The verse 2 Corinthians 4:9 states “persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”. This verse comes from a powerful passage where the apostle Paul is describing the hardships he and other followers of Christ face for the sake of the gospel. Though they face intense persecution, Paul declares they are not abandoned or defeated. There is deep meaning in this verse that can encourage all believers.
The Context of 2 Corinthians 4:9
Paul wrote 2 Corinthians as a letter to the church in Corinth he had helped establish. The Christians in Corinth were struggling with false teachers who promoted a distorted gospel. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul is defending his ministry in the face of opposition. He explains that he does not lose heart in spite of the challenges he faces (v.1). Paul says he renounced secret and shameful ways, not distorting God’s word, but setting forth the truth plainly (v.2). Even if some do not accept the gospel, it remains veiled to those who are perishing (v.3).
The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing Christ’s light (v.4). But Paul preaches Christ Jesus as Lord and himself as the Corinthian’s servant for Jesus’ sake (v.5). God commanded the light to shine out of darkness, which has shone in Paul’s heart to give the glory of the gospel of Christ (v.6). This treasure of the gospel is contained in jars of clay (frail human bodies) to show the power comes from God, not himself (v.7).
Paul Lists His Sufferings for the Gospel
After establishing this context, Paul lists the sufferings he endures as part of his ministry in verses 8-9:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (vv.8-9)
Despite intense afflictions, Paul has not been crushed or driven to despair. He faces persecution, but he is not abandoned by God. Though he has been struck down, he has not been defeated. Paul’s hope remains alive in the midst of suffering.
The Paradox of the Gospel
Paul then explains the meaning behind this paradox:
Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (vv.10-11).
Paul says he and other believers carry around the dying of Jesus in their own bodies. They face death and persecution as they follow Christ. However, this results in the life of Jesus being revealed through them. Just as Jesus’ own death resulted in resurrection life, the suffering of Christians results in new spiritual life.
Paul saw continuity between Christ’s sufferings and his own. As Christ’s followers endure hardship for the sake of the gospel, the power of the risen Christ is shown. Persecution can serve to advance the gospel when believers respond with love and endurance.
The Hope of the Resurrection
After describing their present trials, Paul points to the hope of resurrection:
So death is at work in us, but life in you (v. 12).
Paul says though he and his companions face death daily, the Corinthian church is experiencing new life through their sacrificial ministry. Their trials are leading to the Corinthians’ salvation.
Paul then quotes from Psalm 116:10:
“I believed, and so I spoke”—with that same spirit of faith we also believe, and so we also speak (v.13).
Paul believes and therefore speaks the gospel boldly, even in the midst of affliction. He has the same faith as the psalmist who trusted God to deliver him from distress. Paul continues:
knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence (v.14).
Paul looks ahead to the reward of resurrection. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, he will also raise believers to new life in his presence. This hope gives him courage to endure hardship.
God’s Power Sustains Through Trials
Paul returns to the theme of how God sustains him in affliction:
For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God (v.15).
His endurance of trials allows more people to experience God’s grace, increasing thanksgiving and bringing glory to God. As he concludes this passage, Paul reiterates the key paradox:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (vv.16-17).
Paul does not lose heart because day by day his inner person is being renewed, even as his body decays under persecution. His present afflictions are minor compared to the eternal glory to come. Paul can endure through God’s power at work within him.
Principles for Believers
What does this powerful passage teach believers today? We learn:
– The Christian life involves suffering for the sake of the gospel. Just as Christ was persecuted, we will face trials as we serve him (2 Tim. 3:12).
– Hardship should not cause us to lose heart. God promises to sustain us through every trial. Our inner selves can be renewed daily through the Spirit’s work.
– Suffering can serve a redemptive purpose. As we follow Christ’s model of laying down our lives, we spread the message of grace to more people.
– We can have confident hope in the resurrection. Our present afflictions are momentary compared to the eternal glory to come.
– God’s power is shown through our weakness. When we endure persecution in his strength, his life is revealed.
Paul’s Example of Perseverance
Paul modeled what it means to be persecuted but not forsaken. Earlier in his ministry he had been stoned, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked and attacked by mobs (2 Cor. 11:23-27). Yet he did not quit serving Christ. Why? Because he knew God had not forsaken him. The Lord strengthened him to not only endure trials but to rejoice in them (Rom. 5:3-5; Col. 1:24).
As Christ told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). God’s strength shines brightest when we are helpless. Paul could say “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). His boasting was in his weaknesses, through which God’s power lived in him (2 Cor. 12:9).
Paul embraced his persecutions because he knew God worked through them. Difficulties drove Paul to depend more fully on the Lord. He gained a spiritual maturity and insight that could only be developed through affliction. Paul knew God would use his trials to accomplish his sovereign purposes.
Application for Christians Today
Christians today can learn from Paul’s example. When we encounter various trials as followers of Jesus, we are not left defenseless. God promises to remain with us and uphold us by his grace. He will give us strength equal to the task (2 Cor. 12:9).
As we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power, our inner selves are renewed day by day. We gain victory over sin, develop Christlike character, and experience joy in the Lord despite circumstances. We become witnesses used by God as his life within sustains and transforms us.
Our persecutions are temporary, but their impact is eternally significant. Our endurance inspires and emboldens other believers. Our response of grace and forgiveness challenges unbelievers with the love of Christ. Suffering creates opportunities for the gospel that cannot come through comfort and ease.
We can embrace this truth – as we share in Christ’s sufferings, we will also share abundantly in his comfort (2 Cor. 1:5). Our trials produce in us an eternal glory beyond comparison. As we fix our eyes on the unseen reality of resurrection, we can walk through the valleys with gospel hope.
Just as we identify with Jesus in his death, we will also know him in the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10). On the day he returns, he will raise us to new life without the presence of sin and suffering. We will rejoice in the presence of Christ and the full experience of our salvation. The trials we faced for the gospel will blossom into an eternal weight of glory.
Until that day, may we spur each other on toward perseverance. May we not lose heart or become discouraged by affliction. But in our weaknesses, let God’s power be revealed as we proclaim and live out the good news of Jesus Christ. He is waiting to show his strength to all who lean into him during seasons of persecution. We are struck down, but never struck out. Persecuted, but never forsaken or forgotten. By God’s grace we will overcome.