What makes you humble? Or the opposite question, what pushes you to conceit?
If you think back to the first Rocky movie, here was a guy that was very humble. He began to have success as he climbed up to be the Heavy Weight Champion of the World. He developed some conceit during this climb. But what makes the movie great is that something happens to humble himself again. You see, if all he ever did was win, it would be boring to watch. So something has to happen to humble himself so you still cheer him on to win again.
We all have something to be proud of. For some it’s an ability, others a talent, still others their finances, others their accomplishments. This list goes on. There’s nothing wrong with having a healthy amount of pride about things. But for many people, there is something that could easily push them to conceit. Paul had that. When he was Saul, he was considered the perfect Jew. He held fast to the law, followed it religiously. He was a Roman citizen and one of good standing. Even when he became Paul, he still had much to brag and boast about. He’s the only post resurrection conversion that saw Jesus personally. Christ gave him amazing insight and visions. His conversion story was nothing short of miraculous. He could be proud of his pre-conversion life. He could be proud of his conversion story. He could even be proud of his post-conversion testimony and miracles performed in the name of Jesus. And the Lord knew that he was one that had the potential of being overpowered by conceit.
But even dealing with a man like Saul/Paul, Jesus had a plan. In order to use the great gifts that had been given to him and still avoid the conceit that would typically take down a man like Paul, the Lord gave him a thorn. “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)
In reading this, it wasn’t the fact that the Lord gave Paul a thorn that stood out to me, or even the fact that nowhere in all his letters does he actually tell us what that thorn is. What stood out to me was his reference to the thorn as a “messenger of Satan to harass me”. Paul knew this thing was given to him by God but at the same time, considered it a messenger of Satan.
What Paul is saying is that God uses Satan’s own demons for His purpose. While that demon is working on Paul (whatever it was), he (along with Satan) believed they were getting somewhere with Paul, perhaps holding him back from his “true potential”. But all the while, it was God calling the shots. God was actually allowing Satan to hold him back from his true potential in order to keep him humble. Without that “thorn” Paul may have become so conceited that others stopped listening to him. His ministry would have been killed. This means that Satan ‘slowing him down’ actually made him more effective.
Have you examined your thorn? Tried to figure out how you could remove it? Perhaps we should do like Paul and actually embrace it. It’s there for a reason. Don’t ask him to remove it, instead just ask him to reveal its purpose.