Flesh: In this morning’s epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 12 Paul uses the well-known expression ‘a thorn in the flesh” (v 7), which, he says, was “a messenger of Satan” given to him to prevent him from succumbing to spiritual pride in the revelations granted to him. The word ‘flesh’ occurs many times in the New Testament, and especially in Paul’s epistles. It has several shades of meaning. In the present instance it is close to its literal meaning, referring to Paul’s physical flesh. In Philippians 3:4-6 Paul says that he can boast of his credentials “in the flesh” as well as any man: his lineage as a Jew; his status as a Pharisee; his former zeal against the Christians; his rectitude under the Law. Clearly, here “flesh” stands for more than a physical covering for the skeleton. In many places in Paul’s epistles it is used as a representative term for the abstract concept ‘human nature’. As such, its use is not always pejorative, but often Paul has in mind ‘fallen human nature’ and in this sense ‘flesh’ is generally pejorative. As such, it refers to all the human faculties as affected by sin, such as the intellect, will and our emotions and desires. So understood, it may be contrasted with ‘spirit’, as in Galatians 5:13-25. It seems that whatever in our human lives diverts us from or seeks to rival our allegiance to Christ can be attributed to “the flesh”.
A Word in Season