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Devotions from Second Corinthians

OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST
2 CORINTHIANS 1-7

A *Paean of Praise - Led in Christ's Triumph (5)

2 Corinthians 2:12 - 16 (NKJV)

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Edinburg, TX

Introduction

In Paul's second epistle to his beloved Corinthians, he has shared his heart and a most realistic view of ministry. Such a ministry recalls the crisis experience in Ephesus which he recounts as sent with a view to their encouragement. At the heart of that experience was the "sentence of death" (2 Cor. 1:9; Rom. 6:6) that allowed for no trust in himself but rather in "God who raises the dead." This motif becomes the key to open the meaning of the whole epistle. He leaves no room for self-pity but rather stands under the Cross work in union with Christ and walks in triumph.

Remembering the epistle as a personal letter enables us to recognize a variety of subjects to be dealt with in quick succession. Paul moves to respond to the integrity of his message and in humility to the false accusation of his change of plans (2: 12-24). Then he deals with their apparent unwillingness to forgive the brother who fell into sin rather than to restore him in Christian love. Paul was deeply troubled that such a refusal to forgive him would provide Satan with a costly advantage in the local church (2: 1-11).

An Open Door but No Rest in Spirit 2 Corinthians 2:12,13

After leaving Ephesus on his third missionary journey, he sailed for Macedonia (Acts 20: 1). His point of departure was Troas where he had received the original vision to enter what is now our Europe (Acts 16:11). Paul was faced with the dilemma of an open door and yet a deep spiritual restlessness. "I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus, my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia" (2:13). To fast forward to 2 Cor.7:5, 6, we learn the great relief of heart for Paul." For indeed when we came to Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus." The news from Titus was much better than feared. What a transparent heart Paul had! He shares so openly the rigors of ministry in union with Christ.

An Outburst of Gratitude Unparalleled in Paul's Writings 2 Cor. 2: 14

With a *paean of praise (defined by Webster: an extravagant expression of praise or triumph), Paul now exults: "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place" (2: 14).Without question this verse is the capstone of our theme: Our Triumph Led in Christ's Triumph. Paul has sketched out for us that this triumph is in the midst of crisis experiences, accusations, faithfulness to reprove a stand against Satan's devices and now the deep burden of awaiting Titus and the consequences of his love and sharp reproof. This is no passive, peaceful stroll in the garden but rather a turbulent facing of the worst of circumstances and sufferings. Paul had found the answer to triumph in the midst of suffering. That sentence of death to not trust in oneself was his antidote. Paul lived knowing his co-crucifixion with the Crucified (Rom. 6:6).

This single verse deserves a closer look. Syntax is the ordering of words to maximize the emphasis of the original statement in Greek. The verse begins with God. Everything turns on his doing, the author of every possible circumstance, none excepted. How simplified can suffering be! Then the little word, always, again no exceptions. Then, as if to crown the thought, finally in every place, again no exceptions. The length and breadth of this statement is breath taking!

The Graphic Picture of the Roman Conqueror and His Retinue Led in Triumph

Paul has chosen a verb that describes in graphic brush strokes the festive scene of the conquering Roman emperor returning home from the field of battle. He is received by ovation, celebrations of flowers and incense, preceding him in his royal chariot are the spoils of the battle. His conquered foes are exhibited to open shame and proof positive that once again Roman might has triumphed. The Victor himself is the final object of the adoring and applauding crowd.

Paul borrows this powerful imagery to speak of the conquest of ministry in Christ. No credit goes to the soldier, all to the conqueror of the Cross; Paul had been privileged to be a part of the retinue, a participant in the triumphal entry of the Victor.

Paul changes the imagery from the triumphant entry to the atmosphere of the entry. Participants in the retinue bring the very fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. The imagery is breathtaking. Perfume or fragrance never announces its presence, but the reality of such fragrance is its own announcement. What a picture of Christ in the crucified believer! No place for the odor of pride and self advancement but simply the quiet but unmistakable sense of a "sweet smelling aroma of Christ" (Eph. 5:2). Paul makes it crystal clear that the fragrance and the triumph are Christ's and Christ's alone. We are given the high privilege of sharing in the atmosphere of his victory. But Christ remains jealous of the glory because he and he alone won that victory (Cf. Col. 2:15).

A.H. Strong quotes James Denney: "No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. «Esprit» (-pride-) is fatal to unction; no man can give the impression that he himself is clever and also that Christ is mighty to save. The power of the Holy Spirit is felt only when the witness is unconscious of self, and then others remain unconscious of him." Meditate on that statement; it has profound repercussions. The subtleties of pride and self esteem doom the effective ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is committed to take the "things of Christ and reveal them to us" (John 16:15).

The Eternal Consequences of His Victory 2 Cor. 2: 15

"For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing". Notice carefully the order of the words. We are to God the fragrance of Christ. But our impact on our world will be in two very different directions. "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword . . . And a man's foes will be those of his own household. . . and he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:34-40).

In the light of the challenge of the Cross, Paul adds: "To the one we are the aroma of death to death and to the other the aroma of life to life. And who is sufficient for these things? (2:16). The abundant Christian life begins at the cross in death to self and resurrection life (Rom. 6: 6, 11-14); the Christian ministry is exercised from the victory of that Cross. With good reason Paul's gratitude is indeed a *paean of praise for that victory won once for all at the Cross.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,
Gordon E. Johnson