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.
— 2 Corinthians 1:8,9
Everyone has had to endure hardness at some point in life, including the apostle Paul. He describes some of the hardships he endured in Asia in Second Corinthians 1:8,9: “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.”
Notice the first part of verse 8, where Paul says, “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of the trouble which came unto us in Asia.…” The word “trouble” is the Greek word thlipsis, which was used to convey the idea of a heavy-pressure situation. In fact, at one point this word was used to depict a victim who was first tied up with rope and laid on his back; then a huge, heavy boulder was slowly lowered upon him until he was crushed! This, indeed, would be a very heavy situation for the man underneath the boulder! He would be in a tight place, under a heavy burden, or in a great squeeze.
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By using this word, Paul is saying, “We were under a heavy load — an unbelievably heavy amount of stress and pressure! We were in very tight circumstances. Our minds were being ‘squeezed.’ It felt like our lives were being pushed right out of us!”
You might think Paul is referring to physical suffering. Of course, physical suffering is difficult, but the greatest suffering of all always occurs in the mind — mental suffering. A person can live with pain in his body if his mind is still in control. However, when the suffering begins to work on that person’s mind, both his body and his mind could eventually break and fold.
Paul’s greatest suffering was not physical, but mental. This is why he goes on to say, “…that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (v. 8). Particularly pay heed to that first phrase, “that we were pressed out of measure.” This is the Greek phrase kath huperbole, and it is extremely important in Paul’s testimony. It literally means to throw beyond, to excel, to exceed, or to go beyond anything normal or expected. It also describes something that is excessive and beyond the normal range of what most would experience.
By using this word, Paul says, “We were under an amount of pressure that is not normal. It was FAR BEYOND anything we had ever previously experienced. It was excessive, unbelievable, unbearable, and far too much for any one human being to endure.”
Paul goes on to tell us that this pressure was “above strength.” This word “above” is also important. It is the Greek word huper, which always conveys the idea of something excessive. In order to explain how bad his situation was, Paul is piling words on top of words, all of which accurately portray how terrifically bad the ordeal in Asia was for him and his traveling companions.
It is almost as though Paul is saying, “Normal human strength never would have been sufficient for this situation. The strength it required was far, far beyond human strength. This predicament required strength in a measure I had never previously needed. It was beyond me!”
Then Paul says, “…insomuch that we despaired even of life.…” The Greek word for “despaired” is the word exaporeomai. It was used in a technical sense to describe no way out. It is where we get our word exasperated, and it describes people who feel trapped, caught, up against the wall, pinned down, and utterly hopeless. Today we might say, “Sorry, but it looks like this is the end of the road for you!”
Then Paul continues in verse 9, “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves.…” The word “sentence” is the Greek word apokrima, which in this sense speaks of a final verdict. Paul is saying, “It looked to us like the verdict was in, and we were not going to survive.”
When all these different phrases and words are looked at together, it becomes very plain that Paul’s primary suffering at this moment was mental, not physical. He is describing mental agony on a measure that few of us have ever experienced.
Because of all these Greek words, the following could be taken as an interpretive translation of these verses:
“We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of the horribly tight, life-threatening squeeze that came to us in Asia. It was unbelievable! With all the things that we have been through, this was the worst of all. It felt like our lives were being crushed! It was so difficult that I didn’t know what to do. No experience I’ve ever been through required so much of me; in fact, I didn’t have enough strength to cope with it. Toward the end of this ordeal, I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t think we’d ever get out! I felt suffocated, trapped, and pinned against the wall. I really thought it was the end of the road for us! As far as we were concerned, the verdict was in, and the verdict said, ‘Death.’ But really, this was no great shock, because we were already feeling the effect of death and depression in our souls….”
Paul doesn’t tell us exactly what happened to him and his team when they were in Asia. But whatever it was, it was the most grueling experience they had ever been through until that time.
You may ask, “Why would Paul want us to know that he had been through such difficult times? Did he want us to feel sorry for him?” Absolutely not! Paul wanted us to know that everyone endures hardness from time to time. Even the greatest, most well-known, celebrated spiritual leaders are confronted with situations that are devastating or challenging.
You see, even with all his knowledge, revelation, and experience, Paul was still assaulted by the devil. That assault was so aggressive that Paul wrote “we despaired even of life,” describing the intense emotions he felt as he went through these extremely difficult circumstances.
But Paul didn’t break, and he didn’t die! Likewise, if you’ll hold on and fight right where you are, you also won’t break or be destroyed! Like Paul, you will win the victory. Then you’ll be able to say that the ordeal happened in order that you would not trust in yourself, “…but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver…” (2 Corinthians 1:9,10).
God’s delivering power is yours! He has rescued you in the past; He will rescue you now; and He will rescue you again and again in the future. All He asks is that you “stay put” right where He called you — refusing to move, rejecting every temptation to give up, and deciding never to give in to the pressure that the devil wants to pile on top of you. If you’ll be faithful and slug it out with the power and armor of God, you’ll discover that God will be with you all the way through to a successful conclusion!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, You have never abandoned me, and You never will! When the devil tries to crush me with stress, I throw the weight of my cares upon You. I can’t thank You enough for taking all those pressures off my shoulders and freeing me to walk in peace! My heart is simply overflowing with gratefulness for the strength and power You have released inside me. I know that with Your continued help, I shall be victorious, and these problems will flee!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that God’s delivering power is mine! He has rescued me before; He will rescue me now; and He will rescue me when I need His power again in the future. I am “staying put” right where God called me. I refuse to move; I reject every temptation to give up; and I will never give in to the pressures to stop doing what God has told me to do. I will be faithful, and God will empower me to make it all the way through to my place of victory!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Can you think of a time when you underwent circumstances so difficult that you wondered if you would survive the situation? You obviously survived, so what was the one thing that most helped you get through that ordeal?
2. As you think of others who are going through hard times right now, what is the most effective thing you could do to help them get past their difficult circumstances?
3. Why don’t you make a list of ten practical things you can do to encourage these people and to remind them that you are standing with them in faith until they come through this ordeal in victory?