At a recent Minister’s conference, a Zambian pastor was telling us about the huge increase in the number of super-pastors in Zambia. It’s very easy to spot them. They call themselves apostles or prophets or bishops and they normally have the words “ministries international” at the end of their names. If you want them to speak at your church you need to know that they charge a huge fee, must fly first class, must stay at a 5-star hotel and their must be at least 300 people in the audience. When they enter a church they always have an official Bible carrier and the entrance is accompanied by a great fanfare.
Perhaps these “pastors” don’t realise that Jesus had no job, no home and very little money.
All these super-pastors have a fairly similar message: “God called me to ministry and has revealed to me that he’s going to pour out his blessing in revival power! God wants you to be victorious in your health and financial affairs. All sickness, poverty, hardship and depression is either from the devil or your sin. You need to claim the promises of God and demonstrate your new-found faith by giving money to my ministry.”
These super-pastors and their bad theology are not a new phenomena, they existed in Corinth and called themselves super-apostles. These super-apostles claimed to have received great revelations from God and taught that the Apostle Paul’s hardships and difficulties were a sign of his weakness, limitation and God’s displeasure. Unfortunately the Corinthian church was starting to belief these false teachers, so Paul writes to correct them and explain the true nature of the Christian life.
The Apostle makes a couple of profound points in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
Being a Christian is not guarantee immunity from hardship (v7)
Often times quite the opposite. Remember that these super-apostles were looking down on Paul and saying that his many weaknesses and hardships were evidence of his lack of spirituality. But Paul knew better. Paul writes:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh/body, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (v7)
Paul boasts of his great revelation and vision and says it was the very reason for his greatest weakness. His weakness is precisely because of his awesome vision. Note carefully what Paul says here: “A thorn was given me”. Was given by whom? By God. According to Paul’s theology and worldview God is sovereign over all things and God gave Paul the thorn in the flesh. The word for “thorn” implies something sharp and painful that sticks deeply in the flesh We’re not sure what that thorn was, some think it was epilepsy or eye-disease or malaria or gallstones, others think it was depression or impediment of speech. Paul doesn’t tell us on purpose because it can be anything.
Notice that Paul also calls the thorn in his flesh, “a messenger of Satan….to torment me”. You say, “I thought Christians were meant to walk in victory and have overcome Satan”. On one hand that would be correct. Satan was defeated on the cross and can no longer accuse us before God. The One in us is stronger than the one in world. Satan can definitely not possess a Christian. But on the other hand, we still live in a fallen world, and from time to time can experience Satan’s temptations and torments – but only that which God allows in his providence for our good and his glory. Why did God allow Satan to torment Paul with the thorn? v7 says, “to keep me from becoming conceited”. In other words, for Paul’s good, to keep him from proud and arrogant.
Being a Christian does not guarantee immunity from the hardships of living in a fallen world. Indeed, sometimes, for our own good and God’s glory, God will give us a thorn in the flesh. That thorn will be painful and frustrating, it will be trying and testing, but God divinely knows it is for our good.
Human weakness provides the opportunity for divine power (v8-10)
V8 says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” Its not wrong to pray for healing and often times God does heal or deliver out of a tough situation. In other times in Paul’s life God did deliver him from rough circumstances. (2 Corinthians 1:10)
Then came God’s answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (v9) God answer to Paul’s prayer for the removal of the thorn was no. I would presume that Paul when he prayed always added the phrase “If it be your will” to the end of his prayers and he came to realise it was not God’s will for the thorn to be removed.
God revealed the aim of the thorn: “my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s thorn keeps him trusting in God and Paul’s thorn weakens him, so that Paul’s power is not seen but God’s power. If Paul was a charismatic leader with all the world’s energy and health and talents, if Paul with no health issues, no people issues, no faults and no short-comings, Paul would get all the glory. But if Paul is weak and frail and grows weary and falls ill – and God still uses him – then God gets all the glory. Human weakness provides the opportunity for divine power. This is a massive encouragement because I know how weak I am.
Do you feel weak? Are you suffering in one way or another? Do you have a thorn that just won’t go away no matter how much you pray? God has given you that thorn! Perhaps you’re thinking, “If only I can get rid of this illness or depression or change this situation, then I will serve God.” God says, “You’ve got it completely wrong. My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”
Paul’s weaknesses, hardships, persecutions and difficulties were those that God brought along his way and not created by himself. They were not self-inflicted, like someone choosing to flagellate themselves. Sometimes we may think that it’s more spiritual to suffer than to be happy, so we punish and dishonour ourselves. This kind of thinking is called Ascetism and caused many Monks in the Middle-Ages to sleep on the floor instead of in a bed and wear underpants made of rough hessian instead of smooth cotton. It’s not more spiritual to eat baked beans on burnt toast than rump steak! Paul is speaking of indignities and hardships that were not sought, but divinely appointed.
As we keep trusting God in the midst of our tough situation, while experiencing the pain of a thorn, God is glorified because His power and strength is seen – not ours.
Super-Pastor Ministries International
If Paul went to go see one of the super-pastors in Zambia they would say to Paul that he needs to be delivered from his thorn and should claim the promises of God. God, they would argue, does not will his children to suffer. But God would say to these super-pastors, “don’t try and take away something I’ve put there in the first place.”