There is a passage in the New Testament that is often the subject of much controversy. Never mind that it is in plain language. But the controversy usually comes from people trying to decide what it means, instead of just reading what it says and going with that. That’s so religious. But this passage has meant a lot to me in recent days.

The passage I speak of is II Corinthians 12:7-9

7 ‘And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

8 ‘For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

9 ‘And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

This is an easy passage to understand. It means what it says. It says that a thorn in the flesh was given – a messenger of Satan – to keep him down so the revelations he had been getting wouldn’t lift him up above reach. The purpose of revelation from God is to do exactly that, lift us up above the curse, the devil, death, failure (see psalm 97:11, Deuteronomy 28:13). A messenger brings a message. The book of Acts chronicles the ministry of Paul, and all the opposition that came against him after he started bringing the news of Jesus Christ to people. The message is clear, ‘shut up Paul!’. Some of that opposition was pretty rough, and almost killed him a few times. He ended up in prison. He never shut up.

When he asked God to make it go away, God did not say no. But since persecution is not part of what we are delivered from, and the negative messages that come from people, and the doomsayers, and the naysayers, God gave him the answer to the problem. His grace. If you know what grace is, and why it’s sufficient, it’s really clear what a radically awesome answer that is.

Grace, in the original Greek word used, is charis, and it translates like this:

1) Grace – (from chairo (1) to rejoice, be glad (2) to rejoice exceedingly (3) to be well, thrive)

a) That which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech

2) Good will, loving-kindness, favor

a) of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues

3) What is due to grace

a) The spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace

b) The token or proof of grace, benefit

1) Benefit, bounty

4) Thanks, (for benefits, services, favors), recompense, reward

Sufficient is arkeo, and means this:

1) To be possessed of unfailing strength

a) To be strong, to suffice, to be enough

1) To defend, ward off

b) To be satisfied, to be contented

Okay! Now that we looked up the words, and found the original definition of the words used, we have a really clear image of what Paul was asking God about, and what God said in return. Contrary to popular religious teaching on this passage, that insists that the thorn in Paul’s flesh was a physical ailment, and that God said no He wasn’t going to take it away but rather that He was going to help Paul endure it like a champion – it pretty much just the opposite. In the Old Testament, God referred to the nations that Israel was going to encounter in the Promised Land as thorns in their sides if they mingled with them and adopted their practices. They were not going to become physical ailments to the people of Israel. They were going to become problems. Why would a thorn in the flesh suddenly mean something different in the New Testament? That just isn’t how scripture flows, changing meanings and definitions from one place to the next. It is, however, how religious interpretation often is.

You can see I have a real issue with religion. I do, because it has a real tendency to mar the message of the Bible, and to put people in restrictive ceremonious rituals that are empty of life and power.

Well, as I said, this has become a real source of power for me. I have my own thorns to deal with. God isn’t just going to remove all the problem people in my life. I really don’t see that as being practical anyway. No, rather God is going to – has – given me this same grace, this charisma, this influence of Himself on and through me, to deal with thorns in my life. This grace is completely sufficient for me making me possessed of unfailing strength!

It’s not very religious, but it certainly gets results!