I was once visiting a church and the pastor announced, “We’re not going to have a sermon today because we want to just hand the whole meeting over to the Holy Spirit and see his power”. This immediately felt wrong to me, and I started trying to think through why.
For one thing, if the preaching is from the Scriptures, then it is “Holy Spirit” truth. So it is not a choice between “Word” and “Spirit” but “Spirit” and “Spirit”.
But then I read Act 14:3, “So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” The miracles came, not instead of the preaching, but because of the preaching! So if you want to see signs and wonders, then preach a message that God will want to bear witness to, with a supernatural “Amen!”
So it looks like we have two operations of the Spirit: the Spirit of truth andthe Spirit of power. I wondered whether it would be possible to go through the Bible and divide the references to the Spirit into to those two categories. As I started on the project I found plenty of truth verses, such as:
“However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth;” (John 16:13)
And power verses, such as
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;” (Acts 1:8)
But then a third category emerged. He is the Spirit of love
“the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom 5:5)
I began to get excited when I found several verses that combined two of the three and some that combined all three, such as “For God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7) It seems I was onto something. (The complete list of references can be found at loveintruth.com)
I see an unfortunate tendency for churches to zero in on one, or maybe two, of these three aspects of the Spirit. Charismatic churches want to see the Spirit move in power. Reformed churches love the way the Spirit leads us into truth. New churches are emerging whose main focus is strong relationship.
But what does the Spirit think of this? Does he want us to take one aspect of his ministry to the exclusion of the others? How would a girl react if a man said to her, “I like your beauty, but I’m really not interested in your mind!”
So what does it mean for churches that want to see more of God’s power? Instead of cancelling the sermon, I suggest we need to ask the Spirit to lead us into such an excellent understanding of truth that the Lord will bear witness to it in power, as in Act 14. And then we need to be radical in our love: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22)
But I don’t want to be part of a church that merely balances these three. I want us to be extreme in our love, excelling in truth and walking daily in the mighty power of God.
_______________________ Dr. Andrew Fountain lives Toronto, Canada. He is presently serving a new church-plant located in Newlife Church, Toronto. He has said that he derives much joy is in his kingdom work, teaching, preaching and pastoring. Some of the things he has written can be found on loveintruth.com, his theology and teaching website.
The word of God is broad in its outlook. It deals with many areas of life. Some matters it does not address. It is not, for example, a technological manual, nor was it intended to be, whether in ancient times or modern. It doesn’t tell how to make sandals or oxcarts or how to make basketball shoes or electric cars. Instead, the scriptures tell us about life, reality, God, and our relationship to him.
Part of our relationship with God involves those who minister God’s word to us. As I serve God by preaching and teaching the message of Christ to you, so Paul served the Lord by proclaiming the good news to the Corinthians, as well as to many others. Paul’s ministry was under attack at Corinth, and so he has had to defend himself from unjust charges. In his defense he has talked about what he actually did in his journeys to demonstrate his integrity. In all this explanation, we may learn much about the Christian way of life and about our partnership in the good news of Jesus Christ. This section provides us with insight into the thoughts and attitudes of Christ’s ministers.
2 Corinthians 2:12-17 ESV When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord,  my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.  But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
Exposition: I. The minister’s perplexity (2:12-13)
A. He has a desire to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.
1. A true minister of the Lord wants people to know that God will restore people to friendship with him through what Jesus accomplished through his sacrifice and resurrection. This is good news! The minister has found it so, and he wants others to know and to share the joy. Notice Paul’s plan. He went to Troas to preach the good news. He had a gospel purpose for being in a certain place. Notice also his subject—the gospel of Christ. This is the theme of Christian preaching.
2. A true minister of the Lord also glories in God’s grace. Grace is God freely working for the good of those who deserve wrath. God’s free and sovereign grace is precious to Paul. Look how he tells them, “The Lord opened a door for me.” The Lord gives an audience for his servant to speak to. He also gives a believing response to the word among those who hear (cf. Ac 14:27; 1 Cor 16:9; Col 4:3; Rev 3:8).
Apply: This is where prayer comes in. We must pray for the Lord to open doors for his message.
B. He also has a desire for the spiritual health and maturity of Christ’s followers. When Paul speaks of his lack of rest at Troas, we must remember the context of his remarks. He was not feeling sad because his buddy Titus was not around to fellowship with. No, he was concerned about the spiritual condition of the Corinthian believers and waiting for Titus’ report about them. When Titus was not there to give it, he felt restless about their spiritual condition. See 2:1-4; 7:5-7, 13-16.
1. We must remember the whole task of the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20). Our mission is not merely to evangelize in a popular sense, so that we can put another notch in our spiritual revolvers, like some old west gunslingers. Instead, our mission is to make disciples, to baptize disciples, and to teach disciples to obey everything Christ has commanded.
2. A true servant of Christ knows that the vitality of every local gospel partnership depends on correct knowledge of Christ’s teaching and a correct way of life that agrees with the gospel. Anything less will make Christ’s ministers uneasy about the people to whom they minister.
II. The minister’s aroma (2:14-16) – Paul is not talking about the kind of deodorant or aftershave that the minister uses, but about the spiritual scent that the minister gives off.
A. A true minister gives off a sweet fragrance to God—“the aroma of Christ”. Notice carefully Paul’s primary focus on God. He is not first of all concerned about what people think of him or how they respond to him. A minister develops “pastoral paranoia” when he thinks about people first. Every Christian carries the dreadful disease of people pleasing to some extent. It is something that eats into our relationships and can become very destructive of true fellowship. The cure is a primary focus on Christ and the gospel. When Paul ministers, he thinks first about how God is viewing his ministry. Is this pleasing the Lord?
1. The reason for his fragrance is his real, living union with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. God “smells” the surpassing beauty of his dearly loved Son, not the weaknesses of any particular man, and I for one have many. Thank you, Lord Jesus, that the Father smells your fragrance, and not the fragrance of my flesh, as I try to tell others about you! What matters most after every service, Bible study, small group, counseling session, or personal conversation is the fragrance of Christ toward God. It’s not about you or me; it’s about God!
2. All the fragrance that diffuses is entirely the operation of God. He leads us in triumphal procession. Christ is the mighty conqueror and his ministers are part of the spoils of his conquest at the cross in this parade of God’s glory. Do you see the long line of Christ’s slaves (cf. Ph 1:1)? There rides Jesus in resplendent glory, and following him as captives of his grace are the apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor/teachers from Peter and Paul and Titus and Timothy down through 2000 years of church history to the present day. Do you see them? There walks Clement, Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, and Augustine. Following them are Calvin, Knox, Sibbes, Bunyan, Owen, Traill and Henry. Who is that coming next? Why it’s Whitefield, Wesley, Romaine, Williams, and the Tenants. And then there’s Carey, Paton, Spurgeon and Moody, and Morgan and Lloyd-Jones, and on down to our time. But all the glory is coming from the Man on the white horse, King Jesus the First and the Last!
3. All the spread of the knowledge of Christ is from God also. God spreads the story of his glory in Christ by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes the aroma of Christ known through us. And this fragrance is constant. Whether people receive the message about Christ or not, the Father is always pleased with its proclamation! It is an acceptable act of worship!
B. A true minister gives off an odor to people. Along with many other passages, this text teaches that there are only two alternatives when people are confronted by the gospel. There are those who believe and live eternally and those who refuse to repent and perish eternally.
1. Those who are perishing (how graphic—even now they are in the process of perishing) regard those who preach Christ as the stench of death. No wonder they don’t like us!
Illustration: Three dead rats on a summer day
2. Those who are being saved (what joy—even now the Lord is saving us) rejoice in those who preach Christ. “Here is the one who brings good news from the Father in heaven!” So we might ask, “What must be wrong with those who dislike Christ’s servants? Do they love the Lord Jesus whom they serve?”
III. The minister’s motives (2:16-17)
A. Negative – Christ’s ministers do not peddle the word of God.
1. What is the meaning? “The noun kaphloV means a retail-dealer, a hawker or peddler, and thus indicates somebody who is intent on dispensing his goods for the sake of gain… the primary force of the word… [is] the seeking of cheap gain, whether by adulteration or by other means” (Hughes).
2. Paul is speaking of the false ministers who opposed him at Corinth. The “so many” did peddle and twist the word of God for profit. (cf. 11:1-4, 13-15).
Apply: The examples are many in our day.
B. Positive – Christ’s ministers do serve him.
1. The sphere of their ministry is “in Christ”. He is everything to such men.
2. Their ministerial attitude is that of pure motives. They minister for the glory of God and the good of people.
3. The source of their ministry is “from God”. All the benefits received through ministers come from God.
4. They are accountable “in the sight of God”. The Lord is their ultimate judge.
1. Let us pray for every true servant of Christ.
2. Let us pray that the Lord Christ would send us more such men.
Series: 2 Corinthians Introduction The way of life of Jesus for his followers is opposite to the world. Or at least it ought to be. We are to live in a counter-cultural way, since we are citizens of heaven. We are to live as Christ’s ambassadors. Yet too often we have conformed to the world, instead of being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rm 12:1-2). For example, people who claim to be followers of Jesus lightly dismiss greed, anger and sexual immorality under the guise of “personal need”. You undoubtedly feel the pressure of the world to conform you to its way of life. It can make you assume “I need this thing”, or “I need to express my hurt in anger,” or “I need to be loved” (a.k.a. feel sexual pleasure). At the core of this worldly pressure to conform is the love of oneself, or to speak more precisely, self-idolatry.
True Christianity looks at life differently. We learn in our hearts that God is great and majestic, and worthy of all honor, glory, praise, and worship. Though we were ruined by sin against God, his word, and his ways, God has rescued us through Christ and the salvation that is in him. We are bought by Christ to live for God. And this way of life that he wants us to live is to love God and to love others, especially his people.
The situation presented in this section is rarely encountered in our time. Yes, churches do occasionally dismiss people from their local fellowship. But I have serious reservations about how this is usually done. There are a few contributing factors to this state of affairs.
Others in the church are so deep in sin that they can’t or shouldn’t in good conscience discipline someone else
Ignorance of the biblical necessity of church discipline and/or the proper way to do it
A legalistic spirit that is more interested in keeping the church’s rules than in obeying the Lord
Fear of lawsuits
A glaring lack of commitment to one another
How can you discipline people if they just run off to the next church?
How can you rightly discipline people apart from a genuine body life?
One of the benefits of teaching through an entire book of the Bible is that it forces us to consider things that we might like to ignore. So then, let us listen to God’s Word to us, since we surely have a lot to learn about sharing life together in the body of Christ.
Exposition I. Restoring a gospel partner
A. The sequence of events leading up to restoration
1. The disruptive or obstinate sin of someone – Paul is probably not referring to the person mentioned in 1 Cor 5, but to someone who had opposed his apostolic authority after the “painful visit” and before the “severe letter”, since he does say that the person had “pained him”, though he now downplays that event.
2. The punishment inflicted by the assembly – This was some kind of formal action by the whole body of believers, and in light of Mt 18:15-18, it would involve treating him as an unbeliever. If you say, “So what?” it reveals that you need to appreciate more highly your participation in the body of Christ. This is one reason it is nearly impossible to carry out church discipline outside a context of deep, brotherly love for one another that the early church had.
3. The pain or sorrow suffered by the wrongdoer – Clearly, the action of the local assembly affected the wrongdoer deeply, though Paul does not provide a description of its effects in him. Sometimes we cannot see our sinfulness until others help us see it and its serious consequences.
4. The repentance of the wrongdoer – The wrongdoer came to a biblical change of mind through discipline. He realized his need of being accepted by the fellowship of believers, confessed his sin, and asked for forgiveness. Now what should the assembly at Corinth do about this person?
B. The way of restoration
1. Examine the situation – Paul did and he tells them that the punishment inflicted on the wrongdoer was sufficient. The person had repented; there was no need to carry the matter on. Discipline is intended to be remedial, not punitive or vengeful or ruthless. The point is not to make someone suffer or to feel the same pain that others have felt, but to bring them to repentance.
2. Forgive and encourage (comfort) – They were to forgive graciously. We always forgive each other on the basis of the gospel and with gospel attitudes. Welcome back! We’re very glad that you’re ready to be an active part of our gospel partnership again! It’s time to celebrate! In addition, we must also encourage the repentant one. We must help them feel a part of the body again. We must restore them as a functioning part of the body. We must work with them for their joy (cf. 1:24).
3. Public reaffirmation of love by the assembly – Since they were punished by a public act, they must also be restored publicly. This is to act justly and to love mercy at the same time (cf. Mi 6:8). Everyone must know about the person’s restoration. Everyone must have a visible part in the restoration.
Apply: Clearly, we need to develop our joint participation in sharing life together.
II. Rebuilding healthy attitudes
A. Put the interests of others first
1. Let go of your past pain (2:5) – Now that Paul knows of the person’s repentance, he diminishes the pain he felt, instead of rehearing how much he was hurt. Paul knew that their gospel partnership was more important than his feelings. The restoration of someone else was better than to continue to lick his own wounds. By the way, there are few things sweeter than restoring an old friendship, but licking your wounds can just keep the sore raw in your own heart.
2. Recognize the pain of hurting people (2:7b) – This is where we have to have the interests of others on our hearts (cf. Ph 2:20-21). The fellowship of believers is supposed to be a gathering of love, joy, and peace. We cannot, we dare not allow a brother or a sister to go on in pain. We must reach out to them, so that they do not fall into excessive sorrow. Our gatherings should be times of healing, times of renewal, and times of rekindled hope for the depressed. We share in the glory of the Lord, and we should strive that everyone feels the glory in the Spirit. (My oh my! I’m in chapter three already!)
B. Emphasize a godly way of life
1. Leaders are not lords, but they are leaders. An apostle could command direct obedience, because of his function in the church. We must obey the teaching of Christ and his apostles, whether or not we “like it”. Sometimes people tell me they do not like something they have read in the NTS. As Spurgeon once said, “I did not expect you to like it. Who ever thought you would?” People do not like to hear about self-denial, but that doesn’t change the call of Christ (Mk 8:34). It is not legalistic to obey the Lord Jesus. Obedience to him is the proper life response by those he has redeemed. We do not obey the Lord to earn grace but because we have received grace and are heirs of grace. So then, Paul wanted to see the Christian character of the Corinthian believers.
2. Maintain an atmosphere of forgiveness in unity (2:10a). Do you know the delight, the surpassing joy of having your sins forgiven? Doesn’t it make your soul leap for joy? It’s enough to make a Baptist dance! Paul tells the Corinthians get into the forgiveness business.
III. Renewing a larger outlook about interactions between believers. It is too easily to zero in on the people and the situation and forget the whole picture.
A. Remember we are in spiritual warfare.
1. We have an enemy—Satan, the adversary of God and his people. He constantly schemes about how to destroy us. And if he can get us to hack each other up with our tongues or freeze each other’s souls with cruel indifference, his job is that much easier.
2. The danger is being outwitted by the evil one. The Corinthians had punished the wrongdoer. That was good. But their zeal for righteousness was overheating, as they neglected or refused to forgive him when he repented, as Jesus commanded (Lk 17:3-4). We are strange creatures. It takes us so long to do what is right, but when we finally do it, we go overboard to prove how zealous we are! Some churches refuse to discipline, while others think they are God’s secret police in some kind of spiritual pogrom (puh–gruhm).
B. Keep focused on the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Our entire lives are lived in his presence. He is always “with us”. We usually want to think that Jesus is with us when we need comfort. But as Matthew writes that truth in his gospel of Jesus being Immanuel, it is given in the context of his mission (Mt 1) and our mission (Mt 28).
2. Paul was so Christ-structured in his thought and lifeview that he sees the forgiveness of the wrongdoer occurring in the presence of Christ. Too often we do not think of Christ present with us, as we live as his people by the gospel. We think of Jesus as “somewhere out there”, while we sing praises, as we listen to the word, or as we speak for him. But everything by the follower of Christ is done in him and through him and for him. We are the body of Christ. The Lord is touching people through us. So when we forgive one another, it is all in his presence and for his glory in the church.
Apply: It is time to renew our gospel partnership. May God fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in him!