How Does God Deal with Conceit?

It is refreshing to me when the Bible exposes humanness in the men and women of God. For example, Paul the Apostle dressed down Peter the Apostle because he had ignored Gentile believers to favor Jewish believers. Two of the greatest men of God had an argument…wow! Likewise, with Barnabas who insisted that John Mark accompany Paul and him on a missionary journey. Paul emphatically refused, leading to their separation. In Galatians, he declared, “14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”  In other words, “I was a stud in the Hebrew world and was recognized as such.”  Sounds a bit conceited, right?

In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul gave personal testimony of being caught up into the “3rd heaven” and testifies that “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.“ God had never entrusted anyone with the things he showed him. Paul could easily have become conceited hitting the banqueting tour highlighting his unbelievable experience with God. “Look what happened to ME” with autographs following each speech (being facetious here but hopefully you get my point 😊). God made sure that he dealt with Paul’s ego. Verse 7 states, ““Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!

“Thorn in the flesh…uh…what’s that?” you may ask. In Paul’s case, the prevailing possibilities were that he had a chronic eye disease (Galatians 5:13-15) or that he was constantly harassed by traveling Jews, “messengers of Satan to harass me.”  What a constant pain (“a messenger of Satan to torment me”) this was to Paul, and he “implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:8).  However, God refused to remove the thorn. Why? It “kept Paul from exalting himself.

Like Paul, you may have a thorn in the flesh that you want removed and have asked God to remove it multiple times. But, He has not. It could be a relationship (spouse, strong-willed or lazy child, a tyrant for a boss, a bothersome neighbor that constantly hounds you, a relative that drives you up the wall…). Or, it could be an addiction or illness, maybe an auto immune disease that came out of nowhere, an incurable, chronic disease, a physical ailment that is clumsy and unattractive or chemistry in your emotional system that is out of whack leading to bouts of depression.  “Why isn’t God listening to me?” you cry out.

Maybe, God has allowed a “thorn in the flesh” like Paul to keep you humble, grounded and in desperate need of Him. God whispered to Paul the real purpose of a thorn, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”  Paul discovered that God’s grace is perfected in his weakness allowing God’s power to be manifested.  Because of the “thorn”, he trusted God at a depth and level as never before experiencing the empowerment of God in his weakness.

Is there something or someone hurtful to you that God has not removed? Have you decided to remove or deal with it yourself? Be careful.  God just may be using this “thorn” to develop a personal relationship with you sweeter and more powerful than you ever expected, “a peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7). With Jesus, strength is bred in weakness and not from self-empowerment.

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