This Article is Not Worth Reading

by Pastor Patrick Cho

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul speaks of how God had given the apostle a “thorn in the flesh” to torment him. There have been many various theories about what this “thorn” was. (The translation “thorn” is actually unfortunate; “stake” would probably be a better understanding of the Greek word.) Some commentators believe it was a physical ailment of some sort like a hunchback, blindness, or epilepsy. John MacArthur, however, gives this insight: “It is best to understand Paul’s thorn as a demonic messenger of Satan sent to torment him by using deceivers to seduce the Corinthians into a rebellion against him.” MacArthur comes to this conclusion because Paul also calls this thorn a “messenger of Satan.” The word “messenger” is from the Greek angelos and is the same word from which we get “angel.” In every New Testament context, this word is used to describe a literal angel and in this case it probably is no different. The thorn in Paul’s flesh, the messenger of Satan, was probably a particular person (or persons) in the church who was causing him trouble through demonic influence. More likely than not, it was a person that was the source of his torment, not something else.
One particular way that people in the church caused Paul problems was through criticism. In 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul writes of those who said, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.”
It seems to have become a given in life that if you endeavor to accomplish anything significant, there will always be someone to oppose you. This is probably why Elbert Hubbard once quipped, “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Ralph Waldo Emerson also stated, “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you are wrong.” Unfortunately, the same rings true in ministry. Charles Spurgeon wrote of those who criticized his messages for being too long, “What terrible blankets some professors are! Their remarks after a sermon are enough to stagger you. . . . You have been pleading as for life or death and they have been calculating how many seconds the sermon occupied, and grudging you the odd five minutes beyond the usual hour!” Spurgeon’s wife actually kept a journal of the criticisms that people made about her husband!
Not only are pastors the targets of intense criticism, so are their families. Pastor’s wives are expected to lead women’s ministries, play the piano, counsel the female half of the church, etc. Oftentimes they are criticized for the way they look, the way they dress, or the way they speak. Their children are expected to be the best-behaved in Sunday School. Certainly life as a minister of God’s Word has often been described as being in the proverbial fishbowl.
The people in the church should not be delineated as critical and yet there are some who do not have much else that characterizes them. Of course, these people probably mean well. They are trying to help hold their leaders accountable. And it would be helpful if these criticisms were balanced with encouragement. Paul’s ministry style was to affirm the flock before giving instruction. Notice in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.” He can’t exhort them to excel still more without first affirming that they have been doing well. This is one of the reasons why he begins almost every letter with a word of thanksgiving for the churches.
Proverbs 16:24 teaches us, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Sometimes the best way to minister to someone is to share an encouraging word. There may perhaps be an individual who comes to church on Sunday having been beaten up and discouraged the whole previous week. Perhaps they look outwardly downcast. How healing would it be for them to hear an encouraging word? On the flipside, how demoralizing it would be to hear a rebuke for looking sad! This is the wisdom in Proverbs 12:18, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Unfortunately, pastors aren’t the only objects of criticism. A critical heart is something all believers should guard against because it damages the body of Christ. Criticism, especially when shared with others, is divisive. You can look at Titus 3:10 and 1 Corinthians 1 to see what God thinks of those who are divisive in the church. Are you someone who is typically critical of people? Do you often have feelings that you know better than others? It is a sad pattern, but oftentimes the people who criticize most are those who encourage least. Ephesians 4:29 offers good instruction to every believer, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul speaks of how God had given the apostle a “thorn in the flesh” to torment him. There have been many various theories about what this “thorn” was. (The translation “thorn” is actually unfortunate; “stake” would probably be a better understanding of the Greek word.) Some commentators believe it was a physical ailment of some sort like a hunchback, blindness, or epilepsy. John MacArthur, however, gives this insight: “It is best to understand Paul’s thorn as a demonic messenger of Satan sent to torment him by using deceivers to seduce the Corinthians into a rebellion against him.” MacArthur comes to this conclusion because Paul also calls this thorn a “messenger of Satan.” The word “messenger” is from the Greek angelos and is the same word from which we get “angel.” In every New Testament context, this word is used to describe a literal angel and in this case it probably is no different. The thorn in Paul’s flesh, the messenger of Satan, was probably a particular person (or persons) in the church who was causing him trouble through demonic influence. More likely than not, it was a person that was the source of his torment, not something else.

One particular way that people in the church caused Paul problems was through criticism. In 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul writes of those who said, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.”

It seems to have become a given in life that if you endeavor to accomplish anything significant, there will always be someone to oppose you. This is probably why Elbert Hubbard once quipped, “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Ralph Waldo Emerson also stated, “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you are wrong.” Unfortunately, the same rings true in ministry. Charles Spurgeon wrote of those who criticized his messages for being too long, “What terrible blankets some professors are! Their remarks after a sermon are enough to stagger you. . . . You have been pleading as for life or death and they have been calculating how many seconds the sermon occupied, and grudging you the odd five minutes beyond the usual hour!” Spurgeon’s wife actually kept a journal of the criticisms that people made about her husband!

Not only are pastors the targets of intense criticism, so are their families. Pastor’s wives are expected to lead women’s ministries, play the piano, counsel the female half of the church, etc. Oftentimes they are criticized for the way they look, the way they dress, or the way they speak. Their children are expected to be the best-behaved in Sunday School. Certainly life as a minister of God’s Word has often been described as being in the proverbial fishbowl.

The people in the church should not be delineated as critical and yet there are some who do not have much else that characterizes them. Of course, these people probably mean well. They are trying to help hold their leaders accountable. And it would be helpful if these criticisms were balanced with encouragement. Paul’s ministry style was to affirm the flock before giving instruction. Notice in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.” He can’t exhort them to excel still more without first affirming that they have been doing well. This is one of the reasons why he begins almost every letter with a word of thanksgiving for the churches.

Proverbs 16:24 teaches us, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Sometimes the best way to minister to someone is to share an encouraging word. There may perhaps be an individual who comes to church on Sunday having been beaten up and discouraged the whole previous week. Perhaps they look outwardly downcast. How healing would it be for them to hear an encouraging word? On the flipside, how demoralizing it would be to hear a rebuke for looking sad! This is the wisdom in Proverbs 12:18, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Unfortunately, pastors aren’t the only objects of criticism. A critical heart is something all believers should guard against because it damages the body of Christ. Criticism, especially when shared with others, is divisive. You can look at Titus 3:10 and 1 Corinthians 1 to see what God thinks of those who are divisive in the church. Are you someone who is typically critical of people? Do you often have feelings that you know better than others? It is a sad pattern, but oftentimes the people who criticize most are those who encourage least. Ephesians 4:29 offers good instruction to every believer, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Advertisements

About

The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

Subscribe



%d bloggers like this: