in a position of dependence upon God. Not only does weakness allow us to experience God’s grace, it also allows God to work through us as we serve others.
Application
  1. When Paul discusses his “thorn in the flesh,” he implies that it is a gift from God. This idea—that God purposefully causes his children to suffer—creates tension for us. Why? How can we view suffering in a way that honors God and advances the gospel?

  2. According to Paul, pride is a greater threat to our souls than suffering. Why is this difficult for us to process and believe? Can you think of a time when God humbled you through suffering? How did that grow your faith?

  3. Consider our response to suffering. God is sovereign over every aspect of our lives and has a purpose for suffering; however, like Jesus—we can and should plead for God’s mercy. What does this look like practically in our lives?

  4. Paul’s suffering is a direct result of serving others sacrificially for the sake of the gospel. How are you serving others in such a way that it puts you in a position of weakness and dependence on God? What steps do you need to take in this area?

Key Points
  • Although Paul has true reasons to boast—experiencing an incredible vision of heaven—he chooses to boast in his weakness.

  • In order to check Paul’s pride, God afflicts him with a thorn in the flesh. While this idea creates tension for us, the Scripture is clear that God values our humility over our personal comfort.

  • God is not the author of evil, but God is sovereign over evil. We can take comfort in the truth that God grew a body in the person of Jesus and subjugated himself to a people whom he knew would reject and torture him.

  • Although we cannot know God’s purposes for our suffering, we can and should cry out for his mercy. In this way, we express our ultimate dependence on him.

  • Weakness kills self-reliance. When we embrace our weakness, we can rest in God’s grace, which is our connection to his glory. Indeed, our weakness keeps us connected to God and his sufficiency.

  • Paul was spiritually powerful because he leaned into his weakness for the sake of advancing the gospel. We must likewise deny ourselves and serve others sacrificially in order for God’s power to work through us.

Other Scripture References