8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.
9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
10 who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,
11 you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.
ignorant (v.8) = have no knowledge of (sometimes willfully)
trouble (v.8) — Perhaps the riot in Ephesus when the Ephesian silversmiths were angry that Paul’s preaching was ruining their business — Acts 19:23-41.
burdened (v.8) = weighed down
above strength (v.8) = beyond his power to resist
despaired (v.8) = to be utterly without resource. Paul felt that he was about to die and that he had nowhere to turn to escape
So narrow was the Apostle’s escape from death that he had the sentence of death in himself, that is, he had the feelings of a man sentenced to death. But God saved him on that occasion (v.10); and Paul was sure that he would enjoy further similar salvations; and so would also the Corinthians (v.6), they helping by prayer so that this “gift” of deliverance (v.11) would be bestowed, not only upon the Apostle, but upon them also, for those who pray for others to be delivered from trial share the joy of the deliverance. — Williams, pages 896-897.
In 1 Corinthians 15:32 the apostle states that “humanly speaking” he had “fought with beasts at Ephesus,” and his meaning is clear enough. In the Revelation this word “beast,” Gr., theerion, is used 44 times, each time indicating the character of the individual referred to. — For example, men will call the coming world ruler of prophecy a great statesman, and the antichrist a great religious leader, but God calls them both “beasts” (Revelation 13). — Stam, page 37
helping together (v.11) = supplication
gift (v.11) = grace
we had the sentence of death in ourselves (v.9) — Paul felt like he had been literally condemned to death, and that caused him to place his reliance on God, who raises the dead.
Verse 10 may be applied to the believer’s salvation from sin, but we believe that the apostle here refers to the horrible death he might have suffered in Ephesus, from which he had so graciously been delivered, and from which he was being delivered, even though his enemies had hounded him wherever he went—and from which he trusted the Lord to finally deliver him. — Stam, page 38.
I’m not going to pretend I fully understand verse 11. Paul is saying that the Corinthians have engaged—or can engage—in prayers of supplication for him. Most commentaries read this as the apostle thanking the Corinthians for their prayers which resulted in his deliverance from death. But in verse 8, he said he was telling them what happened so they wouldn’t be ignorant, so how could they have prayed for him if they didn’t know what he was facing? The immediate context is trusting that God “will still deliver us.” So is the apostle saying that their prayers will help deliver him in the future? And by future, does he mean future ministry or ultimate deliverance after death? And does he mean physical deliverance or the deliverance of trusting God when persecution occurs?
He goes on to say that many people can be thankful on Paul’s behalf for the grace that was gifted to him through many (who prayed for him). Is this referring to past prayers or future prayers? Is it referring to past deliverance, future deliverance, or the grace that helped him face his trials. Would God have not delivered Paul if people hadn’t prayed? I’m not arguing against praying for others—the Bible makes it absolutely clear that we should. I’m just not sure what Paul said they prayed for and how it changed his circumstances.