2 Corinthians 1:8-11
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 
In the preceding paragraph, the apostle Paul used the word “comfort” ten times in those few brief sentences composed of 107 words in the original Greek. He meant for God’s comfort to overflow in the hearts of the Corinthian Christians. He wanted the word to ring in their ears following his painful visit and previous harsh letter of correction.
The first application of comfort was to the apostle himself. He had been the recipient of an extraordinary amount of suffering. Recall that God had commanded his servant Ananias to find Paul after his conversion on the Damascus Road. “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry out my name before the gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
The apostles were crucial to the church, and their sufferings were essential to the foundation they laid. They were men who spent time in Christ’s presence, were taught face-to-face by Jesus, and were commissioned directly by the risen savior to carry his message. There are no parallels to their office today. Applying the word apostle to any preacher or missionary today is a misuse of the term – as much so as the Judaizers in Corinth who falsely called themselves “apostles.” You may also remember from last week that the paragraph we examined was Paul’s autobiographical defense of his apostleship as he explained how his office cost him suffering, though God gave him exceeding comfort in and through Christ Jesus.
The second application we noticed was that all who were called to trust into the perfectly-lived life and sacrificial, blood shedding death of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ will also suffer. We will suffer the consequences of our own sins. We will suffer under the sins of others. Many will suffer with chronic health concerns. Many will suffer financially. Those who are called to leadership in the gospel community will be ones who certainly must and shall suffer. I recall my former pastor speaking of a brash young minister and saying, “He hasn’t suffered enough yet.” Suffering is God’s primary means of humbling his people and making them increasingly Jesus-dependent.
If you are dead set on seeking an untroubled life, 2nd Corinthians is not the letter for you. Paul has already made it crystal clear: “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (1:5). The comforts of this letter are for those who embrace their suffering as a mark of their faith and a tool God uses to make them look more like Christ.
Of course, there are misunderstandings about suffering we need to avoid. One is that if we are not afflicted, it’s because we’re not following Christ as we ought. This is a lie from the pit of hell. Our individual afflictions are sovereignly bestowed by God’s loving hand, as were Paul’s. Some Christians will lead more tranquil and healthy lives than others with like commitments and responsibilities. Recall John 21:15-25 where Jesus told Peter that he would one day die for the sake of the gospel. His young cousin, John, was following behind Peter and Jesus as they walked.
21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 
We are also wrong to assume that those who suffer more than others are more spiritual. Paul never glorified suffering in such a way. The Bible nowhere encourages people to seek suffering. We all live under God’s good providence. His goodness never diminishes regardless of our circumstances. Paul’s suffering was not intrinsically good, nor was it a Christian virtue. Affliction is simply one of God’s workout regimens in the gymnasium of faith.
DESCRIBING AFFLICTION (8-9a)
Having described God’s comfort in affliction, Paul begins this paragraph by writing of a dramatic personal example of God’s care. “8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.”
The exact incident of which Paul writes is unknown. There are those who speculate Paul’s danger happened during the riots in Ephesus whipped up by Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 19:23ff.). However, the Acts 19 account mentions no physical violence or harm to Paul. Others see this as a reference to Paul’s hand-to-hand fighting with wild beasts in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32), interpreting Paul’s phrase as literal rather than figurative (which it very likely is). “But the language suggests a life-threatening event. Paul’s graphic repetitions suggest a recent explosive instance of such intensity that it had death written all over it.”
This text literally reads: “we were weighed down far beyond our power so that we came to despair of life itself, but we felt within ourselves that we had received the sentence of death.” The imagery of the phrase describes an overloaded ship riding low in the water or a pack animal that collapses under its own load and cannot rise again. The crushing weight of his situation was such that escape was impossible. There was no exit. It felt to Paul as if he had received an official sentence of death. Paul believed his life was over as he was crushed by an unbearable weight of circumstances.
There may have been times in your life where you have experienced sudden trauma or illness or a terrible circumstance where you were completely helpless. The sentence of death hung over you and there was nothing you could do. Paul felt that in spite of all his miraculous deliverances, his time had come. He had been stoned, received five beatings that brought him within an inch of death, had been shipwrecked, betrayed, and imprisoned. But his affliction in Asia was the most damaging and debilitating of all his stark circumstances. Why? Why was this horrible death-like circumstance happening to the Apostle Paul?
AFFLICTION’S PURPOSE (9b)
Looking back on his dire circumstances, Paul was able to offer a simple explanation: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (9b). At a moment of complete hopelessness for Paul, the power of Christ’s resurrection caught up with Paul’s despair. At Paul’s moment of death came the wondrous experience of resurrection. Note that Paul does not describe God’s resurrection power in the past tense, but in the present tense: “God who raises the dead.” Paul uses a timeless present participle as an attribute of God. God’s nature is to raise the dead. With God, resurrection happens every day.
When the Holy Spirit raises up a person whose life is mired in despair, and who has been brought to the gates of hell, God has snatched that person from the very jaws of death. When we find ourselves in impossible circumstances as believers, remember that God, by nature, is a raiser of the dead. This fact was revealed long ago in Genesis when Abraham prepared to sacrifice his long-promised seed (his son Isaac). Abraham learned something more of God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). 
Christ’s experience of earthly ministry forms the pattern of the Christian life: affliction, death, resurrection. Affliction, death, resurrection is the central law of life and ministry. The afflictions draw us down to the end of ourselves (death) where we have to look to Christ alone, at which point we are raised upwards in resurrection for further ministry. Jesus’ call for us to take up the cross and follow him is a call to embrace this cycle of affliction, death, and resurrection. Nothing that has not died can be resurrected. Only death to our sorry attempts to manage our own flesh as orphans can set in motion the unstoppable process of resurrection.
When you are young, it is easy to romanticize and idolize a calling to missions and ministry. What so few realize as they consider their calling is that it is a calling to lifelong affliction, death, and resurrection above all else. When we joyfully embrace this cycle, we are led into greater and greater Jesus-dependence. We become Christians with eyes and thoughts fixed on Jesus to see what He does next, in us, in others, in circumstances. We become thankful-for-everything Christians, not thankful-when-things-go-our-way Christians. The purpose of Paul’s deathly affliction was to make him rely on God who raises the dead, not on himself and his ability to manage his own flesh by accomplishing his own resurrection.
Our fleshly desire to depend upon ourselves is so strong that even the apostle Paul had to keep relearning the same lesson. Who would have thought that Paul would ever depend upon himself after all of the epic miseries and deliverance is he had already experienced? But the Holy Spirit, who searches the heart, knew Paul was still tempted to self-reliance rather than Jesus-dependence.
AFFLICTION’S CERTAINTY (V. 10)
Paul’s affliction, death, and resurrection in Asia left him with great certainty. In verse 10, he repeats the word “deliver” three times — the first referring to the past, the second referring to the near future, and the third to the ultimate future. “10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” That is refreshing certainty for souls suffering affliction. God delivered us; he will deliver us; and he will deliver us again at the consummation of all things. God is the deliverer, Redeemer, and Savior who raises the dead.
Affliction is a certainty. But God’s deliverance is also a certainty for those who cry out to him. He will not deliver us from all death situations in the near future of this life, but he will ultimately do exactly that because he raises the dead. There is always a resurrection on your horizon if you are trusting into the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are a people who possess great hope. “On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”
Paul writes to the Roman church: “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
AFFLICTION AND PRAYER (V. 11)
Paul was confident of God’s resurrection power to deliver his saints. He also believed the prayers of other believers enabled them to participate in his deliverance. “11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Prayer is a mystery stressed repeatedly in the New Testament as a means of experiencing God’s power. God is the one who delivers, and he needs no human prayers to act on behalf of his afflicted people. Yet, God gives his people the joyful task of interceding in prayer for their fellow believers undergoing affliction. In prayer, human weakness casts itself at the feet of the all-powerful Divine One. Prayer does not modify God’s power, it glorifies God’s power.
Paul was a firm believer in recruiting the Saints to pray for him and his ministry. He asked the Ephesians to “[Pray] for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”  To the Philippians, he wrote, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance….”
He asked the Colossians, “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”  He wrote to the Thessalonians, “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.”
Here in verse 11 of our text, Paul uses a beautiful phrase in the Greek text. The ESV renders it “so that many will give thanks.” “Many” is literally “the faces [of many],” picturing the Corinthians with upturned faces thanking God for Paul’s resurrection. Paul began this section in 1:3 with thanks and praise to God. He closes this section here in verse 11 with thanks and praise to God. His desire is that all people offer thanksgiving and praise to God (4:15).
What are we to do with this clear teaching on the theology of the cross: affliction, death, resurrection? The purpose of afflictions is “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v. 9). Every believer is called to take up their own cross and constantly die to the desires and demands of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Affliction is a tool in God’s training program. Because the burden of an apostolic church-planting missionary was so immense, Paul was the most afflicted of men.
Every believer must and shall bear their burden of affliction. Suffering is essential to mediating the gospel to God’s people. The more God calls you to do for his Kingdom, the more likely you will suffer afflictions. The pattern of the believer’s life is the same as that of Messiah Jesus: affliction and downward trajectory, death to self at the bottom, then resurrection and ascent in greater effectiveness for the gospel. This is the cycle that produces greater and greater Jesus-dependence, humility, and, ironically, greater confidence in his deliverance.
The church has no need of pastors and teachers and so-called apostles who promise their deluded followers a life of health and wealth and ease and wish-fulfillment. The church needs pastors and teachers and missionaries and members who share the afflictions of Christ. The church does not need its leaders to be trained as CEOs and managers and growth promoters. It needs those who have learned to suffer and die more and more to self, those who grow in humility.
Following his most recent affliction, death, and resurrection Paul was able to make this grand statement a few chapters on:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 1:8–11.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 21:21–23.
 Hughes, 2 Corinthians. Kindle Edition.
 Barnett, 83. Emphasis added.
 Hughes, op. cit.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 4:17.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:31–35.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 6:19–20.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 1:19.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 4:3–4.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Th 3:1–2.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 4:7–12.