Paul and the Thorn – Gospel in Life

Paul and the Thorn

Tim Keller |  October 20, 1996

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  • Heaven and Hell
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
RS 272-06


We’re looking at times when people have had close encounters with God. The one Paul gives us is one of the most curious of all. And it’s actually about discouragement.

Paul is writing a letter to the church at Corinth. There were false teachers who had come to Corinth, twisting the gospel and claiming to have divine authority. When Paul responds, he does not enter into a direct competition. He does not say, “My revelations are bigger or better.” Oh, no. He says his revelations are different.

Let’s see what we can learn from what Paul shares: 1) the heaven experience, and 2) the thorn experience.

2 Corinthians 12:1–10

When we look at times where people have met God directly, we see some pretty amazing things. Take Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, for example, where he talks about a unique experience of being in the third heaven but also having a painful thorn to deal with. His story can help us understand how to face tough times and stand up to people who say our faith isn’t real because they’ve had bigger spiritual experiences.

1. The heaven experience

Paul’s story shows us that it’s important to stay humble and not brag about our spiritual experiences, just like Christian leaders David Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Dwight Moody did. Meeting God doesn’t make our faith a private matter, but instead, it gives us a special kind of courage to speak about Christ. It’s important to remember that our authority comes from how we live, not from the experiences we’ve had. And like Paul, we need to protect these deeply personal experiences.

2. The thorn experience

In Christianity, strength and weakness often go hand in hand. Paul’s painful ‘thorn in the flesh’ humbles him and helps him depend more on God. It’s a reminder that God’s love for us is based on what Christ did for us, not what we do. So, even when we feel weak or when Satan tries to discourage us, we can find strength in God’s grace and power. We can stay safe from evil by understanding the gospel and living it out.



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