Paul’s confidence in the Corinthians: Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on 2 Co.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

April 13, 2014
Tom Lowe
The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

Lesson II.A.3: Paul’s confidence in the Corinthians. (2:12-17)

2nd Corinthians 2:12-17 (NKJV)
12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord,
13 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.
14 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.
15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?
17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.

12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord,

He came to Troas, and there he found an open door. It was the will of God for him to stay there and to preach the Gospel rather than proceed on to Corinth at that time. Paul was not being fickle. He was being faithful. He was faithful to the opportunity which God gave him. My friend, if you can’t do anything else in life, you can be faithful. Be faithful to the opportunities that God gives you. If He opens a door, don’t hesitate to go through that door.

In no place does Paul give a comprehensive description of his recent plans and travels. He first planned to go from Ephesus through Macedonia to Corinth (1 Cor. 16:5){1]. Then he decided, while in Corinth during his painful visit, to come back there on his way to Macedonia (2 Cor. 1:16){2]. Further thought, after his return to Ephesus, led him to delay his trip to Corinth to give them time to repent of their rebellion (2 Cor. 1:23){3]. So he returned to his original plan, sent the “stern letter” to Corinth by Titus, and traveled north from Ephesus to Macedonia. Titus was to travel north from Corinth and east through Macedonia, and meet Paul someplace along a prearranged route. Troas (full name, Alexandrea Troas), a seaport on the northwestern tip of Asia Minor, was one place where the meeting might have taken place. Wherever Paul went he preached the gospel; so he says that he came to Troas “for,” that is, to preach the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. People were ready to listen; a door was opened (Acts 14:27{15]; 1 Cor. 16:9{16]; Col. 4:3{17]; these passages make it clear that God opens the doors by providing a favorable situation and opening men’s hearts and minds to listen). By the Lord seems to mean by His service.

13 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.

In Troas he had been greatly encouraged. The natural thing would have been for Paul, with his strong evangelistic fervor, to seize the opportunity and give himself wholeheartedly to building a strong church in Troas. Some of the Christian group pictured in Acts 20:7-12 were no doubt converted at this time, although Paul could have won his first converts in Troas during an earlier visit mentioned in Acts 16:8{4]. But he couldn’t settle down to reap the harvest for a couple of reasons: First, because of his anxiety about the trouble in Corinth; secondly, because even while he was preaching the Gospel in Troas, he was grieved in his heart because Titus hadn’t come to bring him word concerning the congregation in Corinth. He waited for Titus to come, but Titus didn’t come. He was too concerned with meeting Titus at the earliest possible moment to stay in Troas too long. His mind was divided, and he couldn’t find relief from the tension and anxiety that the Corinthian crisis was causing him, and so, at last, he turned his steps toward Macedonia, and went over to Philippi in hopes of meeting Titus sooner. His departure for Macedonia was evidence of his anxiety, not of his vacillation (See 2 Cor. 7:2-7). This perpetual concern for the spiritual welfare of the Corinthians should have banished from their minds the idea that Paul acted out of fickleness. He thought and prayed constantly for their welfare; his plans and movements were controlled by his love and concern for them.
At this point Paul seems ready to tell of the joyful meeting with Titus somewhere in Macedonia, and of his delight, at the good news, Titus had brought. The outburst of thanks in verse 14 shows that the good news came—that the Corinthians had dealt with this sin in their congregation and that the man had now repented and had turned from his sin. But Paul doesn’t tell of it until 2 Cor. 7:5-7{5]. The thought of how the turn of events at Corinth has vindicated him has led him to interrupt the narrative and discuss at length his ministry as Christ’s apostle.

14 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.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ. In this dramatic picture, Paul is saying that preaching the Gospel is like leading a triumphal entry. The backdrop is a Roman triumphal entry. One of the great Roman generals would go out to the frontier—to Europe where my ancestors were at the time, or down into Africa—where he would have victory after victory, for Rome was victorious in most campaigns. The conqueror would then return to Rome, and there would be a great, triumphal entry into the city. It is said that sometimes the triumphal entry would begin in the morning and go on far into the night. The Roman conqueror would be bringing in animals and other booty which he had captured. In the front of the procession would be the people who were going to be released. They had been captured but would be freed and would become Roman citizens. In the back of the procession would be the captive people who were to be executed.

In these triumphal entries, there was always the burning of incense. They would be burning the incense to their gods to whom they gave credit for the victory. All the way through the procession there would be clouds of smoke from the incense, sometimes even obscuring the procession as it passed by.

With this as the background, Paul is saying, “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ.” This is wonderful, friend. You can’t lose when you are in Christ. You can’t lose! Paul says that God always leads us to triumph. Wait a minute, Paul. Always? In every place? We know you had wonderful success in Ephesus, but you didn’t do so well in Athens. Do you feel that you triumphed in both places? “Yes,” Paul says, “He always leads us to triumph in Christ.” Are you having a victory when nobody turns to Christ? “Oh, yes,” says Paul.

The good news Titus brought leads Paul to thank God (2 Cor. 8:16){6] for His sovereign and gracious control of the apostles life. In the Greek to God stands first, to emphasize where the credit and praise belong. In Christ, that is, in union with Him and in a life lived in His service, God leads the apostles in triumph, like victorious generals, parading in triumphal procession, led their captive foes chained to their chariots. So in all this missionary travel, God is leading Paul, who in letter after letter gladly acknowledges that he is the prisoner (Philem. 1, 9){7] or servant (Rom. 1:1){8] of Christ his Lord. This idea that God and Christ control his life and travel is another answer to those who have thought his change of plans a sign of fickleness. But Paul’s thought expands beyond the immediate situation; he is preparing to discuss his apostolic ministry in a broad way, and the words always and every place shows he is thinking of his entire ministry. Perhaps he still thinks of the conquerors' procession, along whose route incense was released.

It is God’s triumph that Paul celebrates, the triumph he won through Christ. The changed atmosphere in the church at Corinth is a victory for God because it is a victory of the Spirit of Christ. Freedom from bitterness or resentment is Christ’s victory within us. We are made free by the mastery of His love. In the Christian life, there are no victories that are not God’s.

Yet God’s victory, of course, is also our victory. The picture of these defeated captives dragged at the heels of some arrogant conqueror does not represent the Christian life, though there is truth in it. God’s triumph in which we share is possible through only His conquest of us. It comes when we are forced to our knees in surrender to His love. That surrender comes through the judgment of God in which we see ourselves as we are, and pride and self-will are broken. This had happened to Paul. The experience of his conversion was never absent from his mind. There the pride in his own goodness which had sustained his resistance to the truth was shattered. In the light of the crucified Christ, his lovelessness was laid bare. He was reduced to such despair that he fell to the ground in abject defeat and surrender, asking only, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). He was a captive of Christ, as completely conquered as one in a Roman general’s procession of triumph. But in this captivity he found freedom. His real self was released in power to triumph over the evil that had once ruled his life. It is the Christian paradox that in bondage to Christ is the secret of freedom. When we yield our sword to Him, we become conquerors through His love.

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