2 Corinthians 2:12-17
A. Greeting and Thanksgiving - 1:1-11
B. Paul's Defense against Unwarranted Accusations - 1:12-2:4
C. Paul on Church Discipline - 2:5-11
D. Paul and the Gospel of Christ - 2:12-17
1. the circumstances - 2:12-13
Paul's phrase, "a door was opened for me in the Lord" (v. 12b) points to two truths: (1) the passive voice ("door was opened") indicates that God was ultimately responsible for providentially orchestrating events that resulted in this gospel opportunity (see Col. 4:3); and (2) the perfect tense (lit., "has been opened") indicates that it remained opened; the opportunity was continually there. See also 1 Cor. 16:8-9; Col. 4:3; Acts 14:27.
2. the characteristics - 2:14-17
a. the proclamation of the gospel - v. 14
1) a triumphal procession
The Greek word translated "triumph" or "triumphal procession" (thriambeuo) is used in the NT only here and in Col. 2:15. Most agree that the term refers to the Roman custom in which the victorious general leads his conquered captives in triumphal procession, most often times to their execution. However, a number of other interpretive suggestions have been made:
· The KJV renders this word, "causeth us to triumph" (a view embraced by Calvin: "Paul means that he had a share in the triumph that God was celebrating" ). However, as several have noted, the accusative following the verb is never the triumphing subject but always the object of the triumph.
· Barrett popularized the view that the image is of a victorious general leading his troops, not his conquered enemies, through the city streets in a triumphal celebration. On this view, Paul is one among many soldiers, all of whom are triumphant conquerors.
· Some have rendered this, "God triumphs over us," in the sense that all Christian converts are "conquered" by God at conversion. Paul, then, would be alluding to his encounter with God on the Damascus Road.
· P. Marshall acknowledges the imagery of the Roman triumphal procession but limits its application to the shame endured by those who were captured. Thus, Paul is simply identifying himself with the humiliation of those prisoners who were put on parade.
· The most probable interpretation is the one which recognizes an obvious paradox in Paul's use of this metaphor. On the one hand, it is God who leads Paul (and by extension, others who likewise preach the gospel as he does) in triumph. Yet, on the other hand, to be led in triumph by someone else implies captivity and suffering. Barnett provides this helpful explanation:
"There is paradox here, as implied by the metaphor 'lead [captive] in triumph,' which points at the same moment to the victory of a conquering general and the humiliation of his captives marching to execution. The metaphor is at the same time triumphal and antitriumphal. It is as God leads his servants as prisoners of war in a victory parade that God spreads the knowledge of Christ everywhere through them. Whereas in such victory processions the prisoners would be dejected and embittered, from this captive's lips comes only thanksgiving to God [v. 14a], his captor. Here is restated the power-in-weakness theme (cf. 1:3-11) that pervades the letter. . . . [Thus], to be sure, his ministry is marked by suffering, but so far from that disqualifying him as a minister, God's leading him in Christ as a suffering servant thereby legitimates his ministry. Christ's humiliation in crucifixion is reproduced in the life of his servant" (150).
Or, in the words of Witherington, Paul "is not saying that he is being led around in triumph, but rather that, like the captives in a triumphal process, he is being treated rudely while in the service of God" (366). Thus Paul asserts that it is precisely in his weakness and suffering as a captive slave of Christ Jesus that God receives all the glory as the One who is triumphantly victorious. Compare this passage with 1 Cor. 4:9,
"For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men."
2) a fragrant aroma
It was also customary for those being led in this procession to disperse incense along the way. However, the reference to "aroma" (vv. 14,16) and "fragrance" (v. 15) probably also points to the OT sacrifice and the odor of the smoke that ascended to heaven, in which God took unique pleasure. Thus Paul portrays his proclamation of the gospel of Christ as a strong fragrance, "unseen but yet powerful, impinging on all who encounter Paul in his sufferings as he preaches Christ wherever he goes. In the victory parade metaphor of this verse, the apostle is God's captive, whom God leads about spreading the knowledge of Christ --- incense-like --- by means of the proclamation of Christ" (Barnett, 152). Or again, "as God drags Paul around as his slave, the knowledge of Christ emanates from Paul wherever he goes" (Witherington, 366).
Observe Paul's imagery: knowing Jesus is like a sweet aroma! There is a spiritual and emotional pleasure in knowing Jesus that can best be compared to the physical delight we experience when our nostrils are filled with the fragrance of the choicest of perfumes or the soothing aroma of our favorite food. Simply put, knowing Jesus smells good!
b. the product of the gospel - vv. 15-16
Note well that it is Paul himself (or, for that matter, anyone who proclaims Christ as he does), perhaps in his sufferings in particular, who is the fragrance that pleases God. Those who hear this message are divided into two, and only two, groups: "those who are being saved" and "those who are perishing" (see 1 Cor. 1:18). The message of Christ that Paul proclaims is itself responsible for dividing the hearers in this way. Neutrality is not an option. To the one, Paul's message is "an alluring perfume, a spiritual oxygen that breathes life into their souls; to the other a stench in their nostrils, a spiritual cyanide that suffocates and poisons them to death" (Clements, 53).
1) a sweet-smelling fragrance of life to the saved
2) a poisonous fume of death to the lost
Note well: the preacher (whether Paul or you) is a fragrance to God, i.e., pleases God, simply for being faithful to proclaim Christ Jesus. We are a fragrance to God even when our message is rejected. Whether our efforts lead to "life" or "death", we remain "a fragrance of Christ to God" (v. 15a). We have succeeded when we preach Jesus truly and biblically. It is not our responsibility to convert our hearers. Our success, ultimately, is not measured by the number of our converts, or the proportion of saved to lost, but by the integrity and faithfulness with which we preach.
How might this affect our evangelistic strategies?
Charles Spurgeon reminds us:
"The gospel is preached in the ears of all; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher's learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it --- the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as to preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the Word, to give it power to convert the soul."
Paul's question, "who is adequate for these things," contrary to what you may think, calls for a positive response on his part: "We are!" Paul is preparing to contrast himself with his opponents who took pride in their personal power and triumphant style of ministry. Unlike them, Paul will say, my ministry originates with God (2:17) and I am made adequate for it by God (3:6).
c. the peddlers of the gospel - v. 17
How can Paul imply here and assert later (3:6) that he is adequate to carry out this ministry and his opponents are not? Note his contrast: they peddle the gospel, I don't.
The word translated "peddling" (kapeleuo) is found only here in the NT and nowhere in LXX. The related noun form (kapelos) was virtually synonymous with the idea of a "merchant" who regularly cheated his customers by misrepresenting his product in order to increase his profit. Thus the idea is of someone who tampers with the gospel, perhaps eliminating (or at least minimizing) its offensive elements, or altering certain theological points, so that the finished "product" will be more appealing to the audience. Their aim is obviously to gain as large a following as possible.
Paul's preaching, on the other hand, is characterized by four qualities:
he speaks with "sincerity" (i.e., with pure motives; wanting only that people would understand the truth; whether or not they choose to believe the truth and live, or reject the truth and die, is beyond his control)
he speaks "as from God" (i.e., what he says originates with God, not himself; he didn't make up the gospel; it wasn't his creation; cf. Gal. 1:15-17)
he speaks "in Christ" (i.e., from the spiritual context of his vital, living union with/in Christ)
he speaks "in the sight of God" (i.e., in God's presence, under his omniscient and ever-watchful eye, mindful that every syllable he speaks is known to God and that he will give a full account to God for what he speaks in God's name).
What principles can we glean from Paul's description of his ministry? How does Paul's image of himself and his relationship to the world affect our own? Do you see or detect a spirit of "triumphalism" in the contemporary church? Is it especially a problem among charismatic believers? If so, what are some of its characteristics? What is its cause? What should be done about it?