Of Grace and Thorns

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 12.7-9
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Reflection: Of Grace and Thorns
By John Tillman

Paul’s thorn in the flesh is one of the great unknowns of scripture. 

There have been a phenomenal number of conjectures, suppositions, and claims about what it might have been. Suggestions vary greatly from the serious (demonic voices or severe scoliosis) to the silly (baldness) to the offensive (a nagging wife). 

Conjecture and biblical guessing games are entertaining for theology nerds and Bible geeks (like me) but they can be a distraction. 

If one holds a high view of the Bible, believing that it is the inspired Word of God, then one can trust that the lessons the Holy Spirit has for us won’t be contained in some neglected detail. If, however, one doubts the scriptures’ inerrancy, then one always thinks the answers are in the cracks. If Paul or (more importantly) the Holy Spirit wanted us to know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, it would be spelled out in the scriptures. 

What is important about Paul’s thorn is not what it is or how it afflicts him. What is important is the sufficient grace of God that sustains Paul. Paul’s thorn does seem to be connected to something that weakens him. Paul describes his thorn as a  “messenger from Satan.” All we need to take from this is that Satan had a purpose for the suffering Paul experienced. It was intended by Satan for harm and hindrance of Paul’s faith. But God especially delights in turning machinations of evil into miracles of grace.

We should hesitate to imply from this text that believers regularly have “thorns in the flesh.” If a believer is “caught up to the third Heaven” as Paul was, then perhaps, one might worry about it. But we do, with regularity, experience sufferings of this world that are intended by Satan to harm and hinder us. Our comfort in our “light and momentary troubles” is the same comfort that Paul experienced.

Grace sets us free from the sufferings that come to us in this world. Paul shows us how to lean into suffering, knowing that however we are weakened, Christ will be glorified and however, we are delivered Christ will be glorified.

Suffering is evil. Weakness is humbling. In Christ, they both are redeemed and their outcomes overturned. What is intended to harm, will be used for good and what is shameful will be used to bring glory to Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” — Psalm 16.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 18 (Listen – 7:31)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 3:54)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Reflection: Honey and Grace
God extracts honey out of the rock—the sweetest springs and pleasures from the hardness of afflictions…whereas the world makes from the fountains of pleasure stones and rocks of torment.

Read more about Grace that Makes Us :: Worldwide Prayer
Through his grace our weakness is made strong.
Through his grace our weakness is made strong.
Through his grace our weakness is made strong.
Through his grace he leads us from doubt on to faith.
Through his grace we can share the gospel with others.

Dealing with Joab

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 18.14
Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree.

Reflection: Dealing with Joab
By John Tillman

Wednesday we repeated a reflection from 2017 about Joab’s one act of mercy in his entire life.

Joab stuck out his neck for Absalom, but when the young man betrayed David, Joab, the man who showed mercy to Absalom, mercilessly slaughtered him as he hung helpless in the tree.

Joab then berated David as he wept, “O my son Absalom!…If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son!” Joab gets David up from his grief and out to do the necessary hand shaking to keep his army together. 

When I was a younger man, I admired Joab. I thought Joab saved David. I was wrong.

I saw Joab as a realist—a practical, get-stuff-done kind of guy. He was the one who would do the hard things that David “wimped out” on. I used to think that every moral leader needed a slightly-less-moral “helper” such as Joab. How wrong-headed this thinking is. Joab’s kind of loyalty is a twisted form of “honor” that cripples accountability, truth, and justice. 

It is only later in life, after seeing Joab-like men destroying the reputation of Christ on behalf of institutions and individuals, that I recognize him for the danger that he is. As I look more clearly at Joab I see that he didn’t reverence God. He reverenced David.

Behind many leaders are worshipful hatchet-men like Joab. Ministries have been ruined from behind the scenes because of the machinations of a “Joab.” Joab enforces loyalty. Joab deletes evidence. Joab fires troublemakers. Joab threatens witnesses.

One of David’s greatest failings as a leader might be failing to deal with Joab. If you are a leader, you may attract a Joab. Beware. 

Beware of Joab in the midst of your church, buddying up to your senior leadership and talking about “honor.” Be careful. Joab may seem loyal, but he is loyal only to earthly power structures which keep him in power. 

Spotting Joab:
Joab is loyal to a king (usually to a man, a pastor, but sometimes an institution, like a ministry or church) rather than to God.
Joab is more concerned about protecting the king than about truth or justice. 
Joab is more concerned about the king’s (or the ministry’s) reputation than his (or its) righteousness.
Joab is concerned about vengeance on enemies rather than justice for victims.
Joab is marked by practical, not spiritual thinking.

It is important that we do not admire Joab.
It is important that we disarm and disavow him.
But it is more important that we do not become him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 16 (Listen – 4:03)
2 Corinthians 9 (Listen – 2:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 17 (Listen – 5:00), 2 Corinthians 10 (Listen – 2:45)
2 Samuel 18 (Listen – 6:16), 2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:46)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Bringing Back the Banished
Contrast David’s grudging approval for Absalom’s return with Paul’s joyful acceptance of those involved in a conflict within the Corinthian church.

Read more about The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel
We, the undeserving, motley, scandalous louts that we are, find ourselves with our feet under Christ’s table. Christ invites all to the banquet.

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