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Death row discipleship

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, Paul speaks to the Corinthians about an extreme crisis he and his companions were delivered from while in the province of Asia as an example of his experience living under "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort" (v. 3). While we might be tempted to think of the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19), Murray Harris reminds us that Paul was in the habit of referring to the city by name (1 Corinthians 15:32, 16:8) and probably wouldn't have spoken of it as "Asia." Furthermore, he points out that all of that was old news to the Corinthians anyway and what Paul was referring to was something they didn't know about and he wanted them to be aware of. We're left then to our imaginations in regard to the exact nature of the "troubles," "great pressure" and "deadly peril" they experienced.

That would be okay with Paul because he's much more interested in us understanding the danger the crisis represented to them rather than the details of what it was. The threat was such that said it was "far beyond our ability to endure, "they "despaired of life itself" and were sure "we had received the sentence of death" (v. 8-9). Paul said he was on death row! As far as he was concerned, the death warrant had been signed and he was living in the cell of the shadow of death. That's strong stuff when you consider that Paul dealt with bigger problems before breakfast than most of us will see in our lifetime (Acts 9:22-30, 13:49-52, 14:1-7,19-20). Whatever this was, it shook Paul to his foundation and he was convinced his life was over.

The good news is that it wasn't. He lived to tell about it. The better news is that Paul wants us to see what he learned from his crisis. With the phrase, "this happened that" (v. 9), Paul tells us he could draw a line from what happened to why it happened. Our lives aren't always like that, are they? A friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, or is in a car accident, or is offered a promotion that would require relocation and we wonder what it happened. Mentally and emotionally we try to draw a line from the event to it's cause. But it's more than cause we're after—we want to know why—what is the purpose of this? Rarely do we receive as definitive an answer as Paul did.

He tells us the purpose of this crisis was that he would learn not to rely on himself "but on God, who raises the dead" (v. 9). In other words, he was to continue to live on death row. That's exactly what he did and by dying to autonomy and self-sufficiency, he experienced life at its highest level. He learned to look beyond his resources and reserves to God. (Or maybe he learned to look at his resources and reserves and see God's hand in them-Philippians 4:10-13). Because of that, Paul's death row discipleship didn't bring doom and gloom—it enabled him to anchor his hope in God (v. 10). 

It's a real challenge to live at this level. Most of us have experienced some type of crisis where we shifted into a mode of greater dependency on God. We suddenly saw how trivial so many things were and how God and His kingdom were what really mattered. We became more sensitive to the people around us—we had greater patience and heightened compassion. We had a new normal and were grateful for it because it felt like we were finally living life as our Father intended for us to—at a greater depth, intensity and a greater conscious of God. But then the crisis passed and with it went our new perspective. Our determination to live differently melted away faster than a snowman in a sauna.

Paul was adamant about practicing a death row discipleship where He trusted in God who "has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again" (v. 10). This theme runs throughout 2 Corinthians and reaches a climax in chapter twelve where Paul will write:

            Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's                     power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in                 insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am              strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

This is what maturity in faith looks like. It is not necessarily being old in years, gray in hair and wrinkled in skin. Growing old doesn't mean we automatically grow up. Maturing in our faith is ultimately about letting God into all of our life—no more and no less.  To do this is to know joy, peace and the power of God.

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