April 15, 2020 • Life for Leaders
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (NRSV)
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
This is the third devotion in a series I’m writing called “Easter and COVID-19.” I’m seeking to answer the question: How does the resurrection of Jesus matter as we face the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis? You can read this series from the beginning here.
Today, I’m focusing on a passage in the letter we call Second Corinthians. Written by the Apostle Paul, this letter begins with a striking reference to a personal ordeal. In verses 3-7 of chapter 1, Paul speaks of “affliction” and “suffering” that he has endured, though without specifying exactly what happened to him. It’s likely that it was mistreatment associated with his preaching of the gospel. Paul’s point is that, in the midst of his trial, God consoled him so that he might console others.
In the next paragraph, Paul admits that he was “so utterly, unbearably crushed that [he] despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). In fact, he felt as if he “had received the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:9). This is a striking admission of deep personal anguish. It’s something that many of us can relate to, especially in these very days when tens of thousands of people are suffering with the coronavirus, grieving over lost loved ones, or experiencing financial hardships. We may very well know what it feels like to be “utterly, unbearably crushed” and to “despair of life itself.”
Yet Paul experienced something truly redemptive in his suffering. We see this in verse 9: “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Paul’s affliction forced him to face his own limitations and weaknesses. He could not sustain himself in such hard times. So he was compelled not to rely on himself, “but on God who raises the dead.” And how does Paul know God in this way? Because of the resurrection of Jesus. The Easter event anchors Paul’s faith and secures his hope. (See 1 Corinthians 15 for a more complete exposition of how the resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian faith.)
The verb translated in verse 9 as “rely on” could also be rendered “depend on” or “trust in.” Eugene Peterson wonderfully captures the sense of this verb in The Message: “We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!” (2 Corinthians 1:9, MSG). Because of his affliction, Paul was forced to trust God totally.
When things are going well in life, when the notion of a pandemic doesn’t even enter our minds, when the economy is strong, when our work is flourishing, it can be easy for us to rely on ourselves. This is especially true for those of us who are leaders. We’re used to being consistently reliable. But, when bad things happen to us and those we love, when we are threatened by a powerful disease, or when the world’s economy falters, or when we wonder about our own financial security, then we, like Paul, realize just how much we need God. Self-reliance seems naïve and unwise.
Because of the resurrection, we have good reason to rely on God. We know that God is both trustworthy and powerful. Yes, we hope that God will deliver us from the perils we face in this world, even as God once delivered Paul (2 Corinthians 1:10-11). But we believe that, no matter what happens to us in this age, our lives belong forever to the Lord. In the end, he will not only rescue us, but also redeem and restore us, along with all creation. Thus, we rely on God by faith, trusting fully in the God who raises the dead.
Something to Think About:
Do you tend to be a self-reliant person? If so, why? If not, why not?
Have there been times in your life when your situation forced you to rely more on God? What happened in those times?
What might hold you back in your reliance on God?
What encourages you to rely more on God?
Something to Do:
Are there areas of your life in which you tend to rely only on yourself and not on God? If so, reflect on why this is the case. Talk to God about your self-reliance. Offer yourself more fully to God, including those areas of life that you want to control by yourself.
Gracious God, how we thank you today for being a God of power. You showed us this power when you raised Jesus from the dead.
Yet, you are not just a God of power, but also of compassion. In your time, you will raise us also to life eternal. And in this life, you rescue us from so many troubles. Thank you for your mercy in our lives.
Lord, as we face the multiple threats of the coronavirus, we realize how foolish it is to rely only on ourselves. Remembering your power and compassion, we choose to rely on you. May this be true for me today in all I do, think, feel, and say. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Thank God for Relationships (2 Corinthians 1:1-11)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.