2 Corinthians with Andy Murray

Triumphal Procession

Smelling Good!

Andrew Murray

2 Corinthians 2:12-17

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.

Introduction

Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-11

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

We live in the hour just before the Day arrives as followers of Christ before a rebellious world. How are we to think about the nature of our lives here in this hour before the break of Day? Paul helps us with a picture this morning.

Review

You who have been here for through this 2 Corinthian series know that Paul is patiently defending his words and actions and ministry to a church where there are those trying to undermine and discredit him before the Body and discredit the gospel he preached.

We’ve just been through the section where Paul defends his change of plans showing that his motivation was love for this church. Paul wants nothing more than to see this church flourish and grow and come to experience more and more joy in Christ. But because of on going sin that had been allowed to continue in the Body Paul decided not to come to them for love’s sake, to spare them, and instead to write a severe letter, giving them time to deal with this sin before he came. We learn in verse 6 that the church did receive Paul’s severe letter and a majority did obey Paul’s instruction and brought discipline to the sinning one. In verse 7 Paul says, now (apparently because the man repented) the church ought to turn and forgive and comfort and reaffirm their love for this man.

Just as Satan loves to see a church avoiding church discipline when it is needed so he also loves to see a church fail to restore and forgive and comfort and reaffirm their love to repentant sinners.

But, Paul’s point through all this has been that his actions have been in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ and have only been an expression of love for Christ’s church in Corinth.

Not At Rest

So, as we come to verse 12 and 13 Paul continues this train of thought. He explains that after sending the severe letter off to Corinth by the hand of Titus he went along to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ. But even as the promise of fruitful ministry was there in Troas, Paul was not at rest (not at ease/not at peace) because Titus had not yet come with news from Corinth. Paul was expecting news from Titus about how the Corinthians had responded.

So, Paul is explaining that his concern and love for their welfare was very high. Even though he didn’t come to them his heart was anxious for them and would be until he heard how they had responded. So, he leaves the prospect of fruitful ministry in Troas in order to meet up with Titus as he was traveling through Macedonia, so great was his love and concern for this church.

So Paul is trying to show this church that his actions have been in harmony with the gospel and his love for them is very great indeed.

Paul’s Response

Now what is interesting is that we know that the news that Paul hears from Titus is a mixed bag. Some have responded well, but some are trying to undermine Paul and are rejecting the gospel he preached. So in verse 14 and following Paul’s response is amazing. He says,

2 Corinthians 2:14-16a

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.

So how does a Christian minister respond to those who receive his words gladly and how does he respond to those who reject his words and seek him harm? How should we as ministers of the gospel be thinking about ministry and the widely diverse response we get as a result of that ministry?

Paul sees it all as a reason to thank God. We see that in verse 14 “But thanks be to God…” No matter what the response to his ministry Paul thanks God. Why?

Well, Paul paints an incredible picture to explain.

The picture was probably well known to the Corinthian believers. When Paul says that God in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession he is comparing Christ to a victorious roman general leading a triumphal procession – that is the triumphant general would parade conquered enemies through a public area as a sign of subjection and humiliation.

Paul says God in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession. The great General has returned from battle having achieved victory over His enemies and He is leading a procession of captives behind him displaying the power and totality of His victory – a joy to His people and a terror to His foes.

Paul Is A Captive

Now, what is rather shocking about this picture is that Paul himself is seen a one captured by the great King, being publicly paraded through the streets. In other words, Paul is a conquered slave of Christ (a designation Paul gives himself on a number of occasions – Romans, Philippians, Titus), a trophy of the great King’s victory – a joy to the King’s people and a stench to His foes. Paul understood his ministry in terms of being a captive and slave of Christ and being dragged around as a trophy of the victory of the great King over all of His enemies.

And doesn’t this picture fit incredibly well with the themes of affliction and comfort, suffering and joy that come up again and again in this letter?

I think this picture is so vivid and so helpful, but we need to be careful not to stretch it beyond Paul’s intention. Paul’s point is not that he is currently at odds with Christ and an enemy of God or an unwilling slave.  Rather, Paul is using this vivid  picture to highlight certain aspects of the nature of gospel ministry, that is the nature of the life of a Christian, and why he can thank God in all circumstances.

The fact is we truly are victors with Christ and triumphant in Christ. His victory is our victory! But in this life that looks like suffering and death not riches and glory. To be a captive of Christ is to join the death march to self-glory, and truly that is a painful road in this world before the Day dawns, but it will yield life everlasting and fullness of joy soon and very soon.

I think the key here is to see that the General, the King is the Victor on display and the One all the procession is designed to highlight. His victory is the aroma of good news and life to some, while it is the aroma of defeat and death to others. And so we who are the plunder of His victory, carry with us that same aroma. Its not about us. It is about Him.

The Nature of Ministry

So as we tease out the nature of ministry from this picture I want to make sure we are applying these things to ourselves. Paul is describing how he thought about life as a minister, but in doing so he is giving us a glimpse of what each of our lives should look like as we serve Christ in this world.

It is quite common to think that christian ministry should be done my the apostles and pastors and teachers and evangelists. Ministry is what the professionals do. But ministry was never meant to be done by a professional class. Christian ministry is what Christians do, each in our sphere and within our role in the church, but we are all ministers and should be more and more equipped for ministry.

So this picture applies to each of us in our sphere of ministry, whether you are a husband or father, wife or mother, son or daughter, friend, Sunday School teacher, co-worker, evangelist. You are a minister in every moment and sphere of your life – “…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Let’s tease out how we ought to be thinking about ministry.

1. Ministry is About Christ

First of all, we gather from this illustration that all that we do should highlight our Lord and Master, not ourselves.

Ministry is not about showing how strong and wise and good you are; it is about showing how strong and wise and good Christ is. Ministry is designed to show God’s power over sin and death. Ministry should put Christ on display. His perfect life, His necessary and sufficient substitutionary death, His resurrection, His ascension into Glory, His tearing open the gates of hell and setting the captives free, His silencing of Satan the accuser of the brethren, His ransom of people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and making them a kingdom and priests. Ministry is about putting the glory of Christ on display.

Is the gospel of the glory of Christ the center of your life and the wellspring of all you think and say and do? Is it your daily bread to feast on God’s grace in Christ? Is He your great reward and reason for rejoicing? Do you love your Lord who, though He could have justly thrown you into hell because of your rebellion instead became the Savior who absorbed God’s wrath on the cross and won for you a victory and a reward beyond all comparison?

Christians are not those who believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ once upon a time, but now think nothing of Him. Christians are those who go on believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

If our lives are not a triumphal procession with Christ at the head receiving all the glory something is very wrong.

Who are you living for?

Whose procession are you in?

Do you consciously live and move and have your being in this world to highlight the glory of Christ?

There is another side to this coin.

2. Ministry is Slavery

As I mentioned before, in Romans, Philippians, and Titus Paul introduces himself as a servant (bondservant, slave) of Christ. Now, we need to make sure we are not reading the race based slavery that took place in this country into this word. But we do need to realize that what Paul is describing in the word slave (doulos) is in fact a person who was “…legally owned by someone else and whose entire livelihood and purpose was determined by their master” (English-Greek Reverse Interlinear NT ESV, John Schwandt).

As the image of the triumphal procession makes clear we are owned by Christ. We are not our own. We have been bought with a price… This means we get our marching orders from Him. This means we learn our purpose from Him. This means we say and do what He commands. We are at His disposal. We are not the master and captain of our lives. We are owned by the Lord and live to serve Him.

If our lives are not permeated with humble submission to the victorious Lord something is very wrong.

Are you in submission to Jesus? Are you confirmed to his will?

3. Ministry is Fragrant

We see in Paul’s illustration that,

through us [God] 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…

We learn here that ministry is fragrant – It has a smell to it. Paul says we should have a smell – the smell of Christ. As we are paraded around as captives of the victorious Lord we spread the fragrance, not of ourselves, but the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. And Paul is careful to say that the aroma of our lives and ministries as captives of Christ ascends to God. What is the aroma of your life to God? If we are believers we are the aroma of Christ to God. Which means you smell good to God. If you are a Christian you are a trophy of Christ’s victory and your life is a tribute to His power and wisdom and grace. You are a pleasing fragrance to God if you are in Christ.

But you are also the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. If you are a Christian, saved by the blood of the Lamb, your life ought to smell like Christ everywhere you go. People should not have to guess that we are followers of Christ. They should smell Him on us. He should permeate who we are. People should be learning of Christ from us everywhere we go. We should smell of Him because we know Him and love Him and live upon Him and speak of Him and are being conformed to Him.

The Aroma of Life and Death

Notice though that the fragrance of Christ is not universally pleasing.

Paul says that to one He is “…a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” Your life should smell of Christ, to those that love the Lord of lords and love His victory you will be the smell of life to life, but for those who do not love the Lord of lords and do not love His victory we will be the smell of death to death.

Paul seems to be saying, regardless of how people respond to me, God is to be thanked who in Christ always leads us in a triumphal procession, parading us before the world. To some we are the aroma of life and to others the aroma of death. That is the nature of Christian ministry. We could say that is the nature of the Christian life because they are truly one – Christ owns us.

Ministry cannot leave people indifferent toward Jesus and His work. We are to be the fragrance of Jesus our Savior everywhere we go. When people meet and interact with you are they confronted with the Savior and Lord of the world? Successful Christian ministry might not look like cheering and praise and accolades from the world. It will in fact look like jeering and sneering and insults and persecutions from those who are perishing.  

We are called to point to the Lord, to make Him known, to be a trophy of His victory. To some life to others death.

Who is Sufficient?

Now, if we are listening here we will probably be asking with Paul in verse 16: who is sufficient for these things? This is weighty business to be the aroma of the Lord of lords before the world – to be the instrument in God’s hand to bring joy unspeakable for those who believe and horror unthinkable for those who will not.

Paul asks an interesting question here. Who is sufficient for these things? Our natural answer to this is to say ‘no one is sufficient.’ And I think Paul would also say, no one is sufficient in themselves.  Paul says as much in a few verses (2 Corinthians 3:5), “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God…

In these chapters Paul has clearly been demonstrating that he himself is a genuine minister of Christ. Who is sufficient to be the aroma of Christ? No one, in themselves. Our sufficiency must come from God, which is why Paul says in verse 17,

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.

Paul is describing here in verse 17 those who will be the fragrance of Christ everywhere they go – those that God has made sufficient. I am going to walk through this verse and I want to ask if our lives are an aroma of Christ to God among those who are perishing and among those who are being saved.

So…

How will we spread a fragrance of Christ everywhere we go?

1. By Living For His Glory Not Earthly Gain – “For we are not like so many, peddlers of God’s Word…”

The idea of a peddler carries with it the idea of deceit and unrighteous personal gain. If we are interested in being a Christian because of the social and economic benefits we have a serious problem. Those who would be the aroma of Christ in this world must cherish Christ more than any earthly gain – be that political gain, monetary gain, social gain, etc.

How will we spread a fragrance of Christ everywhere we go?

2. By Open Statements of the Truth – “…but as men of sincerity…we speak…”

Are we people of sincerity in every sphere – not hiding or shading the truth to gain approval or secure power? Are we ashamed of Christ before the world and tempted to edit the gospel to fit in? Those who would be the aroma of Christ in this world must be people free from pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy.

How will we spread a fragrance of Christ everywhere we go?

3. By Acknowledging God’s Call –…as commissioned by God…we speak…”

We must be people who feel the weight of God’s call on our lives. “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations…” – that is all our job. Be sober. Stay awake Citizen of glory. We are here to be fragrant. We are stewards of an incredible treasure, kept on earth until His mission is completed. Do we live and move and act as those who have a commission from God? Or are we drifting along aimlessly? Or are we our own master and captain in this world? Those who would be the aroma of Christ in this world must embrace their commission from God.

How will we spread a fragrance of Christ everywhere we go?

4. By Acknowledging God’s Presence – “…in the sight of God we speak…”

Paul is fully aware that it is before God the all-seeing Judge that his ministry is done. – He is not ultimately worried about what other people think or say. He moves and speaks and acts in this world to please God, knowing that no thought word or deed goes unnoticed by Him. Those who would be the aroma of Christ in this world must acknowledge that they live in the sight of God.

How will we spread a fragrance of Christ everywhere we go?

5. By Trusting In Christ as Your All in All – “…we speak in Christ.”

This means in communion with Christ, banking on Christ as your all in all. Where do you find your Identity and assurance, hope, courage, joy? If those things come from your performance, your wisdom, your power, goodness, you will not be the fragrance of Christ. Do you live and speak in communion with Christ? Is he your refuge and strong tower? Your Lord and Victorious King in whom is all your delight and joy? Apart from Him you have no good at all? Those who would be the aroma of Christ in this world must live upon Christ, be in Christ, in communion with Him as your all in all.

Conclusion

Paul understood his life in this world in terms of being led by Christ in a triumphal procession before the world so that no matter what the response from the world Paul was able to say, “Thanks be to God!”

Christ has beaten the power of sin and death for us! Praise God! And we are here as trophies of His grace. We are here to herald that victory before the dawning of the Day. To some we will be the stench of death, to others the aroma of life. But if we are in Christ we can be confident that our lives will be a sweet smelling aroma to our God who always leads us in triumphal procession.

~ Andy

About Andrew Murray
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys. Visit Windham Bible Chapel.
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