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.”
There is so much to debate on this subject, but because this article is linked with the message of “Jesus Healed Them All” - I will make only a few brief comments.
The word for “infirmities” used here comes from the word “as-then-ace” and as a negative particle “sthenoo” - meaning “strength-less.” It truly could mean sickness but also means “without strength” which is certainly more in keeping with what Paul was saying.
Paul's suffering was caused by the abundance of revelations that God showed him. Let us not forget that Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament.
"The thorn" was a messenger of Satan, so it was not God that sent it. Paul never mentioned any physical sickness that he suffered of, nor in the following verses or elsewhere. In "2 Corinthians 11: 23-30" - when he lists the sufferings he went through during his ministry years; physical illness is not listed. He ends the list calling them "all" as his "infirmity." Everything read here is persecution for preaching the gospel of Christ. We may conclude that the demon sent by Satan was using people in almost every city where Paul was ministering to persecute Paul. Perhaps the motivation behind the persecution was that those who heard the good news of the Gospel and saw the miracles performed through Paul, to be afraid to come to Christ, to not suffer the same persecution as Paul.
On four occasions, Paul asked the churches to pray for his ministry as co-laborers, but he never asked for prayer for physical healing even once. Maybe because he was never really sick?
"You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me."
Paul wrote to the Galatians, that "... that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first." Let us remember that the cities of Lystra and Derbe are located in the province of Galatia. (Acts 14). In Lystra, the arrival of the Jews from Iconium and Antioch stirred up the crowd against Paul where they stoned him; even to death. When they considered him dead, they dragged his body out of the city. The disciples surrounded him (surely, they prayed for him) and Paul rose up and entered into the city. The next day, he went to Derbe and then to other cities of Galatia preaching the gospel and making more disciples. How would Paul have looked, after being hit with all kinds of stones, thrown by an angry crowd that wanted to kill him? It's very likely that he had a swollen and bruised head and an entire body of cuts and bruises and only the Lord knows what else... It could not have been pleasant to see. But Paul reminds the Galatians about the great love they were showing him, in spite of his looks after being stoned (probably to death).
Next consider the verse that is commonly used to demonstrate that Paul was suffering from a common disease in those times, that was affecting the eyes - “For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me." In reality, Paul was saying that the church appreciated and loved him so much, that they would haven given him their most valuable possession: their eyes. It was an expression of the day.
We are all familiar with expressions which say that the one person is the "apple of their eye" to another. This shows that one person is more valuable to another. Hebrews used to have the same expressions. But the use of it would not necessarily mean that Paul literally needed their eyes, because his were incurably ill ( as many say this was the disease that Paul named as the thorn that God didn't want to remove from him). In chapter 16 of Acts, we read that Paul returns to visit the churches of Galatia, yet he plainly states that only the first time have physical health problems. His second visit was at an interval between one to three years from the first visit and he was healthy.
This next verse is often misconstrued:
"See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand! "
The above verse is also used as alleged proof of Paul's alleged eye condition. Opinions are divided on how to translate the Greek term for "letter" which can equally be "a letter" of the alphabet or letter as an epistle. Paul could actually have been saying that he wrote a letter in great length, or that he wanted to emphasize the importance of what he wrote and ensure that readers will pay serious attention to his warnings.
Do you think that a great man of God who looked sickly and aroused pity by being led around from a condition that he could not hide (eyes being the most visible and glasses have not yet been invented) would cause crowds of sick people to come to him to be healed? Who would want to follow Paul's God, if he was so sick? I think we all know the answer.
2 Timothy 3:12
"Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."
So when Paul speaks about suffering, it was due to persecution, including his physical infirmity from Galatia, which was the effect of being stoned as unto death. Paul came to realize that suffering persecution is inevitable for Christians after he asked the Lord three times to remove the persecution from him and the Lord explained to him why He didn't. The second Epistle to Timothy was the last letter written by Paul, before his martyrdom, and the Galatians was second he wrote, after the epistles for the Thessalonians.
For more information on Paul's thorn, see the article: PAUL'S THORN IN THE FLESH