Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 Thursday, January 16, 2003
Tom Lowe

Title: The Management of Pain

 

Text: “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.” (2 Cor. 12:7).

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

 

Introduction:

 

From the cradle to the cemetery, we spend much of our existence trying to avoid pain.  The longer we live, the more likely it is that we will have physical problems.  I know that many of you are sick and hurt.  When you get up in the morning your body begins to tell you maybe you should have stayed in bed.  So you are all familiar with the topic of our message, because you have all experienced pain.   If you watch television commercials, you have probably noticed that many of them offer advice about how to manage pain; they advertise Tylenol, Advil, and a dozen other pain relievers.  However, such solutions are only temporary.  Some people try to escape pain through drugs and alcohol, but they find that their pain increases rather than disappears. Still others stoically just “grin and bear” their pain.  How do you manage pain?

The Scripture reading for our lesson is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10: “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.”

Heavenly Father, Bless our Bible lesson by bringing understanding to our minds.  Bless those who are present, because they have chosen the word of God over the things of the world.  And forgive us our sins, so we can draw closer to you.  Thank you for your goodness and mercy toward us.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

The apostle Paul experienced a great deal of pain in his life.  He recognized that sometimes Satan brings the pain and sometimes God brings the pain for our own good.  He prayed for God to remove the pain, but God said, “My grace is sufficient.”  God didn’t remove the pain; therefore Paul used all possible resources for the removal of pain in his life.  Our lesson today is going to center on how the great man of God dealt with pain.

First, let’s see that Paul experienced great pain (2 Cor. 12:7-9; Gal. 4:12-13).

He said that his pain came from a “thorn in the flesh.”  There are several theories about the nature of his “thorn in the flesh.”Some people have speculated that it was a form of recurring malaria that produced serious headaches. Others have speculated that it was a form of epilepsy that resulted from his temporary blindness during his conversion experience. Still others have proposed that it was a painful eye problem.  The Bible supports this theory more than the others, for Paul wrote in Galatians 4:15, “For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.” 

Paul may have had a disease that was common at this time, which caused the eyes to water constantly, and gave those who had it a shocking appearance.  And in Galatians 6:11, Paul wrote, “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!”  It is a characteristic of those with poor eye sight to write with large letters.  In any case, Paul experienced great suffering because of his “thorn in the flesh.”

In 2 Corinthians (11:16-33), Paul did something that he considered very foolish.  His congregation was in danger of being led astray, so he boasted about himself, even though it ran against the grain of every fiber of his being.  The Corinthians were accepting the preaching of false apostles, so he decided to boast about himself, to remind them of how he became an apostle of Jesus Christ and of all that he endured because of it.  But first, he cautioned that what he was about to say was not from the Lord, because he would not let anyone think that boasting was something that the Lord approved of.  He told them about being born to a well-to-do family, where he received the best education.  He also mentioned his pure Jewish ancestry and that he was an expert in Jewish law.  Then he related that he was not an ordinary minister, but was an apostle of Christ.  He said that he had suffered greatly for Christ, and this is what he gloried in, or rather he gloried in the grace of God which enabled him to endure such suffering.  Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles and for that reason the Jews hated him and they caused much of his suffering. 

Last of all he mentioned that he had oversight of the churches.  He mentioned that last because it was a heavy burden, for he sympathized with all the weak Christians.  But Paul said that he gloried in all of his infirmities because he knew that God knows all he does and all he suffers for His sake.   

Paul suffered, but he recognized that Satan uses pain to hurt and to hinder. He speaks of his thorn in the flesh as “a messenger of Satan.”  He knew that his problem was sent by Satan.  Satan hates every child of God and he will do everything in his power to hurt us.  We can take comfort, however, because Satan cannot harm us more than God will allow. 

The suffering of Job is a good example of this, because in the book of Job we read that Satan had to ask permission from God to harm Job, because he said, “I can’t touch him because you have a hedge around him.”  God allowed the devil to test Job, but put limits on what he could do.

Satan uses pain to make people doubt God’s goodness.  He wants to inject doubt into our minds until we distrust the character and behavior of our heavenly Father. Satan seeks to promote bitterness and hate because of pain.  We must beware of the strategies of the evil one; he is out to destroy us because he is the enemy of God and our enemy as well (1 Peter 5:8-9).  If Satan can make us angry at God or make us react with bitterness and hostility toward either God or others, he is leading us down a path of self-destruction. But Paul perceived that God would use his pain for good. He believed that God would use his “thorn in the flesh” to strengthen his character. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not punishment for sin.  It was there to keep the apostle humble. 

Paul knew that there was a danger that he could be overcome with pride because of all that God had revealed to him.  But God loves us, and he’ll keep us from spiritual pride. Paul’s thorn in the flesh kept him from becoming proud, arrogant, and self-sufficient.  He said that his “thorn in the flesh” was designed and sent by Satan, to discourage him and to hinder him in his work.  But God turned it around and made it for good, and made this “thorn in the flesh” so far from being a hindrance that it became a help to the apostle.

Paul prayed for the removal of the thorn. He was a man of great faith and prayer.  He believed in bringing every problem before God’s throne of grace for help and mercy.  Prayer is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every trouble, and when we are made miserable with a “thorn in the flesh” we should pray. 

Some troubles are sent to teach us to pray. Three times he prayed for relief from the agony of this painful thorn.  Remember Jesus prayed three times for the removal of the cup of suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane as he faced the agony of crucifixion on the following day.  The Scriptures say that the angels came and ministered to Him, but the cup was not removed. Paul’s persistent prayer for the removal of the thorn was not granted. 

When you pray for relief from the pain that plagues your body and seemingly there is no answer, what will you do?  You will not be able to ignore pain, because pain is no illusion.  We know that Paul’s prayer was answered, although the thorn was not removed, for God said, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”  When God doesn’t remove troubles and temptations, He will give us grace sufficient to get through them.  God’s grace is sufficient to comfort and strengthen us.  However, Paul used all possible proper resources for the management of his pain.

First, Luke was a physician and he was also Paul’s traveling missionary partner through Asia Minor and on many of his journeys from then until he suffered martyrdom in Rome.  Dr. Luke must have been a great comfort to Paul when he needed relief from the pain.

Second, Paul accepted pain as something that was permitted by the will of God even when he could not understand it.

Third, Paul offered thanksgiving to God in the midst of his suffering.  This does not mean that he thanked God for his suffering: rather, in the midst of his pain he found things for which he could be thankful.  His words to the Thessalonian believers are appropriate at this point: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).  Searching for something to be thankful for in the midst of great pain creates a positive way of thinking and an open mind and heart through which God can minister to us in our times of need.

Forth, Paul made the most and best of each day.  He tried not to let what happened yesterday distress him in the present.  He tried not to worry about tomorrow.

Fifth, Paul did not let bitterness rule and ruin him when pain throbbed through his body.  A dramatic illustration of the manner in which he dealt with pain is revealed in his experience in the Philippian jail when, following a cruel beating, he and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).

Sixth, Paul believed that through Jesus Christ he could overcome the painful circumstances of life (Phil. 4:13).  He said that when he was made weak through physical or emotional pain, he would go out of himself and reach out to Christ, that’s why he could say, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Many people have this false impression that if they try to be good and try to do right that God will exempt them from pain and suffering and trouble.  This way of thinking is unrealistic and unbiblical.  It is contrary to the experience of great saints. 

It is not always good to use one’s self as an illustration, but as I wrote this lesson, I thought of the many times that I have told others about how God has blessed me with physical healing.  He has brought me through heart surgery, two hip replacements, two knee surgeries, two hand surgeries, gallbladder surgery, depression, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, hernias, a broken neck, pneumonia, arthritis, just to name some.  I have prayed and asked God to heal me each time, but each time the answer has been, “I will get you through.”  Many of the problems still exist and I still have pain, but I am getting through with God’s help. 

I am only now able to look back and see that some of these troubles were placed on me by God for my own good.  Several times sickness made me turn away from a sinful path and turn back to God.  Several times He put me in a position where He was my only hope.   I can see now that these things have made my faith in Him stronger.  I depend upon Him now, and not myself or others. 

But let me tell you of my hero.  His name in Michael Epps.  I first met him when Sierra and I began a Sunday morning worship service at The Inn at Laurens.  Michael is 45 years old, blind and has severe diabetes.  But that’s only his “thorn in the flesh.”  He writes what I call spiritual poetry; poems that are based upon scripture. And I love to hear him pray.  His prayers recognize the holiness of God, and bring praise and worship.  He is now living at Laurens Memorial Home, and he is going to be a strong witness for Christ there, just like he was at the Inn.  The amazing thing about him is that despite all his problems he never complains.  He is always giving encouragement to others.  He is my friend and he is a good example of one who copes with pain by trusting God.

Jesus came to save, but he also helped people cope with pain.  We have no record in the Scriptures of Jesus ever turning away from those who were in pain.  He healed the sick.  He gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf.  He enabled the lame to walk. 

With faith in His love and kindness, we can face the pain that comes our way. We can be assured that God’s blessings will rest on our doctors and modern medical facilities, and we should not hesitate to seek these services as we cope with pain.

Jesus also came to help us cope with the pain of being fallen creatures, mistake-makers, sinners who are lost and do not know the way home.  Jesus came to help us cope with our incompleteness and our spiritual deadness toward God.  Jesus came to help us avoid the agony of missing heaven when this life is over. 

He died on a cross and conquered death and the grave in order to prepare for us a home in heaven.Let us trust Jesus to help us overcome all of the pain associated with being human beings, and let us rejoice in the fact that there will come a day when there will be no more pain.

Heavenly Father, You are great and greatly to be praised.  You are right in all your ways and You deserve our praise and worship.  Thank You for Jesus, because it was His death on the cross that redeemed our souls.  Thank You for the Holy Spirit, whom You have given to comfort and guide us.  Thank You for the Bible, because in it we can know You, and know how to be reconciled to You through faith in Jesus Christ.  Father, there are those here who have pain, and we pray that You would remove their pain.  But if You choose not to remove it we are confident that You will give them the grace to live with the pain.  Please give a blessing to each person who chose today to sing and pray and hear your word, and forgive us our sins.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

 

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