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Pressed Out of Measure to Christ
By David A. DePra
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 raises the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us. (2 Cor. 1:8-10)
I have not heard much, or any, preaching about this passage. Maybe that is because it comes so early in this epistle, and instead of being presented as a doctrinal teaching, Paul writes this almost as a way of getting the Corinthians caught up about his affairs and travels. But there is, in fact, something quite amazing in this passage written by Paul. It tells us a lot about what is going on in any great trial that God allows in our lives.
Paul does not give even one detail of the circumstances of this trial. But a look at the original Greek emphasizes even more the grave situation about which he speaks. The first thing he says is that they were, "pressed out of measure." "Pressed," here, really means to be weighed down with a great burden. And, "beyond measure," carries with it the meaning of EXCESS – in other words, this burden was such a weight upon them that it was in EXCESS of what they could bear. This is why Paul says, "we were pressed beyond measure," i.e., there was not the strength within themselves to call upon. In short, they did not have in themselves what they needed to be able to handle this trouble.
Imagine if you were in a gymnasium and you got under one of those big machines that people use to lift weights up and down -- like a squat machine, or a standing press machine. But imagine getting under that weight and having someone remove the safety pins, only to discover that the weight that was far beyond your strength. At first, you might be able to lock your legs straight. But if it were enough weight, you would have to give way to it in a matter of seconds. This is the picture Paul is giving. He is saying that the trouble that came upon him was beyond any ability he had to handle it. There was no strength to call upon. There was no possibility of finding the solution in themselves.
Don’t think of this merely in terms of people threatening them, or in terms of a possible arrest and death sentence. No. The context of this passage is spiritual. It is about trials and faith. That is apparent from the third verse of this chapter. Paul is talking about facing a TRIAL OF FAITH that he is unable to handle with what is in himself.
Now, we see that this is a spiritual trial of faith once we read on. Paul tells us what their reaction was to the great trouble. He says, "We despaired even of life." Sure. The word, "despair," means, "to have no way out." In other words, they had no way of out of this trouble – through anything in themselves. Thus, Paul’s words, "we had the sentence of death in ourselves," follows. That is where despairing of life leads you – to considering that this might mean death. The phrase, "the sentence of death," really means, "the answer of death." In other words, in facing this problem, they found ZERO in themselves to answer it. This resulted in them despairing of life because of this – despairing because they had no way out. And in asking themselves what the outcome of this trouble would be, the only sane answer was DEATH.
Note that Paul says they, "had the answer of death IN THEMSELVES." In other words, they saw no other possibility. This was the ONLY possible conclusion they saw to their problem.
This is quite significant because we know that Paul had great faith. I don’t believe for a minute that Paul thought that God had forsaken him. No. I think what Paul is saying is that this trouble was so great, and so beyond their ability to deal with it, that he concluded that it must be God’s will for them to perish. I mean, it isn’t like other apostles had not lost their lives for the sake of Christ. So maybe this would be Paul’s time – WITHIN the will of God. Certainly this had to have occurred to them. Indeed, if we read this passage, it not only occurred to them – it was their conclusion: They had the answer of death in themselves.
And yet Paul tells us that the VERY REASON God brought them to the place where they could find only the answer of death was so that, "they should not trust in themselves, but in God, who raises the dead." Get that. This trouble was never out of God’s control. Indeed, it was allowed by God to go as far as it did for His own purposes: God wanted them to be, "pressed beyond measure," and God wanted them to find no conclusion but death when they examined the situation. But all of this was intended to push them to a place in Christ where they could not have gone otherwise – to trusting Him rather than themselves.
As I mentioned, Paul had great faith. I’m sure he would have told you that he did trust Christ rather than himself. And I’m sure that this was true. But it is a fact that there are places in our heart, and in our understanding, and in our motives that we know nothing about – places that we trust, rather than God. Self-trust is a subtle thing. As the OT tells us, the human heart is deceitful. Who can know it?
Many of us know that we need to trust God rather than ourselves. We know this as a teaching or doctrine. This is basic Christian Truth. Even salvation is based on it – we must rely upon what Christ has done for us, rather than upon ourselves. But the question is whether we DO trust God rather than ourselves. And the answer is NO. Once we are saved, this transfer of trust must take place through a process. Paul described one chapter of this process in his life. And we will have the same – IF we want to mature in Christ.
Self-trust is incredibly subtle and deceptive. For example, I don’t think many Christians are likely to tell God that they don’t need His help, or that they can do it on their own. No. But isn’t it a fact, for example, that we most often approach God based on what we think are our merits – rather than approach Him based on Christ? Sure. THAT is self-trust. Or perhaps we are reluctant to approach God because we think we are lacking. THAT too, is self-trust. We are looking to ourselves, and not to Christ. But there are even more subtle ways to trust yourself. For example, some of us think we have great faith. We think we know God. And you know what? Maybe we do – on both counts. But can we see how easy this could turn into a point of pride and self-trust. We could begin to put our faith IN OUR ABILITY to believe God – rather than in God Himself. Or, we could begin to doubt God, simply because we think we are of little faith – which is the same thing, "faith in our faith," only in the negative.
Christians tend to have the idea that God is on their side, and would never let anything happen to them that is negative. But we tend to think this because we think we are the good guys, or God’s special one. One way or another, we tend to work things around to where God MUST bless us, or keep us from trials, because we are faithful to Him, and because we merit it. All of this, however, can be self-trust. It is not reliance upon the faithfulness of God. It is reliance upon OURSELVES.
The bottom line is this: Even as saved human beings we try to scrap and scratch to salvage some scrap of merit in ourselves that we can present to God. There is a great sense of security in thinking that we can handle what might arise. This is, of course, a false security, and self-trust. But this is exactly what God allows trouble like He allowed in the life of Paul. God intends to set us free from self-trust.
The Mirror Effect
Self-trust often manifests itself in our reliance upon our own understanding and perception. We do this in any number of ways, including even in our personal relationship with God.
For example, Christians tend to assume that whatever we believe about ourselves must surely be what God believes about us. We function this way with other people – and naturally do it towards God. So if we think we are hot stuff spiritually, then we assume that this is what God thinks. Or if we always feel condemned, then we assume it is because God feels that way about us. I call this the, "mirror effect." Often what we believe God thinks about us is nothing more than the mirror of our own thoughts reflecting back at us.
This is actually self-trust – trust in our understanding. And once that gets going, we will begin to react to it. For instance, if I think I am condemned of God, I will begin to try to compensate Him for it. This will not only create a entire spiritual condition in me, but it can eventually result in outward conduct and attitudes. My gosh, what Christians have done simply because they believe God is mad at them, and is eager to condemn them!
Now, the problem here isn’t simply that we are trusting a faulty understanding. Rather, the real problem is that we are not believing God – we are believing what we think and feel, even though the Bible tells us that we are dead wrong. Again – it seems that we are so easily swayed by emotions, fears, and expectations, because they are IN US, and seem so real. And if the Bible tells us that what we feel or think is wrong, we tend to ignore it, or begin to interpret the Bible according to our emotions and fear.
Think about this. If you are in Christ, there is NO condemnation possible from God towards you. (see Rom. 8:1) Right? NO condemnation means NO condemnation. But don’t you sometimes feel condemned? And because these feelings are so real, don’t you easily believe that this is how God feels towards you? Sure. But WHY do you believe that? Because you are trusting how you feel – trusting YOURSELF – and are listening to the futility of your own mind – rather than trusting God. The Bible says you are NEVER condemned. But you feel condemned. Which are you going to believe?
Paul alerted the Christians at Ephesus about this very possibility in themselves – even as Christians:
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; (Eph 4:17-20)
The picture here is one of the mind operating according to SELF, and not according to the Truth. But the trouble is, there is no Truth resident in the natural mind to call upon. There is no Truth in the emotions to call upon. Try it. You will come up empty. But the natural man doesn’t know this. Even many Christians don’t know it. We continue to think that whatever we feel or think must be the Truth – because we don’t know anything else, can’t see anything else, and this is quite overwhelming. So to us, THIS IS REALITY. And the shocking thing is, we may be in complete error.
Paul is describing in this passage the fact that people in this condition have no frame of reference for anything outside of themselves – they have created their own reality within their own mind – the mirror effect again. Conduct follows. They do what they want to do as those, "past feeling" – that is, without any sense of wrong or feeling arising contrary to it. They think they are RIGHT – but they are totally WRONG. This is total deception.
We certainly see this in what many Christians believe the Bible teaches. Everyone has the same Bible. We can all read it. But why do people come to so many different conclusions? I have run across professing Christians who deny the sin nature, deny the virgin birth, deny the grace of God, proclaim themselves as God’s chosen, teach terrible bondage, form cultic groups, and who are living in legalism, license, or dead religion. And everyone gets this from the same Bible. How is this possible? It is possible because people are operating in the futility of their own mind and understanding – and don’t even realize it. And because they are too prideful to consider the possibility, it just goes on. It must go on because they have not seen Christ. They are not to the place – sometimes by choice or hardness -- where the Holy Spirit can renew their minds with the Truth. And until that happens, everyone of us will work with the materials that are in our natural man – and develop conclusions about God that are based on upbringing, pride, fear, feelings, human reasoning, self-righteousness, and above all – UNBELIEF. That is all we can do.
Now, there are some Christians who get to this place. But normally, this is not going to happen on this terrible kind of level for anyone who is going on with Christ. For despite the fact that we all have the same natural materials to work with, Christians have the Holy Spirit within. And through the work of the Spirit, God wants to RENEW our minds according to the Truth. This will introduce Truth from the OUTSIDE of the mind INTO the mind. And when that happens, our entire perception will change. We will no longer be operating in the futility of our natural minds. No. We will begin to know the Truth and be set free. We will no longer be creating reality based on what we feel and think. We will see reality because we see Jesus Christ – and everything will be seen in His light.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:12-14)
Know as We Are Known
It is a freeing thing to discover that you cannot truly know yourself – and never will in this life. This enables us to leave ourselves to HIM – for He does know us. God reveals to us that we have an outward man and an inner man. We have an old man and a new man in Christ. What we think of as US is usually the outward and the old. But the real us is who we are in Christ.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Cor. 13:12)
Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:16-17)
Have we recognized that there is almost NOTHING about ourselves that we see clearly? Indeed, I would suggest that NOTHING we believe about ourselves is correct at all! Sure, the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin, and will expose us for the people we are to a certain degree. But even then, do we think we have a clue as to our REAL motives, as to our REAL inner person? How could we possibly know ourselves, or see ourselves EXACTLY AS WE ARE – unless we see as God sees? We cannot. Indeed, if there is one thing that happened after Adam sinned, it was that he wanted to hide. We have been hiding ever since. Even from ourselves.
It is actually good news that we cannot see ourselves. For God never intended for us to know ourselves in an obsessive way like that – what He intends is for us to KNOW HIM. And if we know Him, then we will be able to leave ourselves alone to Him. This will result in us a new creature – not made according to the, "mirror effect," but according to Christ.
But you see, the concept of knowing Christ to the point where we can leave ourselves alone is so utterly FOREIGN to our thinking that it almost seems absurd. And yet it is freedom. It is actually the NORMAL condition for a human being who is in Christ. The result would be holiness, reverence for God, and a manifestation of Christ through us. In short, we would be free from the, "mirror effect." Instead of seeing a Christ that is merely our own feelings and thinking reflecting back at us, we would see Him as He is. And the result would that He could live and move through us unencumbered by error and deception.
That We Might Trust
It is an absolute fact that we cannot be set free from self-trust until we are put into situations where we discover that we HAVE NOTHING to call upon IN ourselves. Oh, we might agree that there is nothing in ourselves – and this is good and right that we do agree. But we cannot truly SEE it as a reality, or be set FREE from it as bondage, until we are brought face to face with our emptiness. And often, this requires a trial.
There is enlargement in Christ that we have no idea exists. There is freedom in Christ that is beyond our ability to grasp. Not only have we no clue as to what ails us, but we have no clue as to where God wants to take us in Christ. Only if God takes the initiative to bring us into conflict and exposure and reduction can we see it, face it, and move into it.
Paul said that this was exactly what God was doing through his great trouble. He said that he had to face the fact that there was nothing in him that was able to meet the trial. He was pressed beyond any measure that he could call upon from himself. Paul discovered that he did not have what he needed, and that he had no way of getting it. When he looked to himself he was able only to despair of life, because what he found in himself as an answer to this trouble was DEATH. Death was the only answer possible. Yet all of this was ordained of God for one reason: That Paul would be brought to an even deeper level of faith – to a place in Christ that he would know nothing about unless he was brought there through trouble.
None of us are going to volunteer for trouble – indeed, we seek to avoid it. But God understands this. Furthermore, we don’t have the wisdom or knowledge of ourselves that would enable us to know how to construct a trial that would do the work God wants to do. There is nothing worse than flesh trying to crucify flesh -- only flesh can be produced. Sometimes the result is people who take pride in their humility. Sometimes what emerges are people who are self-proclaimed martyrs. No. God will bring the trouble we need. We merely need to surrender to Him IN IT. Only then will there be a real death – into HIS hands. And only then can there we a real resurrection.
Paul said that all of his trouble was so that, "we would not trust in ourselves, but in Him who raises the dead." Do we think that this was nothing but a matter of Paul jumping through the correct religious hoop for God? Nope. It is when we come to the place where we find nothing in ourselves, but then trust in God, that we have entered into new territory in Christ. This was a new dimension for Paul – in was new ground IN HIM that Christ now possessed.
Now note: Paul had not been rebellious, or unwilling to believe. No. But faith must be built. And it can only be built by facing contradiction. That is the nature of things. So God wasn’t dealing with Paul because did something wrong. No. In fact, it is only if we are walking rightly with Christ that God can take us on to a place like that of Paul.
We must see this. It is certainly possible to bring upon ourselves God’s judgment or His chastisement, due to sin and unbelief. But even if we are walking in faith and obeying God fully, we are going to encounter trials. In that case, these trials are the outcome of moving on with Christ. God will use them to set us free, and to enlarge us in Christ – if we respond to God IN THEM.
Of course, all of this seems so negative and fearful. And when trouble is happening it is not fun. But if we will allow God to bring us to these places in Christ, what we will get for our trouble, as Paul says, "cannot be prepared to the glory that is revealed IN US."
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom 8:18)
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1 Cor. 2:9-10)
Incredibly, it would seem that to be pressed out of measure is a blessing. Sure. We ought to desire that God bring about situations where we will be called to a greater enlargement in Christ. We ought to want to decrease that He might increase in and through us.
The Cross of Jesus Christ, which is the tool God uses to begin His work in us, is often viewed as a negative thing – as something that takes away from us. But it is not. The Cross sets us free. It is only to the degree that we do not understand the Truth, and are comfortable in that which binds us, that the Cross will seem like an enemy. But no. The Cross is the pathway to freedom and life. You cannot enter into fullness of LIFE unless the Cross first brings a death to all that would hinder.
So often, what hinders our growth in Christ is our trust in ourselves. We trust ourselves and don’t even realize it because, to us, it is normal to do so. But then God brings the Cross into our lives and presses us beyond the measure of anything about ourselves, and we find that we had indeed been living in a greater darkness than we suspected. And if we yield to God in these matters, as did Paul, we will indeed learn how to trust God and not ourselves – we will learn more than the teaching that states we ought to trust Him – we will learn to trust Him. And that will be freedom.
Have we recognized that self-trust is bondage – perhaps the greatest bondage of all? And that it is UNBELIEF? And have we recognized that God’s call to us to trust HIM is the pathway to not only all that God wants to do in our lives for HIS glory, but that this is the key to all that we really desire? Sure. This is precisely why being pressed out of measure is something in which we ought to rejoice. God is pressing us to Himself.
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