Sunday, November 19, 2006
FROM TROAS TO TRIUMPH
2 CORINTHIANS 2:5-17
The word “grief” (“sorrow” in NASB) creates a transition from the last section. Paul had said he did not want to grieve the Corinthians by making another painful visit to them. In this passage, he said someone had grieved them by falling into sin. (Older commentaries took this as a reference to the man who was sexually immoral in 1 Corinthians 5:1, but the new commentators seem to feel it was another, unrecorded event, that happened between Paul’s visits to Corinth.)
Paul said the punishment inflicted by the majority was sufficient. He does not say what the punishment was, but we can infer it was significant, as it was both effective and the cause of some sorrow to the person involved. It may have been an exclusion from the fellowship.
Whatever the punishment was, Paul said it was now time to stop punishing and to forgive and comfort the offender. That is a point for us to remember. We don’t do much formal church discipline these days. But, we are not to punish someone forever. The goal is repentance. Galatians 6:1 says we are to restore the one caught in a trespass. Paul said the church needed to reaffirm their love for him. This may have meant a public act of reinstatement into the fellowship, or may just mean that the church members individually were to take steps to reaffirm their love for this person.
As to himself, Paul said he wrote the previous letter, calling for this discipline, in order to see if the church would be obedient in this difficult matter. However, if the offender has repented, and the congregation has forgiven him, they do not need to worry about Paul, because he forgave the person to, for the sake of the church. In verse 11, he said the reason for this is so Satan cannot outwit them. Harshness or the lack of forgiveness in a fellowship can destroy it, and the person who is the target of it. I remember an event in a small church I attended as a young teenager, when a man got a divorce and the church basically shunned the whole family, including the children. The teenage son of the man was deeply hurt and it drove him from the church. Satan can work through our spitefulness to destroy a fellowship and a fellow believer.
Note that Paul said, in verse 10, that he acted “in the sight of Christ”. We should act in these matters as if we are in Christ’s presence. Church discipline is a difficult matter with great consequence for the fellowship and the individuals, whether you discipline or you do not. It is not to be done without a lot of prayer and humility.
2:12-13 The Travelogue
Verse 12 connects to the thought of verses 1-4, where Paul was explaining why he did not come to them and telling where he did go. He had said in verse 1 he did not return to Corinth because he did not want to cause further grief to them. Instead, he went up the coast to Troas to preach. God had opened a door for him there, meaning he had made the people receptive to Paul’s preaching, but Paul had no peace of mind. The reason for his lack of peace was that he did not find Titus in Troas. Paul had thought Titus might be there on the return trip from taking Paul’s letter to Corinth and Paul was anxious to know how it was received, if the church would obey, or if the church would be lost to rebellion. Paul cared deeply about the churches he planted.
Since Paul had no peace of mind, he went to Macedonia, presumably looking for Titus, who would be returning from Corinth via Macedonia to Troas.
Now the next thing you would expect in this passage is a narrative of Paul’s reunion with Titus and the news he received, but instead, Paul breaks off this narrative and launches into a long digression that goes all the way into Chapter 7. This digression will emphasize how God’s grace is sufficient for every situation in our lives. Paul applied it specifically to his missionary work, but it the same principle applies to us.
Paul first says God leads us in triumphant procession in Christ. I think this is an allusion to the parade for the returning victorious Roman armies, who paraded through the streets of Rome showing off the spoils of victory. God leads the church in victory won through the work of Christ. Christians go fight battles, taking the gospel where it is not preached and fighting spiritual warfare. We participate in the victory in Christ.
Paul used this same allusion in Colossians 2:15. There he showed Christ as the victor over all spiritual opposition. [Read this.] Satan and his demons are defeated and Christ made a public spectacle of them through his work on the cross, just as the Romans made a public spectacle of their defeated enemies.
The other thing the Romans did in their victory parades was to burn spices in the street to make it smell good. Paul used this picture as part of his point also.
Believers are the fragrance of the knowledge of God. As the Romans smelled spices in the street, the thought of the victorious general and army and the glory of Rome. Similarly, when people encounter believers, as opposed to smelling them, they should be brought to think of God and the message of the Gospel. Certainly, when you encountered Paul, or thought of him, you immediately thought of the gospel, for he was constantly preaching it and suffering for it. As we go, we should spread the knowledge of God just as a fragrance spreads through a room. A modern image would be the scented candle. The television commercials for it use animation to illustrate the scent spreading from the candle all through the room to be experienced by everyone in the room. Verse 14 says God, through us, spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ.
“Knowledge” does not mean just the intellectual awareness of Christ, but receiving and serving him.
Verse 15 says we, believers, are the aroma of Christ both to those who are being saved and those who are perishing. We know that some will believe the gospel and some will not. But we do not know who will believe, so we witness or preach to everyone.
Verse 16 says to those who are perishing, we are the smell of death. They reject Christ and are subject to death as the wages of their sin. To those who are being saved, however, it is the fragrance of life. A modern analogy might be when a woman gets in an elevator wearing expensive perfume. It spreads through the elevator and is smelled both by those who like perfume and those who don’t. Those who like it breathe it in and appreciate it. Those who don’t, sneeze and are aggravated. Paul used a similar theme in 1 Corinthians 1:18. [Read this.] Peter did too, in 1 Peter 2:6-8. [Read this.]
Next Paul asked a very pointed question: who is equal to such a task? Well, your first thought is “no one”, because you realize what an awesome responsibility it is to be the fragrance of Christ. But, that is not the answer Paul gives.
Paul’s immediate answer is that he is equal to the task, compared to others who preach for profit. (This is ironic in view of a recent claim by a pastor who sells his sermons on the internet and claims to have made $1.7M last year from them.) Paul’s point is that some false prophets (intentional pun) did preach for the money and, so, were not equal to the task of being the fragrance of Christ. In contrast, Paul said he spoke in Christ and with sincerity. He took seriously the fact that he was sent by God to speak of Christ, and we would always do that only for the spread of the gospel and the glory of God. He has already told us in chapter 1 verse 12 that he conducted himself with holiness and sincerity from God.
In the NIV, the word “sincerity” only appears 6 times, and three of them are in 2 Corinthians. It was important for Paul that his motives are pure and that the churches knew it.
If you do not preach the gospel from pure motives, you will corrupt or pervert the message. If you preach for profit or fame, you will tailor your message to the desires of your audience, not wanting to offend or convict, but to please. Paul contrasted himself to this type of preacher in 1 Thessalonians 2:2-7. Paul also said the day would come when those were the only ones people would want to listen to. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, he said “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
3:1-3 The Corinthians: Paul’s Commendation
When preachers or prophets came to a new town, they would bring letters of commendation to the church, so the church would know it was alright to let them speak to the body. However, you can work the system with letters of commendation, getting them only from your friends. Paul told them he did not need letters, for they Corinthians were his commendation. They are the result of his ministry, so the validity of this preaching speaks for itself in the lives of those to whom he has ministered.
Paul finally gets to the real point of his competence. He said it did not come from his own ability. He said he did not claim anything for himself in verse 5. Rather, God has made him competent as a minister. He is, in fact, a minister of the new covenant. He contrasts it with the old covenant, as one of Spirit rather than of letter, and of life rather than death.