“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” II Corinthians 4: 8-10.
Few would dispute the fact that we live in a world of evil. Our world is characterized by sin, wars and death. But God does not deliver us from the world. So how can we, as believers, function effectively? Let’s examine Paul’s attitude.
“Troubled, but not distressed.” You can remove the “dis” and call it “stressed.” Our American society suffers greatly from stress. You, as an individual, may also suffer from the routine pressures of daily life. The word “troubled” means “afflicted in many ways.” Distressed refers to being cramped in a narrow space; although pressed for room…but still having some room.
Paul was the eternal optimist. He was pursued by his enemies, even captured by his enemies, but not defeated by his enemies. The figure here is of a combatant pressed sorely by his antagonist. The word “perplexed” means “to be unable to find a way out; at a loss as to what to say or do next”. Have you ever felt this way? Paul indicates that, although he is “perplexed,” he is not totally perplexed. Then Paul refers to being “pressed,” a term used concerning the squeezing of grapes. I may be “pressed in,” writes Paul, “but I’m not hemmed in.” Although unsure as to which way to turn, Paul always found a way open. He may have had a temporary loss of direction, but not a loss of purpose. To make his case, Paul uses a series of present passive participles that picture his outlook on life.
Paul then adds “yet not straitened.” This means “to be in a tight, narrow place; pressed closely, but not totally cramped; to contract.” Perhaps Paul had in mind the jail cells he had known. Despite all his persecutions and trials, Paul could confidently write “yet not in despair.” Paul is using a Greek word-play here, indicating that, though often at a loss for what to do next, he had not lost out with God.
What is your situation today as you read this? Do you feel hemmed in, cramped, unable to find a way out? Assume Paul’s attitude. Realize that God is on your side. No weapon formed against you can prosper. Don’t give in to self-pity and despair. Although you may have been knocked down, you have not been knocked out. Every time Paul got knocked down, he came up preaching. If life gave Paul lemons, he would just make some lemonade. Paul knew, as we should, that when a child of God feels constrictions, God is placing us in that mold, that pressure situation, for a higher purpose. We must trust Him despite our present circumstances.
“Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed”
Paul admits it. “Yes, people are after me to kill me. But I am not forsaken.” Jesus never deserted him. Pursued by men? Yes, but not forsaken by God. “Forsaken” here means “to leave behind.” “True,” writes Paul, “I am pursued by my enemies, but I’m not left to their power.” Paul uses a hunting analogy. He was pursued as a prey by hateful men who dogged Paul’s steps till the day he died. In Acts 14:19, they stoned Paul and left him outside the city for dead. What happened? God raised him up! Read the story. Next, Paul refers to being “cast down.” The term means smitten down, as if overtaken by a foe. Paul was captured by his enemies, but they couldn’t kill him just yet. So Paul adds, “but not destroyed.” One cannot kill what never dies. Paul was conscious of his own mortality.
“Cast down” means to be thrown down. The picture Paul draws here is a man at death’s door, with the enemy standing over him, ready to deliver the final, fatal stroke. This is an illusion to gladiatorial arena combat. But even the most devastating thrust of Satan’s fiery darts cannot prove fatal.
“Cast to the ground?” Paul admits it…….“But not killed”
“Struck down physically?” Paul does not deny it…..“But not spiritually”
“Have I cause for despair?” Certainly…..“Yet I’m not in desperation”
“Do my enemies capture me?” Sometimes…..“But God always delivers me”
Check out Paul!
Let him be thrown in jail, but angels open the doors.
Let enemies plot against his life, but his sister’s boy will come and warn him.
Let Paul be dragged before Felix, Festus and Agrippa, but they all find no fault in him.
Let people vow to kill him, and his friends help him escape over the wall in a basket.
Let him be shipwrecked, but not a hair of his head will be harmed.
Let the Apostle get snake bit, and he simply shakes it off into the fire.
Let Paul be misunderstood, but God always sends a Luke or a Barnabas to befriend him.
“But not destroyed”
Perhaps Paul is thinking of the future, suspecting his enemies would finally kill him. Although they finally did, Paul was not made a prisoner of his fears, nor by his enemies. Paul always considered himself a “prisoner of Jesus Christ.” Let’s take Paul as our example of spiritual optimism despite tough circumstances.
Read Colossians 3:3. We are indestructible when our life is “hid with Christ in God.” But why do we not receive the fatal blow? Not because we can ward it off, but because Jesus is with us “always, even to end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). Even at the point of our weakest weakness, God’s power on our behalf will manifest. Yes, we can be troubled, confused, persecuted and even cast down. But we have Jesus as our Champion.
Just look at Paul’s situation. It was desperate. No man, by his own wit and abilities, could ever have endured or escaped so much. Although his enemies pursued and overtook him, even captured him and smote him down, yet he was not defeated. Jesus warned us we would have tribulation , indicating we would be hedged in, but not cooped up; not without anxiety, but not in despair; hounded from place to place, but not forsaken; dejected, but not destroyed.
Throughout our severest trials, His precious Holy Spirit will continually protect and sustain us. Paul is speaking of current, constant and continuing experiences, as his use of the term “always bearing” in verse 10 indicates. These were not occasional experiences for Paul, they were daily. For Paul, his ministry was one uninterrupted succession of indignities and suffering. Paul never took a vacation. He didn’t go to Rome for some “ R and R.” Paul didn’t go to Rome as a tourist, but as a prisoner. Paul admits both his inability and God’s ability.
Hostile forces on all sides press in, but external problems only caused him to praise the Lord for internal stability and victory. Paul doesn’t downplay sufferings, but he knew that outside pressures cannot him. The physical, emotional and mental stress was real, but Paul didn’t trust in his own strength. This was the secret of his victory—and yours. Paul’s point in this passage is God’s power resolving the human dilemma of why the godly often suffer. The “but not’s” of II Corinthians 4 always comfort us, for though things may be very bad, but not as bad as they could be. Paul’s afflictions were indeed serious, but not fatal.
There are three lessons we can learn from Paul about trials for Jesus’ sake:
1. Trials are sometimes very great.
2. Although they may be great, they are not unbearable.
3. The Biblical attitude toward trials will bring victory.
‘distressed…..but not defeated’
‘beaten-up…..but not beaten down’
‘criticized…..but not ostracized’
‘defamed…..but not damaged’
‘incarcerated…..but not incapacitated’
‘discouraged…..but not undetermined
‘frustrated…..but not infuriated’
‘dejected…..but not destroyed’
“Always bearing in our bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus”
As we live for God, we “bear about in our bodies” our sufferings as an example of His great sufferings, that His life be made manifest in us. It’s been well stated that “You are the only Bible some people will ever read.” People are watching you, looking to see the Christ of Calvary exemplified in your life. You don’t belong to yourself, for Jesus purchased you with His own blood on the Cross. Nothing that happens to you as a Christian can destroy you. No weapon formed against you can prosper. Realize anew that His grace really is more than sufficient in any situation. Paul’s trials didn’t make him bitter: they made him better. Get on top of the mountain and don’t let the mountain get on top of you.