We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
4:8-12 The apostles were great sufferers, yet they met with wonderful support. Believers may be forsaken of their friends, as well as persecuted by enemies; but their God will never leave them nor forsake them. There may be fears within, as well as fightings without; yet we are not destroyed. The apostle speaks of their sufferings as a counterpart of the sufferings of Christ, that people might see the power of Christ's resurrection, and of grace in and from the living Jesus. In comparison with them, other Christians were, even at that time, in prosperous circumstances.
We are troubled - We the apostles. Paul here refers to some of the trials to which he and his fellow laborers were subjected in making known the gospel. The "design" for which he does it seems to be to show them:
(1) What they endured in preaching the truth;
(2) To show the sustaining power of that gospel in the midst of afflictions; and,
(3) To conciliate their favor, or to remind them that they had endured these things on their account, 2 Corinthians 4:12-15.
Perhaps one leading design was to recover the affections of those of the Corinthians whose heart had been alienated from him, by showing them how much he had endured on their account. For this purpose he freely opens his heart to them, and tenderly represents the many and grievous pressures and hardships to which love to souls, and theirs among the rest, had exposed him - Doddridge. The whole passage is one of the most pathetic and beautiful to be found in the New Testament. The word rendered "troubled" (θλιβόμενοι thlibomenoi, from θλίβω thlibō) may have reference to wrestling, or to the contests in the Grecian games. It properly means, to press, to press together; then to press as in a crowd where there is a throng Mark 3:9; then to compress together Matthew 7:14; and then to oppress, or compress with evils, to distress, to afflict, 2 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 1:6. Here it may mean, that he was encompassed with trials, or placed in the midst of them so that they pressed upon him as persons do in a crowd, or, possibly, as a man was close pressed by an adversary in the games. He refers to the fact that he was called to endure a great number of trials and afflictions. Some of those trials he refers to in 2 Corinthians 7:5. "When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears."
On every side - In every respect. In every way. We are subjected to all kinds of trim and affliction.
Yet not distressed - This by no means expresses the force of the original; nor is it possible perhaps to express it in a translation. Tyndale renders it, "yet we are not without our shift." The Greek word used here (στενοχωρούμενοι stenochōroumenoi) has a relation to the word which is rendered "troubled." It properly means "to crowd into a narrow place; to straiten as to room; to be so straitened as not to be able to turn oneself." And the idea is, that though he was close pressed by persecutions and trials, yet he was not so hemmed in that he had no way to turn himself; his trials did not wholly prevent motion and action. He was not so closely pressed as a man would be who was so straitened that he could not move his body, or stir hand or foot. He had still resources; he was permitted to move; the energy of his piety, and the vigor of his soul could not be entirely cramped and impeded by the trials which encompassed him. The Syriac renders it: "In all things we are pressed, but are not suffocated." The idea is, he was not wholly discouraged, and disheartened, and overcome. He had resources in his piety which enabled him to bear up under these trials, and still to engage in the work of preaching the gospel.
We are perplexed - (ἀπορούμενοι aporoumenoi). This word (from ἄπορος aporos, "without resource," which is derived from α a, the alpha privative ("not"), and πόρος poros, way, or exit) means to be without resource; to know not what to do; to hesitate; to be in doubt and anxiety, as a traveler is, who is ignorant of the way, or who has not the means of prosecuting his journey. It means here, that they were often brought into circumstances of great embarrassment, where they hardly knew what to do, or what course to take. They were surrounded by foes; they were in want; they were in circumstances which they had not anticipated, and which greatly perplexed them.
But not in despair - In the margin, "not altogether without help or means." Tyndale renders this: "We are in poverty, but not utterly without somewhat." In the word used here, (ἐξαπορούμενοι exaporoumenoi) the preposition is intensive or emphatic, and means "utterly, quite." The word means to be utterly without resource; to despair altogether; and the idea of Paul here is, that they were not left "entirely" without resource. Their needs were provided for; their embarrassments were removed; their grounds of perplexity were taken away; and unexpected strength and resources were imparted to them. When they did not know what to do; when all resources seemed to fail them, in some unexpected manner they would be relieved and saved from absolute despair. How often does this occur in the lives of all Christians! And how certain is it, that in all such cases God will interpose by his grace, and aid his people, and save them from absolute despair.
in despair: or, altogether without help, or, means
We are troubled on every side,.... Or afflicted; , either "in every place", wherever we are, into whatsoever country, city, or town we enter, we are sure to meet with trouble, of one sort or another; for wherever we be, we are in the world, in which we must expect tribulation: or "always", every day and hour we live, as in 2 Corinthians 4:10
we are never free from one trial or another: or "by everyone"; by all sorts of persons, good and bad, professors and profane, open persecutors and false brethren; yea, some of the dear children of God, weak believers, give us trouble: or "with every sort" of trouble, inward and outward; trouble from the world, the flesh and the devil:
yet not distressed; so as to have no hope, or see no way of escape; so as to have no manner of comfort, or manifestations of the love of God; or so as to be straitened in our own souls; for notwithstanding all our troubles, we have freedom at the throne of grace, and in our ministry; we can go with liberty to God, and preach the Gospel boldly to you:
we are perplexed; and sometimes know not what to do, which way to take, what course to steer, or how we shall be relieved and supplied; we are sometimes at the utmost loss about things temporal, how we shall be provided for with food and raiment; nor are we without our perplexing thoughts, doubts, and fears, about spiritual affairs:
but not in despair; of the Lord's appearing and working salvation, both in a temporal and spiritual sense. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
See on tribulation, Matthew 13:21. The verb also has the meaning of to straiten, contract, as Matthew 7:14, where τεθλιμμένη, A.V. narrow, is properly rendered by Rev. straitened.
Only here and 2 Corinthians 6:12. From στενός narrow, and χῶρος a space. Hence cramped. The A.V. gives no suggestion of the figurative paradox. We are pressed closely, yet not cramped. Rev., pressed on every side, yet not straitened.
From ἀ not, and πόρος a passage. Lit., to be unable to find a way out.
In despair (ἐξαπορούμενοι)
Rev., very neatly, rendered unto despair. The word expresses an advance of thought on perplexed, yet on the same line. We are perplexed, but not utterly perplexed. The play between the Greek words cannot be rendered.
8. Greek, "BEING hard pressed, yet not inextricably straitened; reduced to inextricable straits" (nominative to "we have," 2Co 4:7).
on every side—Greek, "in every respect" (compare 2Co 4:10, "always"; 2Co 7:5). This verse expresses inward distresses; 2Co 4:9, outward distresses (2Co 7:5). "Without were fightings; within were fears." The first clause in each member of the series of contrasted participles, implies the earthiness of the vessels; the second clause, the excellency of the power.
perplexed, but not in despair—Greek, "not utterly perplexed." As perplexity refers to the future, so "troubled" or "hard pressed" refers to the present.
We are troubled on every side - We have already seen, in the notes on the ninth chapter of the preceding epistle, that St. Paul has made several allusions to those public games which were celebrated every fifth year at the Isthmus of Corinth; and those games have been in that place particularly described. In this and the three following verses the apostle makes allusion to the contests at those games; and the terms which he employs in these verses cannot be understood but in reference to those agonistical exercises to which he alludes. Dr. Hammond has explained the whole on this ground; and I shall here borrow his help. There are four pairs of expressions taken from the customs of the agones.
1. Troubled on every side, yet not distressed.
2. Perplexed, but not in despair.
3. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Cast down, but not destroyed.
Three of these pairs belong to the customs of wrestling; the fourth, to that of running in the race.
Troubled on every side, etc. - Εν παντι θλιβομενοι. The word θλιβεσθαι, belongs clearly to παλη wrestling. So says Aristotle, Rhet. lib. i. cap. 5, (and the Scholiast on that place), ὁ γαρ δυναμενος - θλιβειν και κατεχειν, παλαιστικος· "He that can gripe his adversary, and take him up, is a good wrestler;" there being two dexterities in that exercise:
1. to gripe, and
2. to throw down, which Hesychius calls ωθειν and κρατειν; the first of these is here mentioned, and expressed by θλιβεσθαι, to be pressed down; to which is here opposed, as in a higher degree, στενοχωρεισθαι, to be brought to distress, as when one cannot get out of his antagonist's hands, nor make any resistance against him. So in Isaiah: στενοχωρουμενοι ου δυναμεθα μαχεσθαι, we are brought to such extremities that we can fight no longer.
Perplexed, but not in despair - Απορουμενοι, αλλ' ουκ εξαπορουμενοι. The word απορεισθαι, to be in perplexity, is fit for the wrestler, who being puzzled by his antagonist's skill knows not what to do: so in Hesychius, απορουντες, αμηχανουντες, they that are not able to do or attempt any thing, yet are not εξαπορουμενοι, they miscarry not finally, ορθοι ἱσταμενοι, stand after all upright; ουκ απογινωσκοντες και ἡττωμενοι, despair not, nor are they overcome, but find a happy issue out of all, being at last conquerors.
4:8 We are troubled, and c. - The four articles in this verse respect inward, the four in the next outward, afflictions. In each clause the former part shows the earthen vessels; the latter, the excellence of the power. Not crushed - Not swallowed up in care and anxiety. Perplexed - What course to take, but never despairing of his power and love to carry us through.
4:8,9 In these two verses are four pairs of contrasts which should the frailty of the instruments and the greatness of the power:
(1) Troubled on every side, yet not distressed. pressed on every side (Revised Version), but not hemmed in by the pressure.
(2) Perplexed, but not in despair. In apparently overwhelming difficulties, but never reduced to despair.
(3) Persecuted, but not forsaken. Persecuted by their enemies, but not forsaken and delivered over to them.
(4) Cast down, but not destroyed. Overthrown and cast to the earth, but even then rescued from the enemy, standing over them prostrate, so that they are not destroyed.