2 Corinthians 1:8-10 ~ 20171022 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
10/22 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; Purposeful Despair and Hope in God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171022_2cor1_8-10.mp3
Corinth was confused about what the Christian life is all about. They were being led astray with the notion that following Jesus meant success and power and popularity. They began to question if Paul's suffering meant that God was not pleased with him and that he was not a genuine apostle. Paul is writing to correct their thinking and bring it in line with the good news of the crucified Messiah.
Instead of opening this letter with a thanksgiving to God for what he has done in the Corinthian church, Paul begins by praising God who brings comfort in the midst of suffering and affliction. Suffering is fellowship (koinonia) with Christ.
The Benediction (1:1-7)
He begins by highlighting the nature of God; that he is merciful and the source of all comfort.
Paul and his apostolic team have experienced God's comfort in the midst of all their affliction.
This affliction is purposeful; the apostles are comforted in affliction so that they can comfort others in all affliction with God's comfort.
Overflowing fellowship in Christ's sufferings equates to overflowing fellowship in the comfort of Jesus.
The Apostles' affliction and their comfort is all for the comfort of the Corinthians.
The Corinthians will experience this comfort as they fellowship in their apostle's sufferings.
The firm confidence of Paul for the believers is in God, who will bring about their fellowship in both the sufferings and the comfort
The Affliction (8-10)
Now in verses 8-10 he gets very personal and vulnerable, opening his heart and revealing his own struggles and fears.
We do not want you to be ignorant
Paul wants to make them aware of his sufferings. He says 'we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers.' The Corinthians prided themselves on their knowledge, so to be ignorant of anything would be a great shame to them. He has used this phrase twice in 1 Corinthians (10:1; 12:1) and 10 times in 1 Corinthians (3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19; 9:13, 24) he says 'Do you not know?'
They are already concerned about what they have heard of the sufferings of Paul. Instead of remaining quiet about some of his sufferings they may not be aware of, he highlights his suffering to them. Paul wants them to be fully aware of the depth of his affliction. He is teaching them what it means to be a follower of Jesus; that it is to follow him in his sufferings now, and his glory to come.
The Affliction we Experienced in Asia
He wants them to be fully aware of the affliction he and his co-workers had experienced in Asia. But Paul doesn't give them the details of what happened; rather his focus is on his own experience of the affliction, and what he was taught through the affliction.
There has been much speculation on what this affliction in Asia might have been. Asia was across the Aegean Sea from Corinth; Ephesus was the major port city almost directly East of Corinth. It was from Ephesus that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:32 he mentions that he 'fought wild beasts at Ephesus,' probably a metaphorical reference to hostile people. In Acts 19, we are told of a riot in Ephesus started by the craftsman Demetrius, who understood that Paul's preaching 'that gods made with hands are not gods' (19:26) was devastating their profits. After over two hours of shouting in the amphitheater, the town clerk dispersed the crowds and suggested bring their charges against them in the courts. Luke does not record everything that happened, but it is possible that Paul was charged and even imprisoned for a time in Ephesus. We don't know for sure where he was imprisoned when he wrote to the Philippians. Many think it was during his Roman imprisonment. It is possible it was during an unmentioned imprisonment in Ephesus.
There are some intriguing parallels between his letter to the Philippians and what he says in 2 Corinthians. Paul explains that he faced a life and death struggle (Phil.1:20-23); that he felt as if he were being poured out as an offering (3:17). He says that his affliction brought about boldness and confidence in the other believers (1:12-14); he mentions the fellowship of the saints in suffering (1:5,7,29-30; 3:10); he says that he relied on the prayers of the believers to bring about his deliverance (1:19); he expects to visit them soon (1:24-26; 2:23-24); he holds up to them the example of Jesus on the cross as an example of humility and suffering (2:5-8).
We know that whether it was events related to the riot in Ephesus, or the frequent attacks of the Jews that he faced everywhere he went, Paul experienced some severe affliction in Asia.
Burdened Beyond Despair
The circumstances of the affliction aren't the important thing. The experience of the affliction and the purpose in the affliction is the essential thing he wants to communicate.
We were super-abundantly weighed down beyond our ability. We were so weighed down that we despaired even of life itself. Paul doesn't talk about the outward circumstance, but he talks about his experience. Crushing pressure. More than we could handle. Despair. Despondency. The sentence of death. Verse 10 says a deadly peril; literally so vast a death. Paul and his co-workers were beyond themselves. They couldn't handle it. They were in over their heads. They had lost all hope. They were as good as dead.
Wow Paul, this doesn't sound very spiritual. Somebody needs to read you one of your bible verses to encourage you! You know, God is in control. He will work all things together for good. Just keep looking up! Paul didn't put on a happy face and pretend to be OK. He did not run from the pressure. He didn't pretend that he could handle it. He was not ashamed to admit his own weakness, his own inability, his own emotional brokenness and hopelessness. He couldn't handle it. It was beyond him. The pressure was just too great. It would crush him.
But this was purposeful despair. God was in control. Paul blesses the God of all comfort who designed both the affliction and the comfort.
'But that was to...' We received in ourselves the answer of death in order that... There is purpose in the emotional brokenness that Paul experienced. There was purpose in bringing him to the point of total despair. In order that we must not have confidence in ourselves.
Calvin writes “that the fleshly confidence with which we are puffed up, is so obstinate, that it cannot be overthrown in any other way than by our falling into utter despair. ...that this malady is so deeply rooted in the minds of men, that even the most advanced are not thoroughly purged from it, until God sets death before their eyes. And hence we may infer, how displeasing to God confidence in ourselves must be, when for the purpose of correcting it, it is necessary that we should be condemned to death.” (p.119-120).
It is as natural as breathing to trust in ourselves. It requires radical amputation to cut off our self-confidence. It was part of Paul's experience to be self-confident. But it has to go. We cannot truly put our confidence in God until our confidence in self is put to death. This death is a slow and painful one. Self-confidence does not die easily. It must be crushed out of us; pressed out of us; the breath of self-reliance must be squeezed out of us. We must be brought to the end of ourselves so that we can begin to trust – really trust in God.
Charles Hodge writes “These two things are so connected that the former is the necessary condition of the latter. There is no such thing as implicit confidence or reliance on God, until we renounce all confidence in ourself.”(p.10-11).
Confidence in God Alone
This was a good thing. This death and despair was for a good purpose, to make us rely not on ourselves but on God. Paul named God in verse 3 as 'the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.' Here he names God as 'the God who raises the dead.' This despairing even of life itself worked in him the good purpose of weaning him from self dependence to dependence on the resurrecting God. He came to know God, not just intellectually, but experientially by a new name. Having despaired of life and having received the sentence of death, he experienced God's resurrection power.
This was Abraham's experience when he considered his 100 year old body that was as good as dead and the deadness of Sarah's womb
This is the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist. This was Abraham's experience when in obedience he went to offer the promised son Isaac up as a sacrifice.
God is the God who raises the dead. When we acknowledge our own deadness, our own inability, our own helplessness and brokenness and need, we give God room to show himself as the God who raises the dead. In order to experience his resurrection power, I must indeed be dead.
On Him we have Set our Hope
He rescued us; he will rescue; he will rescue. Paul and his co-workers experienced deliverance from so great a death. Their experience of God's rescue gave them strong confidence that he will deliver again. They have set their hope no longer on their own strength, on their own ability, on their own competence, no longer on themselves, but solely on him. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. All self-confidence was stripped away; all hope is fixed on the only one who is worthy to be hoped in, on the God who raises the dead.
The Gospel and Following Jesus
Paul is re-calibrating the Corinthian understanding of the Christian life by holding himself up as a vulnerable example. Following Jesus means coming to the end of ourselves. Following Jesus means death; death to self-sufficiency; death to self-reliance; death to hope in anything we can be or do; following Jesus means fixing our hope exclusively on the God who raises the dead.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org