2 Corinthians 2:12-17
Greetings, everyone – welcome to Thursday’s edition of EDiBS! I’m glad you’ve made the choice to be here today, and it’s my great honor to be with you and to share God’s Word with you over these next few minutes. Today we’re moving ahead at full speed in 2 Corinthians 2; in fact, we’ll be finishing out the chapter, so take a moment, prepare your heart, grab your Bible, and join me for a word of prayer as we begin.
Father, may your name be lifted up among us today – honored and glorified as is fitting for who you are and all that you’ve done for us in Jesus Christ. We ask for the equipping power of your Spirit today as we open your Word. Help us to learn and grow as your people. This we ask in the strong and saving name of our Lord and Savior Jesus, amen.
As we get started today, Paul finishes his explanation to the believers in Corinth about his various past ministry decisions, and then moves into a wonderful proclamation of the Lord’s wisdom in leading His servants. Our focus: the God who leads in triumph and spreads the knowledge of His Son!
2 Corinthians 2:12-17
12Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 13I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia. 14But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.16To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
I always loved blackberry season on the farm. Not those of the cultivated variety, but the ones that grew wild in the woods and along the banks of our many ponds and streams in southwest Missouri. During berry season we and our neighbors would spend many mornings picking cups and quarts and colanders full of fruit for our muffins, smoothies, and make-it-up-as-you-go recipes. My kids and I called this the Berry Parade because it was impossible to get through a picking session without getting fast-staining blackberry goo all over your hands and your clothes and – if you’d been eating as you went – all over your mouth and chin as well. And with the goo? Well, with the goo came that sweet blackberry smell, and the moment you’d come into the house from your walk through the woods and the meadow, everyone’s eyes and nose would know immediately what you’d been up to. It was one big procession of aroma in a bright purple display.
Verses 12-13: In today’s reading, we’re going to be talking about a procession, a parade, of another kind, but before we do I should tell you just briefly that with today’s passage, we’re coming to an interesting section of this letter to the church at Corinth. While Paul starts off today by recounting some of his travel decisions and his reasons for leaving Troas and going on to Macedonia, at the end of verse 13 you’ll notice that he abruptly drops the subject. What’s more, he won’t pick it up again for five more chapters. Specifically, here’s how things are laid out in the text:
In 2:13, Paul mentions his departure for Macedonia, as we’ve just read.
In 7:5, he’ll write about his arrival in Macedonia.
But in between, from 2:14 through 7:4, Paul goes on with a completely different issue: the description and defense of his ministry as an apostle of Christ.
So — what’s going on here? This portion of 2 Corinthians is sometimes called “the great digression” by Pauline scholars. It seems to be in a rather odd position here and at the moment it sticks out like a bridge to nowhere. But as we go through the teaching of these next several chapters and come out on the other end in chapter 7, we’ll get a better understanding as to how all of this fits together and why Paul inserts it here as he does.
Verses 14-17: At any rate, the main thing we want to talk about today is not the Great Digression, but as I said a moment ago, about a Great Procession — and it’s as we move into verses 14 and following that we now come into that topic with some very picturesque language about the supremacy and victorious reign of Christ. In simple terms, what we have before us in these verses is a military motif: Paul is taking a familiar image from Roman times — that of a victory processional honoring a triumphant commander returning from battle — to describe Jesus as the ultimate victorious and conquering Commander. Here, in fact, Jesus is riding as the honored Hero in the ultimate victory parade. Listen to how William Barclay describes it in his commentary:
In a Parade of Triumph, the procession of the victorious general marched through the streets of Rome to the Capitol. First came the state officials and the senate. Then came the trumpeters. Then were carried the spoils taken from the conquered land, followed by pictures of the conquered land and models of conquered citadels and ships. After that came a white bull for sacrifice, with all captured princes, leaders and generals in chains walking after it. These captives would shortly be flung into prison and in all probability almost immediately executed. After the captives came the special Roman body guards bearing their rods, followed by the musicians with their lyres, then the priests swinging their burning censers of sweet-smelling incense. After that came the general himself…and finally, there came the army wearing all their decorations and shouting a cry of triumph. As the procession moved through the streets, all decorated and garlanded amid the cheering crowds, it made a tremendous day which might happen only once in a lifetime.
This is the picture that is in Paul’s mind: He sees Christ marching in triumph, and all who belong to Christ as having a part in that conquering processional. We are the army following Him, giving accolades to our great General and shouting a song of victory because of His great work of salvation. Paul especially sees himself as part of that procession, led forth by Christ to spread the fragrant aroma of the knowledge of Him to every part of the world. Taken as a whole, it’s a truly stunning vision indeed!
We’re at the point where we need to wrap things up for the day, but as we do that, we need to take time to consider one more critically important aspect of this image being put forth by Paul. Most of you know that no sense remains in the memory like that of scent. There is nothing we remember more strongly than pleasant smells, except perhaps unpleasant smells. The smell of incense burnt to the gods in a Roman victory parade would be a great smell to a Roman, but it would be a terrible smell to a captive prisoner of war who would soon be executed or sold into slavery. In the same way, the message of the gospel is a message of life to some, but a message of condemnation to others. So here’s a question: is the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus Christ a joyful “smell” to you today, or is it something else? The Savior has come for you. As you hear His message to you of life and forgiveness through the triumph of His life, death, and resurrection, please do not merely hear, but heed. Do not merely listen, but believe and live. If you have not yet, then today is your day to answer the call to come – to come to the foot of the cross, to be freed from your sin, and to take your place in the victory parade. It is time for God to lead you! Think about that, won’t you please? It’s the most important thing you’ll ever face in this life.
Thanks for your time today, everyone — I’ll talk with you again soon. Until then, have a great day, and may God fill you with His joy and His peace in Christ Jesus our Lord. Take care!