7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—
10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.
treasure (v.7) = stored-up treasures, collected treasures (see Wuest’s expanded translation below)
excellence (v.7) = excess, preeminence, exceeding, lit. “a throwing beyond.”
perplexed (v.8) = at a lost, in doubt
despair (v.8) = without resources, without exit, having no way out.
forsaken (v.9) = left behind, abandoned
manifested (v.10) = made clear, made known
For we have this treasure [the reflection of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ] in earthenware containers, in order that the super-excellence of the power might be from God as a source and not from us. We are being hard pressed from every side, but we are not hemmed in. We are bewildered, not knowing which way to turn, but not utterly destitute of possible measures or resources. We are being persecuted, but not left in the lurch, not abandoned, not let down. We are being knocked down, but not destroyed, always bearing about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus in order that the life of Jesus might be clearly and openly shown in our mortal body. So that death is operative in us but the life is operative in you. — Wuest, page 422.
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul was writing about his own ministry, as seen, for example, in verses 1 and 5. So, the “we” in verses 7-11 refers to Paul and those in ministry with him too, although the truth is applicable to all who minister.
God does not deposit “the riches of His grace” in golden receptacles or steel coffers. He does not commit them to angels or archangels, but to men, frail, fragile men, albeit redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Again, Paul is our example in this, for in Ephesians 3:8 he says: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Indeed, he states in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 that God has “chosen” the foolish, the weak, the base, those that “are not,” “to bring to nought the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence,” and this is exactly what is taught here in 2 Corinthians 4:7. …
Note the words “on every side.” he was surrounded by trouble; yet the Lord did not allow it to smother or crush him. God always said to His enemies, as it were: “Thus far and no farther.”
Often he was “perplexed,” experiencing the truth of Romans 8:26: “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Yet he was never in “despair,” for he well knew the truth of the foregoing passage and was wholly willing to leave the outcome in the loving hands of Him who worketh all things together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
The apostle was often persecuted, but never forsaken. He had learned the value of Christian friends, and walked daily in fellowship with God.
Often he had been “cast down,” but never had he been “destroyed.” There may be an allusion here to the boxer, for Paul, in his writings, uses many of these metaphors from the games and public life of the Roman world. In that case this may be an allusion to the boxer: knocked down, but not out. In any case, the apostle had come through many adversities, but by the grace of God was still “fighting the good fight of the faith.” — Stam, pages 80-81.