William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Driven Back On God (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

1:8-11 I want you to know, brothers, about the terrible experience which happened to us in Asia, an experience in which we were excessively weighted down till it was beyond bearing, so that we despaired even of life. The only verdict we could give on our condition was the verdict of death; but this happened in order that we should not trust in ourselves but in the God who raises the dead. It was he who rescued us from so terrible a death, and who will rescue us. We hope in him that he will continue to rescue us, while you lend the help of your prayers for us, so that thanks on our behalf will be given from many faces and through many people for the gift of God's grace which came to us.

The most extraordinary thing about this passage is that we have no information at all about this terrible experience which Paul went through at Ephesus. Something happened to him which was almost beyond bearing. He was in such danger that he believed that sentence of death had been passed on him and that there was no escape, and yet, beyond this passing reference and some others like it in these letters, we have no account of what happened.

There is a very human tendency to make the most of anything that we have to go through. Often a person who has undergone a quite simple operation will make it a subject of conversation for a long time to come. H. L. Gee tells of two men who met to transact some business in days of war. The one was full of how the train in which he had travelled had been attacked from the air. He would not stop talking about the excitement, the danger, the narrow escape. The other in the end said quietly, "Well, let's get on with our business now. I'd like to get away fairly early because my house was demolished by a bomb last night."

People who have really suffered usually do not talk about it very much. King George the Fifth had as one of his rules of life, "If I have to suffer let me be like a well-bred animal and go and suffer in silence and alone." Paul made no parade of his sufferings, and we who have so much less to suffer should follow his example.

But Paul saw that the terrifying experience he had gone through had had one tremendous use--it had driven him back to God and demonstrated to him his utter dependence on him. The Arabs have a proverb, "All sunshine makes a desert." The danger of prosperity is that it encourages a false independence; it makes us think that we are well able to handle life alone. For every one prayer that rises to God in days of prosperity, ten thousand rise in days of adversity. As Lincoln had it, "I have often been driven to my knees in prayer because I had nowhere else to go." It is often in misfortune that a man finds out who are his true friends, and it often needs some time of adversity to show us how much we need God.

The outcome was that Paul had an unshakable confidence in God. He knew now beyond all argument what he could do for him. If God could bring him through that, he could bring him through anything. The joyful cry of the Psalmist is, "Thou hast delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling." ( Psalms 116:8 .) What really converted John Bunyan was when he heard some old women sitting in the sun "talking about what God had done for their souls." The confidence of the Christian in God is not a thing of theory and speculation; it is a thing of fact and experience. He knows what God has done for him and therefore he is not afraid.

Finally, Paul asks for the prayers of the Corinthians. As we have noted before, the greatest of the saints is not ashamed to ask for the prayers of the least of the brethren. We may have very little to give our friends; but, however little of this world's goods we possess, we may give them the priceless treasure of our prayers.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible