Spiritual Intelligence: No Rose, Without A Thorn

A thorn can be defined as a stiff, sharp-pointed woody projection on the stem or other part of a plant.

With this in mind, let us consider it’s application as a metaphor in Paul’s letter to friends in Corinth:

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.

In scriptures this metaphor was sometime used to describe the nations round about the Israelites. By way of background, the Israelites had been fearful to dispossess all the nations in the area designated to them by God, as a result there were still pockets in the fringes that were inhabited by enemy nations. These nations became a thorn in their flesh, eventually leading to their demise as a nation. In God’s foreknowledge, He inspired Joshua to address this issue in his valedictory speech, with a view to warn the newly established nation of the impending dangers of spiritual, political, and social assimilation with their neighbours. In his words:

Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the Lord your God. Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations—these that remain among you—and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you.

Needles I say that his warning wasn’t heeded, like cancerous cells they ultimately led to the demise of the nation. But, we find hope dear friends in Ezekiel’s prophetic journal, shaped in these words:

And there shall no longer be a pricking brier or a painful thorn for the house of Israel from among all who are around them, who despise them. Then they shall know that I am the Lord God.

So, with another look at Paul’s statement in our first set of verses, we understand that he was contending with something prickly, sharp, thorny…, that had a place rightfully or not, on the same stem as a beautiful rose. Something he so badly wanted to get rid off, but simply couldn’t. I don’t know about you, but I am not really bothered with what exactly Paul’s thorn was; I’d rather find hope and consolation from his interpretation of the situation, and the response he received from God after seeking deliverance thrice. First, a look at Paul’s interpretation:

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.

He saw it as something that kept him in check, something if you like that made him dependent on God’s grace and not in his strength or ability.

Then, God’s response:

My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness

Hmmm… Indeed, no rose without a thorn.

Friends, it really doesn’t matter what our thorn really is, what matters is where we turn to when we feel those sharp prickly pains. In Paul’s case he turned to God, and he found reasons for thanksgiving.

So! Allow me to close this thought with the refrain from an old gospel song by Charles A. Tindley, entitled, We will understand it better by and by.

By and by, when the morning comes, when the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome, for we’ll understand it better by and by.


~ Sabali

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Spiritual Intelligence: Perspective

Perspective can be defined as a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.

With this in mind, let us consider this statement from Paul, in a letter to his friends in Philippi:

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.

Good morning friends. Like today, the early church was plagued with false teachers. These individuals had different motivation for what they did, which is clearly evident in the verses above. But I’m also inclined to believe that the vast majority were victims of the devil’s deception.

We need to realise that the main weapon of our adversary the devil is deception. He used this in the garden of Eden against Adam and Eve, and it’s still his weapon of choice today. He has no problem with religion, his war is against the truth; and there lies the conundrum. Sadly many are busy with religion, tradition and rituals, at the expense of relationship and truth. In one of Paul’s letter to his young apprentice Timothy, written as he drew closer to his death, he said:

But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Hence many will be shocked to hear the words: “I know you not…” on the day of judgement, after all their “great exploits” in Jesus’ name. In the same vain, Jesus openly rebuked the religious leaders of that era with these words:

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

So, dear friends, we also need to be careful lest we fall into the same trap. The tides are very strong, the storm is raging, and the winds are contrary; but like Ulysses in the Odyssey, we must sail against all odds through destiny to eternity.

From Paul’s perspective, Christ was still being preached – regardless. He made a conscious choice to see it that way, instead of allowing it get in the way of his mission. I strongly believe there is a lesson or two for us to glean from this attitude. I’ve come to realise that most times there are no quick fixes to life’s challenges. As a result, we need to be prepared to walk through, instead of seeking deliverance from. We need to adapt by finding meaning, interpretation and narratives from within for the varying complexities of life.


~ Sabali

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