top of page

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

There are experiences in life that bring us great strength, and there are others that leave us terribly weak. Normally, we would think about rejoicing and boasting about those things that would give us joy and strength, and hesitate to mention those that leave us weak and dependent. The Apostle Paul, author of this letter to the church in Corinth actually takes a very different tack.

While Paul mentions that he knows a person who “fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven,” it is generally accepted that he’s talking about himself. While this may not be something that we can fully understand, the language which Paul used would have been comprehended by those who originally read this letter. Whatever it is that he’s describing, it was awe-inspiring, and Paul is hesitant to say much about it. In his day, this kind of experience would have placed him in the same category as those exceptional heroes of the faith who had gone before. This all made Paul rather uncomfortable and he tries to separate himself from this experience. He doesn’t want to be defined, nor does he want to receive strength from a past experience, albeit one that most people would probably have used for their personal benefit for years to come.

Because of Christ, Paul sees everything differently. He doesn’t want to boast about an experience, he only wants to boast about Christ. That’s why he decides to focus on his weakness. You see, it’s not necessarily the things that we do for, or our experiences in Christ that are a problem, but it’s the publication of those events that can make us prideful. Paul wants to avoid this at any cost and so he chooses to discuss his weakness, because then, Christ will be glorified.

Theories abound as to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Some of have said that it was a physical ailment, such as his vision. Others have suggested it was the physical persecution that he suffered time and time again. There is an ancient document that could present us with another idea. We do know that Paul’s thorn was something which he encountered in his physical state and was a potential stumbling block to a life in imitation of Christ. What if this thorn was a person?

There is an apocryphal story called, “The Acts of Paul and Thekla” that describes Paul’s encounter with a woman who becomes a follower of Christ while listening to Paul’s preaching. While the story contained in the document is quite wild and vivid, let’s just imagine that there may have been a tiny kernel of truth behind it all. We do know that by the 4th century the name Thekla was so well known that a description of her life was unnecessary, and that she became the name-sake for many a baby girl. She was as well-known as Mary, the mother of Jesus. Returning to the document we discover that, more than once, Paul tries to distance himself from the distraction of this beautiful single woman who wants to be a part of his ministry team.

What if, the Apostle Paul, who so often encouraged sexual purity, had a strong physical attraction to a woman? This seems to have been difficult for him because he wanted no distractions in serving Christ. One could imagine that Paul could have seen a beautiful woman as a messenger of Satan, sent to torment him. In the document Paul refuses to baptize Thekla and she eventually baptizes herself. The refusal of baptism could be seen as an intentional barrier created at the hand of Paul to keep Thekla at a distance. His emotional response to her presence may have been more than he could bear and in light of his teaching, a continual temptation, or weakness. He was a man! He had desires!

No one really knows the truth about Paul’s thorn, so my story is simply a conjecture, but the point is the same. Even if our weakness is related to our sexual drive or desires, God’s power is still made perfect. If our weakness is as a result of a physical ailment, God’s power is made perfect. If our weakness is as a result of being persecuted and being treated poorly by others, God’s power is made perfect. Life is lived in the flesh and yet the power of Christ can help us to become imitators of Christ and live as the pure in heart. Even if the woman Thekla was Paul’s thorn in the flesh, her presence would have simply solidified his testimony.

Paul turns the understanding of strength and weakness upside down. He is a stronger follower of Christ because he has a weakness. The great spiritual highs of his Christian life could actually make him weak, if he becomes dependent upon them for his spiritual journey. His joy comes from walking in the grace extended to him through Christ. Strong becomes weak, and weak becomes strong, all because of Christ.


Additional Resources