7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Clay Jars? It was customary to conceal treasure in clay jars, which had little value or beauty and did not attract attention to themselves and their precious contents. Here they represent Paul's unworthiness. Paul is saying that God's all surpassing power in his life from God, not from himself.
Paul lets us know he is going through some hard stuff. He is hard pressed on every side, but not crushed. The pressure never got to the point where there was no escape or way out.
He is perplexed but not in despair. Although Paul may have been at a loss about how to proceed, he never went off the deep end.
He is persecuted but not abandoned. Paul was pursued from city to city by hostile Jews. But through it all, God never abandoned him.
Finally, he is struck down by the enemy but not destroyed. Paul was not only pursued by hostile Jews, but when they caught up with him, they stirred up trouble whenever they could.
When Paul talks about the death of Jesus he has in mind the hardships, troubles and frustrations that Jesus faced during his three year ministry. The loneliness, the disappointments with his disciples, the exhaustion, the constant harassment by opponents, the crowd's continuous demands, the mocking from his enemies, being left by his friends, the hours on the cross, the thirst and then the end.
Jesus taught his followers that if anyone would come after him, "he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me".
Our reaction to hard times tends to be "grin and bear it". Paul's approach is to make clear that it is God's power and the life of Jesus that empower and sustain him, and not his own strength. The Corinthians, like many Christians today, believed that adversity was inconsistent with the Spirit-filled Christian life.
Paul's opponents claimed that it is through the working of signs, wonders and miracles. Paul, on the other hand, maintained that God's power is able to make itself known most effectively through hardship and distress.
God's power and the life of Jesus are able to sustain us. All surpassing power is from God, not from ourselves! When we rely on our own strength we don't see the miraculous power of God in our life and we don't grow spiritually. When we rely on God's power he sustains and empowers us to get through any adversity.