I think there are two things that made Paul’s situation so difficult at this point. One is the hardship he had been through. I talked about opposition in another lesson; Paul had plenty of that. But it was not only opposition from without, from enemies; Paul experienced all kinds of physical difficulties as well. When we studied 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, we saw that Paul had been flogged, beaten, and imprisoned. He also underwent natural calamities, such as shipwrecks. Paul had gone without sleep and without food. When we read that list, we are likely to say, "We go through tough times, but we have never lived through anything as bad as that!"

It has struck me that there are many practical evidences for the power of God in Christianity. One of them is, in my judgment, in what we in theology call the perseverance of the saints. Perseverance is evidenced when believers in Christ do not give up in the Christian life even though there are many arguments in favor of giving up on many occasions.

The subject of suffering requires a great deal of wisdom and insight. There is no easy answer for suffering in the Christian life. And above all, there are no easy answers when you are dealing with the someone else's suffering. The disciples thought they could give an easy answer. They argued that if people suffer it must be because of sin. Sin produces suffering. So, if they are suffering, they must have sinned. Sometimes that is the case, but not always.

Now we come to the second section, which concerns Paul’s thorn. The actual translation of the Greek word is "stake." Something was given to Paul that was so painful that it was like being impaled upon a stake. It made him weak. I think he was referring to his weakness in a literal sense. Paul explained, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me" (2 Cor. 12:8). Maybe there were three particular outcroppings of this disorder, but whatever it may have been, God’s word to Paul was simply, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).

In the study of Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians, it is necessary to mention that he was dealing with the problem of gnosticism. Gnosticism was a particular Greek heresy based upon a number of Greek philosophical presuppositions. It paralleled the mystery religions that were also current in the Greek world at that time. The mystery religions had certain kinds of hidden knowledge that were communicated to those within the group. Many of these mystery religions expressed salvation in terms of acquiring this particular knowledge that was secret or special to the religion itself.