Understanding Christ’s Ministers – 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

David Frampton
Dave Frampton
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, [13] 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.
    [14] 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. [15] For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? [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.

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.

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