There has been much discussion through the years about Paul's "thorn in the flesh" mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Personally, I've decided that the problem was Jews following him around (see Acts 25:24), harassing him, making charges against him, and demanding his death much as Paul did to others before he became a follower of Jesus. What great irony that provides.
Paul describes the thorn as "an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated" over the revelations he had from God. Obviously then, the thorn in the flesh is not from God. Paul admits that he asked God three times to remove it. But God assured him that he was strong enough to handle it. So Paul accepts it and goes on to say, "I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints . . . ." We can imagine how Paul might respond, in weakness, to insults and persecutions, even heckling, while he is trying to preach. The types of things being said about him are listed by Paul in Acts 25: 7-8, when Paul is defending himself before Festus in Caesarea. "On Paul's arrival in court the Jews from Jerusalem gathered around, hurling many serious accusations which they couldn't prove. Paul denied the charges: 'I am not guilty,' he said. 'I have not opposed Jewish laws or desecrated the Temple or rebelled against the Roman government.'" These are three serious charges. And it is the harassment, heckling, false accusations and being followed from town-to-town that I think comprise Paul's thorn in the flesh.
For Reflection: It may be that we find people hindering us in our work or our ministry. We may have one or more people whom we consider to be our thorn in the flesh. If so, have we asked God to remove them, as Paul did? If not, this may be the next option. But if we have done so, and God has not seen fit to remove them, have we found God's grace to be sufficient?
Let us pray. God, my Father, I thank you whether you remove my thorn in the flesh or not. I know that in all cases your grace is sufficient. Like Paul, I work toward being content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints when they come about through preaching the Good News.
There is a famous line from the movie Cool Hand Luke. The prison warden is speaking to the prisoner, Luke, trying to teach him that resistance will only get him in trouble. The warden recognizes that Luke is obviously going to be a stubborn prisoner who refuses to give up, and says to him, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."
In some ways it seems to me that is where we are in the United States between various groups. We could cite Democrats and Republicans, pro-life and pro-choice, in favor of gay marriage and against gay marriage, pro- and anti-Confederate flag wavers, climate changers and deniers, and even Texans vs. the U.S. military. The issues are many and complicated. We not only don't communicate well, we also don't believe the other side has good intentions or is telling the truth. So it is not just a failure to communicate but a failure to trust.
It is a sad state to be in because open, honest, and trusting dialog is important in society. However, it is not a new problem in the U.S. or elsewhere. If it were we would never have had all the wars we have had.
Paul had a bit of the same problem in Corinth. He recognized that people didn't always understand him even though he made the effort to speak clearly. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 he explains that he didn't speak to them with great eloquence or wisdom, but he came in the power of the Spirit so that the truth of his message did not rest on his powers of persuasion but on the power of God. Spiritual truths need to be expressed with the power of the Spirit and with spiritual words. Otherwise, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14). Perhaps what we need now in public discourse is a prophet who can speak the truths of God with the power of the Spirit so that the world can understand.
Let us pray. Come, Lord Jesus, send out your Spirit. Renew the face of the earth. Send prophets today like the prophets of old. But let us not have hardened hearts and closed minds. Help us to hear your truth and walk in it.
"Tear down this wall," President Ronald Reagan famously challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with reference to the Berlin Wall. Later the wall, indeed, did come down. But while that physical wall being torn down was a good thing, Paul warns us not to tear down the spiritual walls that we are as the church of Christ.
In the successor to the farming analogy that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3, he compares disciples of Jesus to a building with Christ as the foundation (vv. 10-17). We are the building blocks forming the walls standing on the foundation of Jesus Christ. As such, we are the temple and no one should tear us down.
Paul wasn't speaking of outsiders tearing down the church when he wrote these words. He was speaking of the fellow members who were tearing each other down with their words, berating and accusing one another. We should not trash each other. Yet often that is what we church members do with our gossip, babble and criticism.
Let us rather, as St. Paul so often exhorts us, build one another up, encourage one another, and pray for our leaders.
For Reflection: How have I spoken of others/the pastor in my church? How have I encouraged them?
Let us pray. Jesus, help me to repair the reputations of those I have trashed. And help me to hold my tongue when a thought is better left unsaid. I want to pray for the people I know rather than criticize them.
Paul has one more use of "temple" in his letters to the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians 6:15b-16, "What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.'"
In Paul's day there were temples to false gods, dead gods, which he contrasts with the temple of the living God. The living God lives in a living temple, not in a building filled with statues of false gods, whether Roman or Greek. The living God chooses living temples, and that is who we are. Not only did God live with us and walk among us, he continues to do so in believers today.
Further we should be separate from those who worship false gods (vs 17) and purify ourselves from anything that contaminates either body or spirit (vs 18). Paul said this because he knew how difficult it was to live surrounded by non-believers. It is easy to be contaminated by unbelief, by worldly ideas, by false gods, unless we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit
For Reflection: Am I entangled with false gods or unbelievers in ways that I shouldn't be? Have I been contaminated?
Let us pray. Jesus, let me in to your decontamination unit. I want to be wholly yours.
We are not only corporately temples of the Holy Spirit (see the February 10 post), we are also individually temples of the Holy Spirit. Paul makes this point to the Corinthian community in a section of his letter against sexual immorality. Obviously, immorality was a problem in the community because Paul writes to them, answering their questions about it. Not only have people been divisive, but they have been boasting, cheating one another, suing one another, and using one another's bodies for their own pleasure (1 Corinthians 6). Paul is quite clear that such things ought not to be happening in the church.
Again he says to them, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Cor 6:19-20). By engaging in sexual immorality we dishonor our own bodies. By sinning against our very selves, we sink to a low level - a level unworthy of someone who has been redeemed at the price of Jesus' death.
For Reflection: Am I treating my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit? Am I getting the proper amount of rest, food and exercise? Am I guarding my eyes from images they shouldn't see, my ears from things they shouldn't hear, my mouth from things it shouldn't say? Do I remember the price that Jesus paid for my life?
Let us pray. Jesus, I'm sorry for the times when I have been careless and negligent toward my body or the bodies of others. I realize that my body belongs to you because it was created by you and redeemed by you. I do not have the right to do with it whatever I want. I thank you that your Holy Spirit lives in me.
"Pray for me, . . . that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains," is the earnest request of Paul to the community in Ephesus (Ephesians 6:20). Typically an ambassador lives in an embassy. When you enter a U.S. embassy anywhere in the world you are on U.S. soil. American citizens can seek asylum there.
Ambassador Paul, who represented the Kingdom of God, was not living in an embassy however. In fact, he was living in a prison under Roman guard. Still he knew that he was an ambassador for Christ. You might say he carried his "embassy" with him. Wherever he was, there was Christ, there was the Kingdom of God.
It is the same for us as Christian ambassadors. Wherever we are, there is Christ, there is the Kingdom of God. Wherever we live is the embassy of the Kingdom of God. Whenever people enter our home, they are on the soil of the Kingdom of God.
For Reflection: Do I realize that I carry Christ and the Kingdom wherever I go? Do I always act like I carry Christ with me? What kind of shape is my embassy in? If the King were to visit, would I be proud to welcome him in?
Let us pray. Jesus, we pray for all those who are serving as your ambassadors where it is dangerous to do so. We ask that they confidently proclaim your name even though they may be serving you in chains. We trust that they will still be able to share your message of reconciliation and peace.
In his final words about the resurrection of the dead and the return of Christ, Paul says to the Thessalonians that the day of judgment should not surprise them life a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:5). In saying this, Paul does not mean that Christ's followers will not be surprised because they will know the day in advance but that they will not be surprised because they are always ready. In fact, Paul himself seems to think that the Lord will return soon. Yet here we are.
And so we are to encourage one another to always be ready because the Lord Jesus could return at any moment. Paul instructs us to warn the idle, encourage the timid, help the weak and be patient and kind with all (5:14-15).
For Reflection: While we wait for the coming of the Lord, how are we spending our time? Are we in right relationship with God and others? Is there anyone with whom we need to be reconciled? If He returned tonight, would we be ready?
Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will Christians be raised. With these words Paul again comforts the people of the church in Thessalonica who have lost loved ones. They will be with Christ in heaven. He has the Lord's word on this.
Paul speaks about the resurrection, "According to the Lord's own word" in 4:15. Either Jesus spoke of this while he was alive and it was not written in the Gospels, being left to the oral tradition, or Paul had a personal revelation of it. Specifically he says, "We tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thess 4:15-17).
So, when Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise first and then those who are still alive will rise to meet Christ in the air. If those who are alive at that time get to see the rising bodies of those who have died, it will be quite a sight. But I don't think Paul was trying to paint a picture so much as trying to reassure the families of the deceased that there would be a bodily resurrection of both the dead and the living, and they would be reunited with their loved ones. We don't know exactly when that will happen, but happen it will (5:1-3).
Let us pray. Jesus,you were crucified, you died and you were buried. You rose on the third day. You ascended into heaven and are seated at the right hand of the Father. You will come again in glory to judge the dead and the living and your kingdom will have no end. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and to being with you in the world to come. Because of you we have hope.
Those who have died in faith will rise to eternal happiness. It is this hope of the resurrection to which Paul refers throughout his first letter to the Thessalonians. Christians are not like other people who, when a loved one dies, have no hope of their continued happiness or of ever seeing them again. We will see each other again in the resurrection. That is our sure hope.
So we should not grieve as non-believers do when someone dies. And, in fact, we should not fear death. There is life beyond this one, and it is a better life. In heaven there is no pain, no illness, no sorrow, no mourning. In heaven there is the presence of the complete fullness of God. That is our sure hope (1 Thess 4:13-14).
For Reflection: This hope should make us happy. This hope should reassure us about our future life and the lives of others who are in Christ. Do we have this happiness and assurance deep down within us?
Let us pray. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Romans 5:1, 2, 5).
Paul continues to stress his themes of faith, love and hope in 1 Thessalonians. Faith in Jesus; love for God, fellow Christians and others; hope in the resurrection to come. In chapters 4 and 5 he gives general instructions for living the Christian life and what to expect at the end.
Evidently some of the people in the church at Thessalonica began to think that Jesus was returning soon and so they slacked off on working. Why work if the Lord is coming back for us in a little while? But Paul encourages them to keep working up until the end, whenever that is, just as Paul himself continued to do (1 Thess 4:11-12). Taking care to provide for oneself and one's family is not a matter of pride; it is a matter of not putting undue burden on others to take care of us. It is hard to share the gospel when others are giving us a handout.
For Reflection: Christians are not to be slackers. Paul continued to work as a tent maker wherever he traveled. We don't all have such portable businesses, but do we lend a hand whenever possible? Are we doing our utmost to provide for ourselves and our families? Are we giving our employers a full day of work for a full day of pay?
For retirees: Are we volunteering our services to anyone?
Let us pray. Jesus, I thank you for the work that I have, that you have given me to do. I thank you for a body that is capable of working, a mind that is fit and active, a disposition that is cheerful. I thank you for my family and that I am able to provide for them.
For those looking for work: Jesus, I look forward to working again at my full capacity. I thank you that you are placing me where I will be happiest and the most productive.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.