Much of 2 Corinthians unfolds like a drama, because much of what Paul was dealing with in his ministry was quite dramatic. In 2:12-17, Titus is sent to Corinth with a “severe letter” from Paul. Paul is in Ephesus (Acts 19:22b) after a brief, painful visit to Corinth -- these are not happy times. Paul then leaves Ephesus for Troas...in all likelihood because of the Demetrius riot (Acts 19:23-20:1). He already has been planning to leave Ephesus because he wants to meet Titus in Troas. There are supposed to be great opportunities for ministry in Troas…"open doors" from the Lord, as it says. In the big picture, the evangelistic work should proceed for some months in Troas. Paul figures that he will be joined by Titus before long, but as the months pass with no news from Titus (he couldn’t get to his e-mail or Facebook, apparently :-), Paul has no peace. He may have open doors, but no peace in his heart to walk through them. Because of his concern for Titus and the difficulties involved, Paul is under great stress, particularly because of his inability to move the gospel forward there. Paul trusts in the Lord in all that he is doing, so he decides to go to Macedonia where he hopes to meet Titus. Yet, once again, Paul is forced to change his plans. Even though he leaves unfinished work, he has faith that he is keeping integrity in doing the right thing (see Romans 8:28). He is finally able to have a happy reunion with Titus in Macedonia. Paul also receives encouraging news from Corinth, which brings him relief (7:5-16).
The good news is that the Corinthians respond favorably (at first) to his “severe letter.” Paul sees it as a vindication of his apostleship as grace is working...literally "triumphing"...in the hearts of the Corinthian believers. He shares a “triumph” metaphor (v.14)…which would not be unlike Jesus’ triumphal entry or a parade of Roman soldiers with the emperor after victory in battle. Roman priests would carry burning incense to pay tribute to the victorious army. The incense would affect people differently. To the soldiers…it represented life and victory, but to the conquered enemy…it meant defeat and death. Continuing with the image of incense, Paul pictures Christian ministry. He sees believers as giving forth the fragrance of Christ in their lives…or as one of my professors shared one time, “We are to be smelly Christians.” Well, you get the point. Christian life and ministry affects people in different ways...for some it is a blessing, while for others it is a curse. In this, the way that we live and work...our aroma...may very well mean life or death to those who need Christ. Paul, the apostles…all Christians…benefit in Christ’s victory (Romans 8:37). We are able to live and work from victory, rather than to victory...and this perspective is significant in our struggle to live the abundant life for Jesus.
Paul concludes his message here to the Corinthians by saying that his motive is sincere and his heart is pure in his preaching and teaching. He feels it is necessary to defend his apostleship, because he is continually being put on the defensive by false believers. There are Jewish Christians who are burdening him, as well as innocent believers, with the need to keep regulations and traditions that hinder a relationship with Jesus. He is willing to tell the Corinthians (and others...including us) of the unhindered life-giving remedy for sin, and they must do the same. They can no longer take things for granted, but be purposeful in their pursuit of spiritual living. As Jesus would say, we need to keep our “saltiness.” We need to be a positive influence on those around us. Our living for Christ propels our spiritual opportunity for growth, so we must be purposeful in how we live…our priorities must be in the right place.
Steve Smith shares this -- There was once a farmer who went to town to purchase seeds for his farm. As he was returning home one of the squash seeds he had purchased fell from his pocket onto the ground. It happened that within a few feet was another seed of a different type. The place where the two seeds lay was rather fertile, and miraculously they took root. After about a week the squash seed showed signs of growth. The second seed showed none. After two weeks the squash began to sprout leaves. The second seed showed none. After seven weeks the squash began to show fruit. The second seed still showed no progress. Four more weeks came and gone. The squash plant reached the end of its life bearing much fruit in that time, but the other seed finally began to slowly grow. Many years later, the squash was all but forgotten, but the other tiny seed, an acorn, had grown into a mighty oak tree. So many people want their faith to be like the squash. They want to experience it all right now. But, spiritual training requires hard work and patience...as anything worthwhile does. I had a conversation with a young person this week. She was frustrated because God was not giving her what she wanted. I do understand that feeling, and I am certain that you do as well. We tend to want things in our time and according to our way...we allow our self, struggles, and sin to get in the way of our growth. In our impatience, we do not understand that what God has in mind for us is something so much better. As we grow older we better understand this, but even still, we are not perfect. We have times where self and impatience want to run us down the wrong road. We need to cultivate a spirit of persistence, patience and endurance as we grow through life. Paul probably knew this better than anyone…and he had to exercise it, as at perhaps no other time, than when he is dealing with the Corinthian believers.
We need to be purposeful in our living. It seems like it is easy to get distracted by stress, struggles, and busyness from things that really matter. It is probably not because we are being purposefully negligent…but, the evil one has ways of "lulling us to sleep", spiritually, even when we think we may be “doing just fine.” We need to draw strength from the Lord and from each other through studying together, praying together, and fellowshipping together. It is what helps the body to prosper and grow. We need to continue “to be salty,” and “to be smelly”…in the right, spiritual manner, of course :-). Continue to glorify God in your life through recognizing godly principles and practices…claiming, living and speaking victory in the name of the Lord!
(*Note...will return to the Galatians series later in the week).