“The elaboration of the hardships Paul has endured [in 2 Corinthians 4:7-15] signifies not merely the normal mortality of the messengers–their human frailties, their aging, and their physical death–but specifically their vulnerability to tribulations, perplexities, and persecutions. The ‘treasure’–that is, the message of Jesus Christ as Lord and as bearer of the divine glory (4:5-6)–is conveyed not via supersuccessful vehicles, who encounter no opposition, but by humans who are exposed to negative reactions, sometimes violent, which the message is inclined to evoke. And this vulnerability in turn serves a greater end–namely, that people discover that the colossal power belongs to God and not to the human bearers of the message.
Two details about the list of hardships (vv. 8-9) need to be noted. First, the antithesis, stated four times (‘but not’) is a bit unusual. It is not a contrast between two groups of messengers (as in 1 Cor. 4:8-13), but a contrast between dreadful situations that have occurred and potentially disastrous ones that have not occurred. The reader is teased by the list into wondering why the potentially disastrous situations have not followed the dreadful ones. If afflicted, why not crushed? If perplexed, why not driven to despair? If persecuted, why not forsaken? If struck down, why not destroyed? The answer, in fact, is already given: the power of God that exceeds comparison (v. 7). It is not simply that Paul has found himself in dire circumstances but somehow has managed to grit his teeth and hold on, that his courage or reason has overcome the hardships. It is rather that the hardships are seen to be the occasion for discerning the divine power of the gospel. And this amazing recognition casts afflictions in a different light. Though still dreadful (and no doubt painful), they no longer carry an ultimate threat. As Bultmann put it, ‘all suffering loses its desperate character.’
Second, the list of afflictions is preceded by the phrase ‘in every way,’ a phrase reinforced by the use of two adverbs in the following verses: ‘always’ (v. 10) and ‘constantly’ (v. 11). The effect is to make the list of specific afflictions into a description of the way the whole of Paul’s ministry is experienced and perceived. It is not so much particular incidents of suffering that are in view (as in 11:23-29) as the fact that such incidents characterize the preaching of the gospel, the bearing of the treasure. Being an apostle and thereby an advocate of the revelation of God’s glory in Christ means facing a life marked by conflicts and hardships.” (Charles B. Cousar, A Theology of the Cross: The Death of Jesus in the Pauline Letters, pp. 150-51)