NOTES II Corinthians
2:12-17 (click here for study)
After Paul finishes his written exhortation to restore the repentant brother to fellowship after he experiences corporate discipline, he resumes a recitation of his itinerary, explaining how his heart was longing for word of his beloved Corinthians. He had already explained why he decided not to visit them again at the time he originally planned to go there, and he continues by explaining how restless he was for news of them.
He went to Troas, he explained, "to preach the gospel of Christ." A consistent theme in all of Paul's letters is his dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything he did, every place he went, resulted from his dedication to God's direction for his preaching of the gospel. His going to Troas to preach was a continuation of this call on his life.
He reveals this focus on the gospel in several places in the New Testament. In Romans 1:1-5, for example, he states that he was "set apart for the gospel of God."
"Through him and for his name's sake we received grace and apostleship to all people from among the Gentiles," he declares. Paul took seriously his call to be Christ's apostle to the Gentiles.
In 2 Corinthians 4:2-4 he talks about "setting forth the truth plainly" to every man, and he discusses the fact that "our gospel" is veiled to those who are blinded by the "god of this age." In 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 he speaks of Timothy working with him in spreading the gospel, and in Acts 14 Luke records that Paul and Barnabas traveled from city to city, preaching the gospel and reporting back to the Christians in Antioch that God had opened the door of the gospel to the Gentiles.
After God stopped Saul in his murderous tracks by blinding him on the Damascus road, his life changed completely. Paul lived the rest of his life for Jesus and for proclaiming the gospel. He traveled at the Spirit's instruction; he did not plan for his own pleasure. He went where God led him, and his entire life was for the sake of the Jesus.
As Paul is recounting his travels that took him to Antioch, he confesses to the Corinthians that after he arrived in Troas where he found the Lord had opened a door for him to preach, he did not stay there. He had expected to meet Titus in Troas, who was to bring with him news from the Corinthians. Titus, however, was not in Troas, and Paul "had no peace of mind." He left Troas and moved on to Macedonia.
Paul experienced great opposition in Macedonia, but his heart was comforted by finally connecting with Titus. Titus not only strengthened and supported Paul, but he also brought good news to Paul from the believers in Corinth. He told Paul about the Corinthians' "longing" for Paul, their "deep concern" for him, and their "deep sorrow." (2 Corinthians 7:5-7) This news from the church about whom he worried so much brought Paul great joy, even in his suffering. His concern for the Corinthians and his openness in telling them about his anxiety and joy gives us a glimpse of the depth of Paul's attachment and love for the people to whom he ministered.
Paul is often represented as a crusty, blunt, demanding and even confusing teacher and writer. When one looks closely at his letters, however, they reveal that he drew great emotional support from his relationships with those he brought to Christ. This letter to the Corinthians, a difficult group of believers who struggled with sin and rebellion among themselves, reveals they were precious to Paul. He loved them deeply and felt responsible for their support and encouragement. He also longed for reassurances from them of their loyalty and love. Paul was not merely a dispassionate apostle who moved through towns, preaching and leaving change and upheaval in his wake. Rather, he took full responsibility for following up and providing nurture for those whom he won to Jesus. In addition, he longed for their love and accepted it as comfort from the Lord.
Thanks Be to God
After Paul tells the Corinthians of his departure for Macedonia, he breaks off from his narrative-which he does not resume until 2 Corinthians 7:5-and begins to praise God for His faithfulness and for His power and grace which are great enough to handle any possible situation. Paul uses the metaphor of the Roman triumphal procession in this passage.
When a Roman general returned from war victorious, he would lead a triumphal procession through the streets, parading his prisoners and also his soldiers for all the citizens to see and celebrate. As the procession moved through town, people lined the streets in celebration, filling the air with the scent of spices which they burned and the sound of cheers and applause.
In verses 14-16, Paul compares the life of believers with the soldiers of a victorious Roman general. God in Christ leads his people, whom He has called to be involved in spiritual warfare, in a triumphant procession. Jesus is the one General who will always win his war, and we as his foot soldiers, although we may suffer terrible losses and sustain injury and damage, will ultimately march triumphantly with the Winner. Our triumph will be public, and now, while we're still engaged in warfare, we march triumphantly before the enemy.
This passage is the second time Paul has used the metaphor of a Roman procession. In 1 Corinthians 4:9 he uses a similar metaphor, but in that instance he doesn't picture himself as a triumphant soldier. Rather, he compares himself with the prisoners condemned to die in the arena.
These opposing descriptions, however, do not reflect mental instability in Paul! In the 1 Corinthians passage Paul is describing the sense he has of being battered and unrewarded for his total dedication to his call as an apostle. In 1 Corinthians Paul is not making a statement of God's power to win or not to win; rather, he is making a statement of how his role looks to others, even believers, who are not pouring out their lives for the sake of the gospel. He is battered and broken, and he compares himself to a prisoner who is condemned to die. Even the people to whom he ministered do not come to his defense or uphold him. He and his fellow apostles, he says, have been made to look like fools, not just to men put to the powers in the universe. The people on whom he spends himself are thankless, and nothing protects him from the wounds of war. He is ridiculed and scorned in the same way prisoners are when they are marched through town after a Roman victory.
Both descriptions are true. Paul suffers intensely for his commitment to Jesus. He also, however, experiences the joy and even euphoria of seeing the gospel changing lives and breaking down spiritual strongholds. The sufferings he experiences are worth the victory and joy that he knows belong to Jesus and to the people He appoints to serve Him.
In this triumphant passage Paul is continuing to apply a principle that recurs throughout the Bible. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are full of admonitions to praise God and to give him thanks.
"O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever," said David (Ps. 30:11-12); "You are my GodI will give you thanksGive thanks to the Lord for he is good, his mercy endures forever." (Ps. 118:28-29)
Paul, who knew intimately the transformation that comes from repenting of deception and arrogance and allowing the Holy Spirit to give him a new heart and new work, continues the theme of thanksgiving in his epistles. "Just as you received Christ, continue to live in Himoverflowing with thankfulness," he wrote to the Colossians. (Col. 2:6-7) "Let the peace of Christ rule in your heartsand be thankful," he continued. (Col. 3:15)
"Be joyful always; pray continually," Paul writes to the Thessalonians; "give thanks in all circumstances." (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
The author of Hebrews also admonishes his readers to give thanks. "Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken," he says, "let us be thankful." (Hebrews 12:28)
As Christ-followers we without excuse for thanklessness. We have certain salvation; we have a relationship with the God of the universe; we have His Spirit indwelling us. No matter what circumstances we experience, nothing can take away God's personal intimacy with us. Nothing can remove his hand of protection and comfort and strength from us. His love and authority will guard us no matter what happens to us.
Reality is much bigger than we can see. The truth about God's presence and strength in our lives is always the same. He is in us and with us and around us always, and whether or not we sense his presence does not change reality. By faith we can praise God, acting on the truth of his faithfulness. The joy and rest of Jesus can be in us even in trauma, and we can praise him even when we can't sense him.
Fragrance of Life
Paul describes Christ-followers in evocative language in v. 15-16, "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life."
The metaphor of fragrance is a continuation of the metaphor of the triumphal procession. During those processions, people lined the streets and burned sweet-smelling spices as part of the victory celebration. As a part of Christ's triumphal procession, Paul says, we are not only the victorious foot soldiers but also the fragrant aroma that symbolized success.
The metaphor of fragrance has an expanded meaning when seen in the light of the Old Testament ceremonies of worship. Burning incense was kept on the altar inside the temple in front of the curtain that hid the Most Holy Place. The sweet aroma of the incense always rose to God, symbolizing the worship and the petitions of the Israelites. In the Old Testament, incense was a form of offering to God. Only the priests offered it, and they did so on behalf of the people.
In the New Testament the symbol of incense is expanded. "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering," Paul wrote to the Ephesians. (Eph. 5:2) To the Phlippians he wrote that the gifts they sent him were "a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God."
The metaphor of incense and offerings has been enlarged from the Old Testament understanding of sacrifices to God to the total giving of one's own self and resources for the sake of Christ. Such giving is made possible only because Jesus fulfilled the meaning of the Old Testament incense and became the perfect, fragrant offering to God. He, in turn, fills us with his Spirit so we become fragrant offerings to God when we allow him to be poured out through us to the world.
When we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and to put Christ's love and life in us, we literally bring the presence of God into the world. Those who desire truth and are actively seeking it respond to the presence of God in us with joy and a desire for more. It is not we to whom they are responding; it is the presence and love of God that we mediate to them. To those who are "being saved," that presence of God is the promise of hope and joy; it is the "fragrance of life."
To those who do not desire truth and integrity, however, we are distasteful. The presence of Christ is frightening and carries the promise of judgment to those who are trying to avoid Jesus. Evil knows when it is in the presence of God, and it tries to destroy that source of conviction and truth. When true Christ-followers are in the presence of deceptive and evil people, those people will perceive the Christians not as a winsome fragrance but as the stench of death, an odor that bears to them the certainty of judgment.
When we are in the world as the bearers of the presence of Christ, nothing we do or catalyze is of our own devising or wisdom. It is only the power and presence of Jesus that clarifies good and evil to people. It is only the wisdom of Jesus that speaks through us and calls people to repentance and conviction. We are not the source of perception and truth; we merely allow Jesus to mediate his limitless love and wisdom through us. The outcomes are in his hands. We merely must be obedient to him when he prompts us to speak or act for him.
Model of Integrity
Paul ends this passage by reminding the Corinthians that he has not "peddle[d] the word of God for profit." (v.17) False apostles were accepting generous offerings and gifts as their "rightful" payment for their "work" of preaching. Even though he declares that those who receive the ministry of teachers should support those teachers, he points out that he has not used his right to receive support from the Corinthians. (see 1 Corinthians 9:7-12) He determined never to be a burden upon those to whom he ministered, and he supported himself as much as possible.
In short, Paul is committed to speaking "with sincerity." He wants never to be misunderstood as preaching the gospel for his own gain.
As Christ-followers we are obligated to trust God for our support and not to become side-tracked by raising money, even for gospel causes, unless God is the initiator of the giving. When we give our lives to Jesus, he teaches us to let his Spirit make our plans and provide the means necessary for implementing them. God doesn't need our fund raising techniques and incentives to fund his work. He will provide in his way when He wants us to do something.
When God does desire us to raise money for his cause, he informs and blesses our efforts, and we do not have to use gimmicks or harassment to reach our goals. God knows what we need, and he brings people together to supply those needs.
We are to live with integrity, freely ministering God's love and grace to those around us, and humbly accepting God's provision for us when he provides.
God is calling us to follow his leading in working for him. Like Paul, we are learning to walk through the doors God opens and to give generously of ourselves to the people God brings into our lives. He wants us to love them for him and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to them, as Paul was to the Corinthians.
No matter what circumstances God allows into our lives, we can know God is with us, and God is our strength through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Our response to knowing we are saved, knowing we are safe in Christ no matter what happens to us, and knowing we are inheriting a kingdom that "cannot be shaken," is praise.
When we love Jesus and have completely surrendered to him, he is at the center of everything we do. Even our work is a form of praise. We no longer think of ourselves as glorifying God, but we see that God is glorifying himself through us. Our purpose is to be transformed by His Spirit and to be so transparent that our lives are his and our actions and decisions are his. When people meet us, they will see Jesus.
Jesus is asking you to recognize and to give to him whatever is distracting you from the joy of growing in him. He wants to expand your perception of reality; he wants you to know that he is in the details of your life as well as in the cosmic events you cannot control. He wants to be more real to you than the things you fear. He is asking you to respond to the events in your life with openness, inviting his love to thaw the parts of your heart that have been frozen with shame or are numb from wounding.
Jesus wants to redeem every part of you-your soul, your body, and also your emotions. He wants to transform the hurts of your past into unimagined strengths so marked by his power and authority that people will know you have been with God.
He wants you to be the fragrance of life wherever you go because you carry the Spirit of the living Christ in you.
Ask Jesus to show you the truth about your life that he wants you to know. Ask him to teach you what you need to learn. Ask him to change you in whatever way you need to be changed. Ask him to strengthen you with his Spirit and to protect you from deception.
Finally, praise him. Praise him that you are marching in his triumphal procession. Praise him that he chose you. Praise him that he is faithful to complete the work he has begun in you. Praise him that he has given you his authority and wisdom.
And praise him that for eternity he will be with you, and you will be with him. Praise Jesus for restoring you to the Father!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
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CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted March 2, 2002.