God gives suffering to His people to break us of our pride.

So with this context in mind, verses 7-10 show us that God gives suffering to His people to break us of our pride because Jesus only makes His dwelling in broken people.

First, we’ll focus on verse 7 on the idea that God gives His people suffering to break us of our pride. (Next week, we’ll focus on verses 8-10 on the reason why God would want to break us, God willing). 

To help you see from this passage that God gives His people suffering to break us of our pride, I want us to walk through it by asking and answering three questions: 

1. Why was this thorn given to Paul? 

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”

—2 Corinthians 12:7

We see the reason for the thorn in this single phrase both at the beginning and the end of the verse: “to keep me from becoming conceited.”

Meaning of Being Conceited

To be conceited is to exalt yourself with the implication that you look down on others as though they are beneath you. It’s to be arrogant and proud. And in the context of this passage, it’s what the false apostles were characterized by.

“Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs (=exalts himself), or strikes you in the face.”

2 Corinthians 11:18–20

Paul is merely saying that the thorn was given to him to keep him from exalting himself the way the false apostles were exalting themselves.

This means that, apart from this thorn in his flesh, Paul would have been no different from the false apostles. He would have exalted himself just like the false apostles. He would have been proud, just like the false apostles.

So what is it about this thorn that keeps Paul from becoming conceited, from exalting himself?

“ … a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me…”

We see the effect that the thorn has on Paul in the word “harass.” This word means “to beat” or “to strike with a fist.” It’s the same term used in the gospels when Jesus is being beaten during his crucifixion. It says they were “striking” Jesus in the face.

So here’s how we might picture it. When Paul receives this revelation of the Lord, his fallen human nature begins to exalt himself. He begins to think highly of himself. He begins to grow proud. And then this thorn, this messenger of Satan, comes, and it begins to beat him back down to a lower place so that he’s brought low in humility rather than exalting himself in pride.

The thorn is given to Paul to break him of his pride because it’s only when he’s broken that Paul remains humble rather than exalting himself in pride. We know that this is a painful beating that has broken Paul down because it’s so unbearable that he’s begging God, in verse 8, three times for it to be taken away. If it weren’t so bad, then Paul probably could have just lived with it, especially after praying about it once. But it was so bad that Paul couldn’t bear it, and he continued to cry out to God two more times. It brought him to the end of himself wherein brokenness he’s crying out to God (2 Corinthians 1:9).

So, to summarize our first question, Why was the thorn given to Paul? It was given to Paul to break him of his pride because it’s only when he’s broken that Paul remains humble rather than exalting himself in pride.