We have suggested that the six occasions when Paul expresses the desire that his readers should not be ignorant can be divided into three couplets. The first of these couplets relate to personal matters: Pauls exercise in Romans 1.13 and Pauls experiences in 2 Corinthians 1.8-9.
Having already considered Pauls exercise to visit Rome, we now turn to the reference regarding his experiences: "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead".
The words "our trouble" in v.8 translate a phrase which, if rendered literally, would read, "the sufferings that are ours". The same phrase has already been used in v.4 where it is translated, "our tribulation". While the language is the same it nevertheless appears that Paul has two different sets of experiences in view, though both sets were equally trying to him.
It seems likely that in v.4 Paul is especially thinking of his experiences in Macedonia, as he anxiously awaited the arrival of Titus, bringing news of the work at Corinth, something to which he refers later in 2.13 and 7.5,6.
In v.8, however, Paul recalls an experience in Asia. It is difficult to identify what the specific trouble was. Some link it to the uproar at Ephesus described in Acts 19.23-41, and while it must be said that nothing in Lukes record of those events suggests that Paul himself was a specific target of attack, nevertheless he does say here that "We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble ", thus embracing others as sharing this trial with him. But whatever the nature of the trouble that Paul is describing, it seems evident that it was extremely severe, and Paul focuses upon the way it had affected both him and his companions.
He also writes in v.8 that "We were pressed out of measure above strength". Paul uses very graphic language, describing the trial as akin to being weighed down with a heavy burden, and employing the picture of a beast of burden being crushed beneath a heavy load. Again he states that "We despaired even of life". Whatever demands were being made upon the apostle and his companions at that time, he asserts that they appeared to be beyond the limits of human endurance.
To this he adds in v.9: "But we had the sentence of death in ourselves". The word translated "sentence" really means answer, and the idea is simply that death seemed to be the certain, the inevitable outcome of the situation, the only result they could reasonably anticipate. A death so horrendous, that Paul describes it in v.10 as "so great a death".
Such verses should remind us that because we are the people of God, we are not to think that we are thereby immune from suffering, and that sometimes those trials can be severe, even perhaps to the point of causing us to despair of life itself, thinking that all is lost. But while the verses suggest that, we might well challenge our hearts as to whether we know anything of the kind of sufferings that Paul is primarily speaking of here, sufferings that it would seem were the product of testimony for Christ?
We might ask, "Why did God permit his servants to be under such pressure?". One reason is that they might learn to be the more dependent upon Him. There are other reasons mentioned in the chapter, e.g. through suffering the servant becomes better qualified to help others (v.4). But in vv.9&10 Paul writes, " that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us". The situation was critical, their lives seemed to be in the balance, but even though the prospects were bleak the circumstances were certainly not without purpose. Paul in fact implies that this very situation was permitted by God in order that they might come to an end of their own resources and trust the more in Him. The more difficult the situation, the more they came to realise their own insufficiency, and that was divinely intended in order that they might know God the better.
In what way did those trials draw them to God? Remember that their lives seemed to be at risk, but in looking to God they appreciated, no doubt in a new light, that they were looking to One who "raiseth the dead". Knowing that, they found that even in such a trying and difficult situation they could confidently face it. Their faith rested upon One who raises the dead, and so, even in the darkest hour, they were not without hope. Again, if He could "raise the dead", they knew He could do anything.
That confidence was not ill-founded, for Paul records how God subsequently delivered them, "Who delivered us from so great a death ", and who constantly delivers from life threatening situations, so that Paul says, " and doth deliver" (v.10). He was One whom they believed would yet deliver them from trouble, if such were His sovereign will, as he expresses in v.10: " in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us".
Would we think that in our day these truths are no longer applicable? That the ability and power of God has somehow diminished and that He is powerless to minister to the need of His servants, even in the most trying circumstances? Surely not! Thus, in each situation, it is ours to trust in Him.
Paul states in v.3 that he knows God as "the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort". When Paul speaks of "the Father" our relationship as children is particularly in view. As the "Father of mercies", He is one who has compassion, sympathises with, and has pity upon His children. As the Psalmist could say, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him" (Ps 103.13). Then again He is "the God of all comfort", and when Paul speaks of "God" our responsibility as servants is in view, and as "the God of all comfort" He is the one who can minister encouragement and comfort to His servants. It must be noted that Paul says "all comfort"; whatever the situation, whatever the circumstances, He can minister to the need. So, we read in v.4: "Who comforteth us in all our tribulation". Whatever his state, he had found God to be the source of needed strength and help. Think of some of the things implied in this statement. God is not indifferent to our needs: He knows every situation, the demands placed on us by each circumstance, and He is able to minister to those needs. These are valuable lessons to learn; may we not be ignorant of them.
To be continued.