(8) We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;
(9) persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
(10) We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:8–10, NIV
Lord God, we thank you for your voice even when it is stern and we must go through hardship and suffering. Your voice speaks to us, and in your voice we can be glad and victorious in our life on earth. Come into our lives. May each of us realize that all we have gone through has been for the good. Be God and Lord over the nations. Be a refuge for all people. Grant that the sin and distress of this terrible time may soon pass and that we may hear your words, "Be comforted. I will come soon. All these terrors must pass by. My will is being done. My name must be honored. My kingdom and my rule are coming. So take heart and at all times look to your God and Father in heaven." Amen.
The context of the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8–10, NIV
2 Corinthians 4:7–18 explains that the priceless treasure of knowing God's glory through faith in Christ is kept in the fragile containers of human beings. In this case, this refers to Paul and his co-workers who preach the gospel. Their suffering is enormous, but God keeps them from being wiped out. They don't quit because even after they die, they know they will be resurrected, as Christ was. Then they will spend eternity with Him in a glory that will far outweigh and outlast the comparatively lightweight and momentary suffering of this life.
Paul insists that he and his co-workers for Christ would never act in a way that is disgraceful or dishonest, though he knows some are blinded by Satan from believing their message about Jesus. They cannot see the light of knowing Christ as God. That knowledge is a priceless treasure stored in the fragile containers of Paul and his friends. No matter how difficult their suffering in this work, Paul refuses to quit. He is confident that he will be resurrected after his death and then all his pain on this side of eternity won't even be worth comparing with the glory there.
Meaning of the words
"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair"
Paul has described the knowledge of God's glory revealed in Christ as a treasure and a light (2 Corinthians 4:6–7). God has shone this light into his heart and given him the mission of carrying this the gospel to the world.
However, Paul has said that the vessels for carrying this treasure, himself and his co-workers, are fragile clay jars. By this, Paul meant that he and his friends face many hardships in their ministry and their own power is limited. It is only the power of God that keeps them going.
Now Paul begins to describe their hardships. They are afflicted or hard-pressed in every way. Paul began this letter by describing an episode of great trauma, in which he and his team were sure they would die. They were ultimately delivered by God's power through the prayers of others. God's power is the reason that being hard-pressed has not caused them to be crushed. It's also the reason that being perplexed or "despairing" has not resulted in their being "in despair" or "totally despairing."
Some of Paul's accusers in Corinth may have been saying that an apostle who was truly connected to God should not experience so much suffering. That same false assumption persists today, in prosperity preachers and others who claim that faith alone can remove any hardships one might face. Paul shows that is simply not true. Those sent out by God may experience great suffering, but by God's power are not completely defeated. In other words, God allows them to be afflicted and to despair, but He always provides a way through, a way to keep going. This powerful use of weak vessels is all for His greater glory.
"Persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed"
This passage describes exactly how fragile Paul and his co-workers really are. They carry the most valuable treasure in the universe: the knowledge of access to God's glory through faith in Christ. And yet, they carry it in the fragile containers of their own lives. This is not an accident, by any means. This is a deliberate choice by God to prove the inherent power of the truth.
God allows them to suffer along the way, but he keeps them from ever fully being destroyed. Now Paul adds that he and his co-workers are persecuted. In other words, they are targeted by the enemies of Christ to be mistreated. This has included the Jewish religious leaders, pagan mobs, and Roman authorities. However, Paul insists, that even in their most severe persecution, God has never forsaken them. God has always been with them through the worst, keeping them from being crushed or totally despairing.
Paul adds that they have even been struck down under persecution. Paul had on at least one occasion been left for dead. He escaped, though (Acts 14:19–20). God had not yet allowed this servant of His to be destroyed; his work was not done. So Paul continues the mission to carry the treasure of the gospel to all who will receive it, as the following verses make clear.
"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body"
Scripture explains clearly that those who carry the gospel are just fragile vessels that contain a powerful truth. As in Paul's case, it is God's power, not their own, that keeps them going in the mission to take the gospel to the world.
They have been afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but they have never been crushed, in total despair, abandoned, or destroyed. They continue to carry the gospel to all who will hear. God allowed their physical bodies to continue to reflect the death of Jesus in His physical, earthly body that was crushed to pay for the sin of humanity. However, the bodies of Paul and his co-workers had been spared from being crushed (2 Corinthians 4:8) to show the life and power of Jesus in them, as well.
Paul's main point is that he and his friends did not proclaim themselves or carry the message in their own power. They proclaimed Christ in their weakness and suffering to show His power in and through them.
Paul and his co-workers, who preach the gospel, believe in God and they will spend eternity with Him in a glory that will far outweigh and outlast the comparatively lightweight and momentary suffering of this life.