By Bruce Green
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, Paul speaks to the Corinthians about an extreme crisis he and his companions faced while in the province of Asia. While we might be tempted to think of the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19), Murray Harris reminds us that Paul was in the habit of referring to the city by name (1 Corinthians 15:32, 16:8) and probably wouldn’t have spoken of it as “Asia.”
Furthermore, he points out that all of that was old news to the Corinthians anyway and what Paul was referring to was something they didn’t know about and he wanted them to be aware of. We’re left then to our imaginations in regard to the exact nature of the “troubles,” “great pressure” and “deadly peril” they experienced.
That would be okay with Paul because he’s much more interested in us understanding the danger the crisis represented to them than the exact details of what it was. The threat was such that Paul said it was “far beyond our ability to endure,” “we despaired of life itself” and they were sure they “had received the sentence of death” (v. 8-9). That is strong stuff when you consider that Paul dealt with bigger problems before breakfast than most of us will see in our lifetime (Acts 9:22-30, 13:49-52, 14:1-7,19-20). Whatever this incident was, it shook Paul to his foundation and he was convinced his life was over.
The good news is that it wasn’t. He lived to tell about it. The better news is that Paul wants us to see what he learned from his crisis. He learned not to rely on himself “but on God, who raises the dead,” (v. 9). It led him to a discipleship where he found life through death. He learned to live on death row in the sense that each day he turned his life over to God and His purposes. But Paul’s death row didn’t bring doom and gloom—it caused him to find his hope in God (v. 10).
It is a real challenge to live at this level. Most of us have experienced some type of crisis when we shifted into a mode of greater dependency on God.
We suddenly saw how trivial so many things were and how God and His kingdom were what really mattered. We became more sensitive to the people around us—we had greater patience and heightened compassion. We had a new normal. But once the crisis passed, so usually did our new perspective. Our determination to live differently melted like ice cubes in a tanning booth.
Paul was determined to practice a death row discipleship where He trusted in God who “has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again” (v. 10). This theme runs throughout 2 Corinthians and reaches a climax in chapter twelve where Paul will write:
Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
This is what maturity in faith looks like. It is not necessarily being old in years, gray in hair and wrinkled in skin. Growing old doesn’t mean we automatically grow up. Maturing in our faith is ultimately about letting God into all of our life—no more and no less. To do this is to know joy, peace and the power of God.
Bruce has written an entry level book on Revelation called The Thrill of Hope. It is available through Amazon.