“But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:1).
The book of 2 Corinthians is one of the most intensely personal letters among the Apostle Paul’s New Testament writings- and the opening verses of 2 Corinthians chapter two contain a number of deeply emotional revelations. One commentary provides us with a reminder concerning the backdrop to this epistle and sets the stage for the personal admissions that will follow from Paul the Apostle…
“Paul had previously announced that he would not stop in Corinth on his way from Ephesus to Macedonia, but only on his return journey to his next destination (1Co 16:5-9). Subsequently he changed his mind and decided to favor them with a visit on both legs of his journey before going on to Judea (2Co 1:15-16). The unannounced visit to Corinth was so unpleasant that Paul again changed his plans.
He did not stop in Corinth after leaving Macedonia, nor did he go on to Judea. Instead, he proceeded (apparently) to Ephesus, from where he wrote the Corinthians an anguished letter rather than paying them another painful visit (1:23-2:4). In 2:12-13 Paul mentions yet another instance in which he changed his travel plans.” (1)
So any attempt to follow through on another visit to Corinth was likely to result in a painful and difficult reunion for Paul in light of the attitudes held by some within the church, As a leader, this placed the Apostle in a difficult position. On the one hand, Paul had no desire to rule in a dictatorial fashion over the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:24). On the other hand, there were issues within the church that a God-honoring spiritual leader like Paul simply could not ignore.
Therefore, Paul opted to address the Corinthians by letter rather than embark on a visit that might permanently damage the relationship he enjoyed with them. This would help to address the issues at Corinth while avoiding the potential difficulties that might be involved in a face-to-face meeting.
While either choice was sure to be difficult, the decision to speak to the Corinthians from a distance would better serve to protect the love he held for the congregation there. Unfortunately, this also left Paul open to the charge of being afraid to meet with the Corinthians in person, a point that he will later address in no uncertain terms.
Paul will go on to share the sorrow and pain that surely would have resulted from such a visit next.
(1) Lyons, George. “1. Autobiographical notices (1:8-2:13)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1024. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
“For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved?” (2 Corinthians 2:2).
Those who labor at a weekday job often look forward to the weekends, a period of time that offers a break from the daily grind of occupational employment. These brief respites often serve to bring a period of rest, leisure, and refreshment from the drudgeries of work and labor.
A person who looks forward to the weekends in this manner is someone who should be able to appreciate Paul the Apostle’s admission here in 2 Corinthians 2:1-2: “I made up my mind, then, that my next visit to you would not be a painful one, for if I cause you distress I am causing distress to my only possible source of joy” (NJB).
Much like the anticipation of an upcoming weekend can help us get through a difficult workweek, Paul’s affection for the members of the Corinthian church was something that was important to him. Therefore, the thought of making corrective visit to the church was much like the prospect of working straight through the weekend- it meant that something that should have provided Paul with a sense of pleasure and enjoyment would actually turn out to be just the opposite.
Other translations capture the emotional depth of this passage in the following manner…
“If I make you feel bad, who would be left to cheer me up, except the people I had made to feel bad?” (CEV).
“For if I cause you pain, who is left to make me happy except the people I have pained?” (CJB).
“For if I cause you grief, who will make me glad? Certainly not someone I have grieved” (NLT).
“For if I make you sad, who is going to make me happy? You are the ones to do it, and how can you if I cause you pain?” (TLB).
In another sense, we should recognize that Paul was working against his own interests to some degree in challenging the Corinthians’ conduct. You see, if the Corinthians had chosen to reject Paul’s counsel, it would have effectively closed off a relationship that provided him with a genuine source of happiness. Given the difficulties that Paul encountered throughout his ministry, its likely that such opportunities were in short supply.
Therefore, its highly unlikely that Paul derived any sense of pleasure from the thought of confronting the Corinthians. Yet whether if it was by letter or personal visit, Paul chose not to shy away from fulfilling this leadership responsibility despite the potential cost to him.
“And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all.
For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).
Anyone who undertakes a leadership position knows (or quickly comes to the realization) that there are certain aspects of that responsibility that are less pleasurable than others. For Paul the Apostle, this meant communicating a number of difficult truths to a group of people he sincerely loved within the church at Corinth. Yet Paul still chose to accept this responsibility despite the emotional pain it brought him.
For instance, Paul first engaged in a personal visit with the Corinthians that he described as “painful” (2 Corinthians 2:1 NIV). Later on, he decided to communicate through a hard-hitting piece of correspondence as noted above. In taking these steps, Paul demonstrated that there are times when the most loving thing we can do for others is to communicate the truth in a forthright manner. While a forceful exchange is not always the preferred route (at least initially), it sometimes represents the only form of communication that others truly understand. As we’re reminded in Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (NLT).
Paul’s example also tells us that there may be times when wisdom requires us to distance ourselves in order to maintain the best possible relationship with others. This was the route that Paul took in choosing to communicate with the members of the Corinthian church by letter rather than seeking to engage in another distressing personal visit.
Finally, we should remember that there are two important features that should mark our communication with others within God’s family: love and respect. Paul expressed this idea in a letter to another first-century church when he wrote, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10 NIV).
While there may be times the most loving and appropriate thing we can do for someone is to communicate the truth in no uncertain terms, it’s important to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Therefore, we should look for ways to communicate the truth in a manner that recognizes our mutual God-given worth and considers the feelings of others who may be involved.
“But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Corinthians 2:5-8).
Although the Apostle Paul referenced a particular individual who had been responsible for causing grief within the church at Corinth, he did not specifically identify that person within the passage quoted above. This had led to some degree of speculation regarding his identity. One commentator offers the following list of possibilities…
“Who is this ‘he’ who caused trouble? There have been several suggestions. 1. it refers to 1Co_5:9 and the man who married his father’s wife 2. it refers to a ringleader of one of the factions or house churches 3. it refers to the spokesperson for the group of supposed “leaders” from Palestine who confronted Paul on his return to Corinth and apparently the church did not defend Paul as it should have.” (1)
For the most part, many historical commentators tend to select option one from the list provided above. This was the man who had been engaged in an immoral relationship with a woman who was (or had been) married to his father as detailed in 1 Corinthians chapter five. The indifferent attitude held by many within the church in regard to that relationship drew a pointed response from the Apostle along with some explicit instructions…
“Despite the fact that I am not physically present with you, I am there in spirit and already have spoken judgment against the man who has engaged in this conduct. When you gather in the name of the Lord Jesus and I am present with you in spirit, and the infinite power of our Lord Jesus is present also, I direct you to release this man over to Satan so his rebellious nature will be destroyed and his spirit might be rescued in the day the Lord Jesus returns” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5, Voice).
If we accept that the person referenced in 1 Corinthians chapter five and the person spoken of here in 2 Corinthians chapter two are one and the same, then we can make some educated observations regarding the Corinthians’ response to the letter that we know today as 1 Corinthians. We’ll consider that response (and its ramifications) next.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 2 Corinthians 2 [2:5] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL06/VOL06B_02.html
“Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:5-8 ESV).
In 1 Corinthians chapter five, Paul the Apostle issued a stinging reprimand to those within the church at Corinth who had embraced a casual attitude towards a person who had been engaged in an immoral relationship: “…you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns” (1 Corinthians 5:9 NLT).
As mentioned earlier, the act of placing this person outside the protective environment of the church would subsequently expose him to the animosity of a world that was “…under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 NIV). Thus, this response was designed to provide the motivation necessary to bring about an attitude of repentance and ultimately, restoration. If we go on to compare 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, we can reasonably assume that the Corinthians elected to act upon Paul’s counsel in regard to this matter.
So judging from the passage quoted above, it seems that this approach achieved the intended result. Since it appears that this action had been sufficient to bring forth an attitude of repentance, the next step involved the restoration of this man within the church community: “…forgive him, encourage him, comfort him. Otherwise such a person might be swallowed up in overwhelming depression” (CJB).
The need to avoid a destructive sense of excessive grief (HCSB) represented one potential danger facing the Corinthian church with regard to the person who was involved in this situation. Another will be revealed a little later in verse eleven. One commentator from another generation provides us with a preview of that danger along with a number of other negative results that might be avoided by this act of restoration and reconciliation…
“Not only was there danger lest Satan should get advantage, by tempting the penitent to hard thoughts of God and religion, and so drive him to despair; but against the churches and the ministers of Christ, by bringing an evil report upon Christians as unforgiving; thus making divisions, and hindering the success of the ministry.” (1)
(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=47&c=2
“If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent–not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:5-8 NIV).
2 Corinthians 2:5-8 provides us with an opportunity to explore the subject of church discipline. One source refers us to a helpful definition of this important term: “Church discipline may be broadly defined as the confrontive and corrective measures taken by an individual, church leaders, or the congregation regarding a matter of sin in the life of a believer.” (1)
To begin, we can say that church discipline should never be undertaken with a spirit of malice, vindictiveness, or revenge. Instead, it should be viewed as an act that is both corrective and redemptive in nature with the ultimate goal of restoration in mind. Next, there should be an expression of forgiveness, comfort, and love towards an individual who is is genuinely repentant as a result of this disciplinary process. This is in keeping with the spirit of Jesus’ teaching on this subject in Matthew 18:15-17 along with His parable of the unforgiving servant that we will go on to consider in greater depth a little later in this chapter.
Of course, Jesus personally modeled this concept of restoration in regard to the Apostle Peter, a disciple who denied that he even knew Jesus on three separate occasions (see Mark 14:27-31 and 14:66-72). Yet despite Peter’s expressed disloyalty, some of the initial visitors to Jesus’ empty tomb later received the following instructions: “But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:7).
The fact that Peter was specifically included within this invitation is important for it indicates that Jesus had not rejected Peter despite Peter’s earlier denials of Him. You see, Jesus clearly desired to maintain His relationship with Peter despite his denials; in fact, 1 Corinthians 15:5 tells us that Jesus appeared first to Peter before the other disciples following His resurrection. (2)
So Jesus sought to welcome Peter despite his rejection, an act that serves to illustrate His patience, kindness, forgiveness, and grace. It also represents an attitude that we would do well to emulate in regard to the subject of church discipline.
(1) Carl Laney, A Guide to Church Discipline, Bethany House Publishers, p. 14. quoted in J. Hampton Keathley, III, Church Discipline https://bible.org/article/church-discipline#P15_1816
(2) We should also note Peter’s response to the realization that he had fulfilled Jesus’ prediction in regard to his denials: “And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). This emotional response indicates that Peter clearly recognized his mistake, a crucial step on the road to repentance.
“For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:9-10).
The Corinthian church’s response to the immorality found within their congregation not only held ramifications for the person involved- it also functioned as a test for the remainder of the church as well. The question was this: would the congregation follow the directives they had received from the Apostle Paul or would they choose another course of action? To illustrate this test, we can turn to a dilemma faced by consumers in the first-century era.
You see, many of the familiar forms of financial exchange that we enjoy today simply did not not exist in the days of the first century, Instead, virtually all forms of currency took the form of metal coinage. These coins were crafted from metal that had been heated to a liquid state and then poured into molds where they were allowed to cool.
When the coins emerged from within these molds, they still carried some extraneous metal around the edges known as “flash.” So before these coins could be placed into circulation, these rough, uneven edges first had to be removed. But even after being prepared in this manner, an unscrupulous financier might shave down an individual coin even further, thus decreasing its value. One commentator tells us that more than eighty laws were passed to try to stop such individuals from shaving down the coins that were already in circulation.
On the other hand, there were other financiers who acted with a greater degree of integrity and refused to accept or exchange such cut-down coinage. Thus, they represented honorable brokers who were committed to placing only genuine, full-weight money into circulation. These individuals were identified by the term “dokimos,” a reference to the type of person who was “approved” in handling such financial transactions. (1)
In a similar manner, the members of the Corinthian church had been “tested and approved” in carrying out the Apostle Paul’s instructions. Thus we can say that the members of this congregation had demonstrated admirable progress in developing the character and spiritual maturity necessary to identify and address the inappropriate behavior within their fellowship despite any of the other issues that may have remained.
(1) Coinage information was sourced and adapted from Romans: God’s Glory. Donald Grey Barnhouse pg. 18. See here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=esv&strongs=g1384
“If you forgive anyone for anything, I also forgive him — for indeed what I have forgiven (if I have forgiven anything) I did so for you in the presence of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:10 NET).
What is “forgiveness”? Well, forgiveness can be defined as, “The act of excusing or pardoning another in spite of his slights, shortcomings, and errors.” (1) Since God has forgiven us in Christ, we are similarly obligated to follow His good example in forgiving those who have wronged us as well. But what of those who do not forgive, those who hold grudges, or those who prefer to remain angry with others who have committed an injustice against them?
Well, Jesus once addressed those questions in the form of a parable found in Matthew 18:21-35…
“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart” (NLT).
(1) “Forgiveness” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
2 Corinthians 2:5-11 draws our attention to a spiritual danger that may be easy to overlook- the danger that exists in failing to do what is right.
You see, it was good and appropriate for the members of the Corinthian church to restore the person who had responded to their act of church discipline in a spirit of contrition and repentance. But a failure to welcome that person back into their fellowship would have have been a sin. As one source observes, “Satan would gladly have kept the sinful man in the church; since he has repented, Satan would gladly have the church keep him out.” (1)
Thus, a failure to do what is right can be identified as one of the more subtle tools in the adversary’s toolbox. As another commentator reminds us…
“This verse tells us that a church or an individual Christian may be overcome by the evil one simply by failing to do right! We are easily deceived into believing that evil only has power over us when we do something wrong. But according to Paul (and Jesus in Luk_12:47-48; and Jas_4:17) righteousness is a positive way of life, not a negative one. Failure to do right is in itself the most common sin of Christians. (2)
As we close out this portion of 2 Corinthians chapter two, this same commentator provides us with a number of helpful observations regarding the subject of church discipline…
“a. When Christians rebel against godly spiritual leaders and verbally attack them, their attacks bring grief upon the whole church of God as well as their leaders.
b. It is the responsibility of the whole church to bring such rebellion to a resolution, even if severe discipline is necessary.
c. If the offender repents and expresses desire to be reinstated in fellowship with the congregation, the congregation must forgive, comfort (strengthen) and love him.
d. For there is a clear danger that severe spiritual discipline could cause a Christian to be overwhelmed (Gr. katapothe, “swallowed up”) with grief.
e. The apostles expect the church to obey in everything taught by them.
f. Not forgiving a penitent brother makes any Christian vulnerable to Satan’s designs…”
“There is only one way we may be certain that we are not ignorant of the devil’s devices and that is to trust only what the Bible says about the devil. All other information purporting to be about the devil is suspect…” (2)
(1) Johnson, Barton W. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2”. “People’s New Testament”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/pnt/view.cgi?book=2co&chapter=002>. 1891.
(2) The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In Second Corinthians (College Press) Paul T. Butler. [p. 47, 48] Copyright © 1988 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesSecondCorinthians/132Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, 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 Corinthians 2:12-13).
The first-century city of Troas was a Mediterranean coastal city located near the Aegean sea. It was a place that was familiar to Paul the Apostle, for Acts 16:8-10 tells us that Troas was the city where he received his call to preach the gospel in the region of Macedonia. Later on, Paul returned to Troas for a week-long stay (Acts 20:6) during which he apparently left some of his possessions behind (see 2 Timothy 4:13).
It was there in Troas that Paul had hoped to connect with another man named Titus in order to receive an update on the situation in Corinth. Titus was a close associate of Paul (1) and the person to whom the Biblical letter of Titus is addressed. Its possible that Titus carried one of Paul’s earlier messages to the church at Corinth along with the understanding that he would later catch up with Paul at Troas in order to provide him with an update on how it had been received.
Unfortunately, it appears that Titus never made his way back to Troas, a development that deeply troubled Paul. As Paul himself confessed, “I had no rest in my spirit” or, “I… had no peace of mind” (NIV) regarding his inability to secure a follow up meeting with his friend. Since the contents of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians were challenging and difficult, he was naturally concerned with their response. If we add this to the fact that Titus had subsequently gone “missing in action,” its easy to see why Paul had become concerned.
So despite the fact that the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for Paul within the city of Troas, he made the decision to go to the region of Macedonia in an attempt to locate Titus. To find him, Paul could simply check with the members of each local Christian community to see if Titus had previously visited there as he traveled from place to place. Thus, they could assist Paul in tracking down his friend and provide him with the latest news from their region.
For those of us who are accustomed to the near-instantaneous communication capabilities available today, these first-century limitations can help us better appreciate the anxieties that Paul experienced as he sought news regarding the situation at Corinth.
“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. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).
2 Corinthians 2:14-15 marks the beginning of a departure in the Apostle Paul’s narrative concerning his attempt to obtain news of the situation in Corinth, one that will go on to occupy a sizable portion of the book of 2 Corinthians. In fact, Paul’s chronicle of his search for Titus and the latest news from Corinth will have to wait until we reach 2 Corinthians 7:5-7 where he will resume the account he began in the previous verses.
In the meantime, the intervening portions of 2 Corinthians will provide us with an extended discourse on a variety of topics including…
- A comparison of the Old and New Covenants (chapter three).
- The importance of integrity in ministry (4:1-6).
- The power of the gospel in the possession of frail human beings (4:7-18).
- The hope of heaven and the ministry of reconciliation that God has extended to us (chapter five).
- The role of God’s people as Temples of the Living God (6:14-7:1).
Paul began this digression with a word-picture that was sure to evoke a number of familiar images for the members of his original audience. For example, those who had previously lived under the Old Testament sacrificial system might easily associate the imagery contained within the phrase “…we are to God the fragrance of Christ” with a Scripture such as Numbers 28:2: “Give these instructions to the people of Israel: The offerings you present as special gifts are a pleasing aroma to me…” (NLT).
This passage might also bring to mind another Old Testament Scripture found in Ezekiel 20:41: “When I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the unfamiliar lands where you have been scattered, I will accept you as a pleasant aroma. I will put My holiness on display by the way you live as all the world watches!” (Voice).
In fact, the imagery of an Old Testament sacrifice was so powerful that Paul would later go on to utilize it once again in his letter to the church at Philippi (see Philippians 4:18). However, there was another aspect to this passage that would have been familiar to a Roman audience as well. We’ll go on to examine that association next.
“For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15 HCSB).
While the sight of an old photograph or the voice of a friend can trigger a pleasant memory, a familiar scent is one that can often prompt the strongest response within us.
For instance, the aroma of a familiar meal can serve to recall childhood memories of a beloved family member’s home. The fragrance of a lover’s perfume or cologne can evoke a strong emotional response in those who encounter it. The interior scent of a classic automobile can transport the person who formerly owned such a vehicle back to an earlier era when the car and its driver were both much younger.
Perhaps this is why the Holy Spirit inspired Paul the Apostle to select this particular metaphor to illustrate the effect that God’s people can have upon the lives of others. In much the same way that a particular scent can mean different things to different people, the reality of Christ in the lives of those who follow Him can provoke vastly different responses in those whom they encounter.
Nevertheless, some members of Paul’s original audience may have understood this imagery in a much more immediate sense. You see, this reference to “…those who are being saved and… those who are perishing” has its likely origins in an ancient Roman triumphal procession. One source provides us with some important background information regarding this practice…
“It was a custom in the Roman Empire, when a conquering general returned from a campaign over one of the enemies of Rome, if he had fought a hard campaign and had thoroughly overcome the enemy, subduing the threat to Rome, then the Senate would meet and grant him a Triumph…
In the Roman Triumphs, the conquering general would ride through the streets of Rome in his chariot, preceded by numbers of priests swinging pots of fragrant incense. Behind him would come the captives he had taken, being led to their execution in chains; then there would come the generals of his army, the captains and the commanders of his forces. The streets would be filled with people shouting acclamations.” (1)
These processions represented a tremendous honor for the victorious and a shameful humiliation for the defeated- and the fragrance of the incense dispersed during these proceedings meant something vastly different for each. We’ll tie these ideas together along with a modern-day application of this passage next.
(1) Ray C. Stedman, Who is Sufficient Message transcript and recording © 1979, 1995 by Ray Stedman Ministries, owner of sole copyright by assignment from the author. https://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/2-corinthians/who-is-sufficient
“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?” (2 Corinthians 2:16)
Just as the message of salvation in Christ means one thing to those who have accepted His sacrifice, it often means something very different for those who have chosen to reject it.
For instance, let’s take the example of a person who believes that the idea of an afterlife is something that is foolish and naive. A person who holds that opinion is likely to experience difficulty in understanding the choices and decisions made by those who affirm that every human being will eventually have to give an account of his or her life to God (see Hebrews 4:13).
This illustration highlights an important reality contained within the passage quoted above: it is often challenging for others to make sense of the judgments made by those who seek to honor God with their lives. On one hand, those who are members of God’s family will typically respond to such judgments with the same level of appreciation that accompanies the aroma of a good meal. For others, such judgments might simply just stink.
We can further illustrate this dichotomy with a passage from the New Testament epistle of 1 Peter…
“You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.
Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you. But remember that they will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:3-5 NLT).
Thus, it helps to remember that our choices and decisions serve to impact those who within our circle of influence- and the things we teach with our lives will leave an impression upon others. Yet just as a manufacturer cannot fully control the way in which a product is used once it is released to the public, a Godly man or woman cannot always control the way in which others respond to the choices that he or she makes in seeking to honor God.
As one paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 2:16 puts it, “We Christians have the unmistakeable ‘scent’ of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself” (Phillips).
“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” (2 Corinthians 2:17).
The contrast found within the closing verse of 1 Corinthians chapter two is one of great importance: “For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God…”
This implies that there were a great number of first-century hucksters who were making merchandise of God’s Word in the period immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection. As one source comments, “Even in Paul’s day, there already were many false prophets and false teachers, who were corrupting the sincere teaching of God’s Word with various elements of paganism. One of Paul’s main purposes in writing this epistle was to warn against these compromising teachers.” (1)
One way to effectively identify the modern-day variants of those who “…market God’s message for profit” (HCSB) involves examining the priorities of a minister and his or her ministry for potential areas of concern. For instance…
- Is the person or organization known for a strong commitment to Scriptural integrity or is the person or organization primarily known for something else?
- Does the person or ministry recognize the ultimate authority of God’s Word in addressing the issues and concerns of life?
- Does the person or organization devote an inordinate amount of time to fundraising or marketing of it’s materials?
- If the organization presents itself as a teaching or preaching ministry, is the minister primarily focused upon a particular spritual theme or experience? Are the sermons generally topical with an occasional Bible verse sprinkled in from time to time?
While any group of imperfect human beings has the potential to make mistakes or drift off course, a ministry that is firmly committed and focused upon communicating the whole counsel of God is generally one that is less likely to “…hustle the word of God to make a profit” (CEB). On the other hand, an agenda-driven ministry that views and applies the Scriptures in a peripheral manner is one that should be scrutinized closely.
In light of this, we would be well advised to remember everyone speaks “…in the sight of God in Christ.” This concept can be summarized by the Latin term Coram Deo, a phrase that means “in the presence of God.” Those who act with the understanding that our choices and decisions are made in the daily presence of a holy, righteous, and virtuous Creator are those who are most likely to discharge their responsibilities in an appropriate manner and avoid “…peddling the word of God.”
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes [2 Corinthians 2:17] http://www.icr.org/books/defenders/7332/