The Smell of the Savior's Sacrifice - Part Two
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 2:12–17
The Smell of The Savior's Sacrifice-Part Two
2 Corinthians 2:12-17
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Pastor Randy Smith
Let's refresh ourselves on the timeline as it will help us better understand our study in 2 Corinthians.
Paul starts the church in Corinth during his second missionary journey when he spends 18 months with the people. He writes them 1 Corinthians (a letter we have contained in our Bibles) to address significant problems happening in the church. He then promises to visit them not once, but twice in person. However, Timothy brings news to Paul that the church is about to implode as a result of false teachers that have taken control by sabotaging Paul's character. Paul makes an emergency visit. The divisive sect attacks him. The others fail to come to his defense. He leaves confused and depressed. Paul returns to Ephesus and writes them another letter very severe and confrontational in its tone. Concerned as to how the church will respond to that letter, Paul dispatches Titus for a full report. The plan to receive the news is that he and Titus will rendezvous in Troas. As we learned last week, Paul arrives in Troas and Titus is nowhere to be found. Despite having an "open door" for ministry in Troas, Paul leaves Troas and heads northwest toward the Greek district of Macedonia.
We left it here last week. Did you wonder how things worked out? Did he ever meet up with Titus? Did the church receive his letter? How did the church respond? Paul answers these questions himself in chapter 7.
"For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more" (2 Cor. 7:5-7).
We already learned in chapter 2 that the Holy Spirit empowered the people in Corinth to turn things around. They reaffirmed Paul's leadership and they church disciplined the ring leader of the divisive sect. He repented! Sadly, as we learned two weeks ago, they did a horrible job forgiving him once he repented!
So Paul starts this dramatic play-by-play narrative of his adventures in chapter 1 and then finishes it in chapter 7. But in the gap between 2:14 and 7:4, Paul goes off on one of the greatest theological discourses found in Scripture. What triggered it? It was the depression he experienced in 2:13 and then to 2:14 (just one verse later) where he recalled his triumph in Christ. And this powerful promise of his victory in Jesus just kept him (like any good preacher) going (chapter 3) and going (chapter 4) and going (chapter 5) and going (chapter 6) on the richness of the relationship we have with Christ, until he eventually returned to his personal narrative in chapter 7.
Last week we began verses 12-17 of chapter 2. Our focus was on the life of a servant of God in gospel ministry. And what we concluded is not so much us trying harder or doing more, but rather having a better understanding of the victory we have in Christ who has already accomplished everything we need. We are saved by grace, and it is this same grace reminding us of our position with Christ and the empowerment He gives us in our service to others. You see, if we can get this down, no one will sit back as an idle spectator, and the Lord will take our church in the service of His kingdom to places that reach beyond our wildest imagination.
So let's do a quick review and then conclude this section.
1. The Servant's Heart (verses 12-13 - review)
The first point, "The Servant's Heart" by way of review.
So Paul makes his way to Troas in hopes to receive an update on the Corinthian church from Titus. Verse 12 says he also went to Troas "for the gospel of Christ."
No matter what Paul did or wherever he went he always had on his mind (as he says in verse 12) the gospel of Christ. Everything to him was an opportunity to teach God's Word or encourage someone in the church or share Jesus with an unbeliever. This is gospel work. This gospel work should mark us as well.
Yet as we know, oftentimes our desires to further the gospel are met with minimal receptiveness. That is because God has to go before us. Without God working in hearts, our best efforts will be spiritually fruitless. Even as I preach, I pray for you throughout the week and heavily on Saturday night and Sunday morning that His words will have rich meaning and application in your lives. We can do a lot in the flesh, but only God can provide "open doors" for any spiritual success.
In verse 12 Paul says the Lord gave him an "open door" - every servant's dream, but in verse 13 Paul moved away from the "open door" in Troas having "no rest for [his] spirit" since Titus was nowhere to be found. Paul departed for Macedonia. Last week I remarked what a shame it was that the spiritually hungry church in Troas lost out because Paul's heart was overwhelmed by the spiritually sinful church in Corinth .
2. The Servant's Motivation (verses 14-16a)
The second point we started last week is entitled, "The Servant's Motivation." I made it a point to stress the dramatic change in Paul's heart between verses 13 and 14. How does he go from depression in verse 13 (the word he used of himself and this situation in 7:6) to radical praise of God in verse 14? The two seem incompatible! "No rest for my spirit" - verse 13. "But thanks be to God" - verse 14. What happened? Answer this one and you have the solution not only to successful service and ministry in particular, but also victorious Christians living in general.
You see, in a split second Paul got his mind off his feelings and temporary circumstances of life that were causing extreme despair and fixed his mind completely on who he is in Christ. Verse 14, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ." What I get from that verse? Christ is triumphant. We are in inseparable union with Christ. Therefore we are triumphant as well. Therefore we can always thank and praise God even when situations in our life are painful or confusing. As Christians, we are not ruled by our circumstances. Rather we are ruled by what Christ has secured for us through His work on the cross which is victory any way you slice it.
Let me see if I can expand this wonderful reality by putting this theology together from the neighboring chapters in 2 Corinthians. Paul's life was filled with hardship: "Affliction" (1:4), "abundant…suffering" (1:5), "burdened excessively, beyond…strength" (1:8), "sentence of death within ourselves" (1:9), "sorrowful" (2:1), "affliction and anguish of heart" (2:4), "afflicted [and] perplexed" (4:8), "persecuted [and] struck down (4:9), "constantly being delivered over to death" (4:11), "beatings…imprisonments…tumults…labors…sleeplessness…hunger" (6:5), "dishonor [and] evil report" (6:8), "dying [and] punished (6:9) and "having nothing (6:10). And that only takes us through chapter 6! And you thought you had a tough life! And might I add that most if not all of this was related to his faithful service to Christ. So how can you go from this agony to praise to God?
It was Paul knowing that Christians need to "walk by faith [and] not by sight" - (5:7). And it's faith that recalls that every promise of God is fulfilled to us in Christ (1:20). We are "established…and anointed…in Christ" (1:21). We are "sealed" and given "the [Holy] Spirit in our hearts as a pledge" (1:22). We are "reconciled to God" - (5:20). Therefore we "do not lose heart" (4:1) because we are [controlled by] the love of Christ" (5:14) and through our trials learning in those trials to "trust [more]…in God who raises the dead" (1:9). So therefore while we are "sorrowful" [we are] yet always rejoicing" (6:10).
So back to verse 14: "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, [now the new material] and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place."
Let's keep this in context. Paul is talking about his ministry in service to Christ. Paul is down and he looking to find encouragement based upon who he is in Christ. We could say in his work of the gospel in the lives of others he is seeking to draw strength from the gospel for his own life. And what gives him strength is the knowledge, verse 14, that in his ministry (and our ministry too) is "the sweet aroma of the knowledge of [Christ] in every place."
Before we define what this means, let's determine where Paul is coming up with the words "sweet aroma" here, "fragrance" in verse 15 and "aroma" again in verse 16. There are two options.
One is that he is still referring back to the Roman triumphal procession that I spoke about last week. When I told you about this grand parade that would march through the streets of Rome after a successful military campaign, I mentioned that there were those who carried censors filled with incense that gave off a "sweet aroma." The other option that might have been going through Paul's mind is the animal sacrifices commonly spoken about in the Old Testament where the smell was a "sweet aroma" to the Lord.
Either way you go with the imagery, the point is the same. When we share Christ and serve in His name, our service to God is a pleasant fragrance to God. The Father is always glorified when the church speaks and serves in the name of the Son. It's a "sweet aroma" to Him and to Paul that was his primary aim in ministry. So wherever Paul went he was encouraged and God was glorified, that he left the "sweet aroma" of Christ in his wake regardless of the human response to his ministry.
Verse 15, "For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing."
So when we serve God, especially when we do it through heartache and difficulty when we suffer for the gospel, but still press on in our service to the King, we are, verse 15, "a fragrance of Christ." And while God is pleased either way (vertically), the fragrance the people smell from us (horizontally) is perceived differently. To "those who are being saved" we are, verse 16, "the aroma from life to life." And to "those who are perishing" we are, verse 16, "the aroma from death to death."
So if we go with the imagery of the triumphal parade, the incense from the censors gave a strong consistent smell to those who marched. And while they all smelled the same aroma, those troops marching as conquerors interpreted it as the smell of victory and those prisoners of war marching as the conquered interpreted the same smell as the smell of defeat.
If we go with the Old Testament sacrificial aroma imagery, Jesus Christ as the sacrificial Lamb of God is the sacrifice and Paul's life of suffering is the fragrance that arises from it picturing Jesus Christ who suffered and died for His people (cf. Col. 1:24). To some that is perceived as life and to the rest that is perceived as death.
So what do we get out of this? That despite our hardships, we can have hope and joy and peace and purpose that transcends our circumstances. And that attitude comes directly from what Christ has accomplished for us through His work. And because of the work of Christ on our behalf, we are compelled to serve in His name.
To some, those hardened to Christ, our ministry will be the smell of death. They will want to hear nothing about their sin and the wrath of God that abides on them and the end of their self-righteousness. The gospel they believe will be the end of their "fun." They will refuse the free offer of grace in Christ and see it as nothing but a message of condemnation. To the others who have a soft heart, our ministry will be the smell of life. They will understand that through Christ there is forgiveness and new birth and reconciliation. They will receive the offer of free grace with eagerness and joy and see it as a message of life. Like the sun that will both harden the clay or soften the wax, the gospel is the same message that will produce two, and only two, polar opposite results.
A theologian said, "To the one, Paul's message is "an alluring perfume, a spiritual oxygen that breathes life into their souls; to the other a stench in their nostrils, a spiritual cyanide that suffocates and poisons them to death" (Clements, 53).
As our Lord taught us, humanity is divided only into two groups. John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Same message, different results. Yet regardless of the results, God is glorified because this King who is worthy to be known and proclaimed for who He is is magnified either in His judgment or in His grace. Therefore the message will always remain precious and our service in gospel work is never in vain!
So I suppose we need to ask ourselves at this point, do we understand this glorious concept that encourages and motivates our gospel work? And if so, do people smell you as a fragrance of Christ? It could be the aroma to life or it could be the aroma to death, but do people smell you as the fragrance of Christ?
3. The Servant's Character (verses 16b-17)
So we have covered the servant's heart and the servant's motivation. Let's wrap it up with the third point, "The Servant's Character."
At the end of verse 16, Paul asks, "And who is adequate for these things?" And the answer is "no one!" That is in and of ourselves . Paul continues this thought in chapter 3, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant" (2 Cor. 3:5-6a). So in a sense Paul answers his own question. Who is adequate to share the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ and bring souls into the kingdom of God? Paul's answer? On my own, not me! But with Christ, I am indeed adequate.
As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me."
Let's remember this letter is a defense of Paul's ministry against the false teachers who believed he was unqualified. "He suffers too much." "He doesn't take anyone's money." To that Paul says, "By God's grace I am adequate…and you are not."
So is Paul's claim to adequacy just empty words on his behalf? How can they know God was with him (as He is with us if we are true ministers of the gospel) making Paul (and us) truly adequate to be a minister of Christ? Paul tells us in verse 17, the same way Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount, when he declares that true servants of Christ are seen not simply by their words, but by their fruits.
Why are the false teachers the ones that are truly inadequate? Look at the beginning of verse 17. Because they are among the many that "peddle the word of God."
This terminology was used of shady business dealers in the marketplace. Back then when things were sold, the merchants were notorious for their corrupt and dishonest practices to make an extra buck. Often they would use false weights or dilute their wine with water or generally misrepresent the products. Paul compared these actions to the false teacher's attitude in ministry. To Paul, like we see so often today, preachers used the Christian ministry for their own selfish profit and had no concern as to how they cared for people and taught the Word of God so long as their own personal ends were met. They peddled God's Word for their own advantage.
On the other hand, Paul proves that he is adequate from the grace God has given him because, one, verse 17, he speaks from "sincerity" (eilikrineia) literally meaning to judge by sunlight, the same word he used back in 1:12. Remember this was the method used to expose deceptive merchants who would hide cracks in their clay vessels with wax. With Paul there was "no wax." No duplicity. No hypocrisy. He had pure motives to honor Christ, serve His people and consider himself last.
That is why he continues in verse 17 to say he speaks "as from God." God's words are his words to the people. He "speak(s) in Christ." All was done in his union to Jesus. And he does all things "in the sight of God." His only desire was to be found approved by God.
What a great model we are given for service, everything coming back to Christ and the gospel! God opens our eyes so we might embrace Jesus Christ. As Christians we then commit ourselves to gospel work, knowing that when we speak and serve in the name of Christ, the Father is always glorified regardless of the visible results. So as we are filled with the Holy Spirit, Christ comes forth from us as a fragrance; life to those who are being saved and death to those who reject. What an awesome privilege and responsibility! And who is adequate for these things? All those empowered by God's grace seen by a commitment to personal holiness in their own lives.