The Management of Pain Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
From the cradle to the cemetery, we spend much of our existence trying to avoid pain.
5 February 2006
Title: The Management of Pain
Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
From the cradle to the cemetery, we spend much of our existence trying to avoid pain. The longer we live, the more likely it is that we will have physical problems. I know that some of you are sick and hurt. When you get up in the morning your body begins to tell you maybe you should have stayed in bed. So you are all familiar with the topic of our message/lesson, because you have all experienced pain. If you watch television commercials, you have probably noticed that many of them offer advice about how to manage pain; they advertise Tylenol, Advil, and a dozen other pain relievers. However, such solutions are only temporary. Some people try to escape pain through drugs and alcohol, but they find that their pain increases rather than disappears. Still others patiently just “grin and bear” their pain. How do you manage pain?
The Management of Pain
The Scripture reading for our lesson is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The apostle Paul experienced a great deal of pain in his life. He recognized that sometimes Satan brings the pain and sometimes God brings the pain for our own good. He prayed for God to remove the pain, but God said, “My grace is sufficient.” God didn’t remove the pain; therefore Paul used all possible resources for the removal of pain in his life. Our lesson today is going to center on how the great man of God dealt with pain.
FIRST, let’s see that Paul experienced great pain.
He said that his pain came from a “thorn in the flesh.” There are several theories about the nature of his “thorn in the flesh.” Some people have speculated that it was a form of recurring malaria that produced serious headaches. Others have speculated that it was a form of epilepsy that resulted from his temporary blindness during his conversion experience. Still, others have proposed that it was a painful eye problem. The Bible supports this theory more than the others, for Paul wrote in Galatians 4:15, “For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.” Paul may have had a disease that was common at this time, which caused the eyes to water constantly, and gave those who had it a shocking appearance. And in Galatians 6:11, Paul wrote, “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!” It is a characteristic of those with poor eyesight to write with large letters. In any case, Paul experienced great suffering because of his “thorn in the flesh.”
In 2 Corinthians, Paul did something that he considered very foolish. His congregation was in danger of being led astray, so he boasted about himself, even though it ran against the grain of every fiber of his being. The Corinthians were accepting the preaching of false apostles, so he decided to boast about himself, to remind them of how he became an apostle of Jesus Christ and of all that he endured because of it. But first, he cautioned that what he was about to say was not from the Lord, because he would not let anyone think that boasting was something that the Lord approved of. He told them about being born to a well-to-do family, where he received the best education.
He also mentioned his pure Jewish ancestry and that he was an expert in Jewish law. Then he related that
he was not an ordinary minister, but was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He said that he had suffered greatly for Christ, and this is what he gloried in, or rather he gloried in the grace of God which enabled him to endure such suffering. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles and for that reason the Jews hated him and they caused much of his suffering.
Last, of all, he mentioned that he had oversight of the churches. He mentioned that last because it was a heavy burden, for he sympathized with all the weak Christians. But Paul said that he gloried in all of his infirmities because he knew that God knows all he does and all he suffers for His sake. Later, Paul tells the Galatian believers; “Brothers and sisters, I became like you, so I beg you to become like me. You were very good to me before. You remember that it was because of an illness that I came to you the first time, preaching the Good News” (Gal. 4:12-13). Whatever the illness was, it served God’s purpose, because that was what brought him to Galatia, where he preached and started several churches.
Paul suffered, but he recognized that Satan uses pain to hurt and to hinder. He speaks of his thorn in the flesh as “a messenger of Satan.” He knew that his problem was sent by Satan. Satan hates every child of God and he will do everything in his power to hurt us. We can take comfort, however, because Satan cannot harm us more than God will allow. The suffering of Job is a good example of this, because in the book of Job we read that Satan had to ask permission from God to harm Job, because he said, “I can’t touch him because you have a hedge around him.” God allowed the devil to test Job, but put limits on what he could do.
Satan uses pain to make people doubt God’s goodness. He wants to inject doubt into our minds until we distrust the character and behavior of our heavenly Father. Satan seeks to promote bitterness and hate because of pain. We must beware of the tactics of the evil one; he is out to destroy us because he is the enemy of God and our enemy as well (1 Peter 5:8-9). If Satan can make us angry at God or make us react with bitterness and hostility toward either God or others, he is leading us down a path of self-destruction.
But Paul perceived that God would use his pain for good. He believed that God would use his “thorn in the flesh” to strengthen his character. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not punishment for sin. It was there to keep the apostle humble. Paul knew that there was a danger that he could be overcome with pride because of all that God had revealed to him. But God loves us, and he’ll keep us from spiritual pride. Paul’s thorn in the flesh kept him from becoming proud, arrogant, and self-sufficient. He said that his “thorn in the flesh” was designed and sent by Satan, to discourage him and to hinder him in his work. But God turned it around and made it for good, and made this “thorn in the flesh” so far from being a hindrance that it became a help to the apostle.
Paul prayed for the removal of the thorn. He was a man of great faith and prayer. He believed in bringing every problem before God’s throne of grace for help and mercy. Prayer is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every trouble, and when we are made miserable with a “thorn in the flesh” we should pray. Some troubles are sent to teach us to pray. Three times he prayed for relief from the agony of this painful thorn.
Remember Jesus prayed three times for the removal of the cup of suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane as he faced the agony of crucifixion on the following day. The Scriptures say that the angels came and ministered to Him, but the cup was not removed. Paul’s persistent prayer for the removal of the thorn was not granted.