- Sermon Notes
2 Corinthians 2:14-3:5
This letter which we call 2 Corinthians is actually Paul’s third letter to the church in Corinth. We do not have the first. This letter we are now studying was written only about a year after 1 Corinthians.
The letter that Paul had just written was a letter of correction. There was a lot of spiritual immaturity in that church and he brought correction in one point after another. Some received that correction very well, but others took offense and essentially “threw Paul under the bus,” questioning his authority as an apostle of Christ.
It takes a certain degree of maturity to receive a word of correction, but that word of correction is the very thing that brings even more maturity. The one who is immature can’t receive correction at all - which means they will always stay immature.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6
Today, we don’t really send a letter as much as simply sending an email; and we usually get a response fairly quickly. When Paul sent 1 Corinthians, it was hand delivered, probably by Titus, and Paul had to wait many months to know how they responded. He knew he wrote a strong letter, the very thing they needed, but was anxious to hear how they received it.
When Paul heard the news that there were many who received it well, he rejoiced; but he also heard that others responded by questioning his authority as an apostle. So he writes another letter. In this letter he explains the gospel with great power and clarity. He establishes the authority of his calling with great power, but he also becomes very personal with them. In fact, this is one of the most personal of all of Paul’s letters.
You get a sense of that in verse 4; “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears… that you might know the love which I have especially for you.” In other words, Paul is saying that his letter of correction was painful for him to write.
The context of our verses today is that Paul came to Troas, hoping to find Titus and receive some news from the church at Corinth. But Titus wasn’t there and so Paul, “finding no rest for his spirit,” went on to Macedonia which is on the way to Corinth.
It’s here that Paul, reflecting on his life and ministry, gives us an insight into his faith. Paul shows us a faith that is victorious. It’s here we understand how Paul thinks; how he processes life. It’s a great opportunity for our faith to be strengthened as well.
I. God Always Leads Us in His Triumph
- What does it mean to always be led in God’s triumph? Notice that he says, “God’s triumph.” In other words, Paul is not suggesting that the Christian is filled with personal triumphs so that he can boast in his personal accomplishments.
- It also doesn’t mean that the Christian is free from trouble or difficulty. Paul encountered more difficulty and trouble than just about anyone I know.
- We need to understand this because it has everything to do with how we live out our faith.
A. God is the One who is leading
- This is a work that God does. Give thanks to God because He always leads us in His triumph in Christ.
- There are two parts to this. First, that God leads; and secondly, God leads in His triumph.
- There is an aspect of God’s sovereign hand at work as He orders the steps of our lives.
Psalm 37:23-24, The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he will not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand.
- Mature faith believes that God orders our steps and looks for those divine appointments that He arranges for us.
Illus – On this trip to Africa I sensed that God was ordering my steps and arranging divine appointments. I was having a quick bite at the Portland airport and heard the familiar voice of Jeramy, one of our drummers. Then, in Washington DC a father set his six-year-old daughter right next to me and walked away. And on and on. Coming back through DC I was looking for an outlet to charge my computer and someone said, “Hi Pastor.” “How do you know me?” I asked. “Whenever we’re in Portland we come to your church.” What a blessed conversation we had.
B. God gives His triumph
- He leads us in His triumph. This does not mean that He leads us in such a way that we never encounter trouble. Paul encountered many troubles, more than most people could imagine.
- Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
- “Take courage,” Jesus said. In other words, have faith in the midst of your troubles. Faith is your victory because your eyes are always looking to Him to order your steps and bring you through the trouble into His victory.
1 John 5:4, Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that is overcome the world - our faith.
Hebrews 11:32-40 The Hall of faith; not all lived, but all were victorious.
- We are victorious when we understand by faith that God is for us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Romans 8:31, What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Romans 8:37-39, In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced… that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- The question in many people’s minds, however, is why God, in His great love, doesn’t keep us from troubles. For many, it seems inconsistent, “You say
you love me, and yet I go through troubles and trials and difficulties.”
- They are convinced that a God that is good should not allow evil to exist. There is such a place and it’s called heaven, but this is earth where God has made man with a will to freely choose to follow Him or reject Him.
Illus - Jesus gave a parable that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat… the wheat and the tares will grow up together until the harvest…
- God did not promise to keep us from troubles, but He did promise to be with us in them.
Hebrews 13:5-6, He Himself has said, “I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.” So that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
II. We are the Fragrance of Christ
- God manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place, Paul said.
- In other words, people should smell something in our character that is sweet and pleasant.
- Does character have a smell? Sure. There’s an old southern expression that captures the opposite of this; “There’s a skunk in the wood pile somewhere.” In other words, you may not be able to put your finger on it, but you just know there’s something wrong about that person’s character.
- The opposite should be true in our lives. There should be something that people can smell in our character that’s good and right. “There’s something very pleasant about your character, I like being with you,” should be what people think about you.
A. How you smell matters
- Smell is a very powerful sense. We often associate memories and important events to those smells that were part of them.
- For many years, I associated the smell of cigarettes to my dad; especially early mornings on our way to pick berries.
Illus - You smell like what you are around. Fresh air has a distinct smell; cut grass certainly does. When I worked in the restaurant I always came home with a distinct smell on my clothes. Africa had the steady smell of smoke from cooking fires. When I came home, a neighbor was burning leaves and I was immediately reminded of being in Africa.
- Having the aroma of Christ comes from the transformation of character that comes from His presence in your life.
Acts 4:13, Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
- That is the key. The aroma of your character comes from what happens in the inner man. That’s where Christ transforms death into life.
Illus - When you open the door of your heart, you’re inviting Christ into the most personal part of your life. That’s where the smell of your character comes from. Will you let the Lord do something about that?
When we were living in Aloha I thought I smelled something strange in the house, but couldn’t be sure. Day after day I kept wondering if there was something there. We had guests coming for dinner and I had to know…
- You can’t just add air freshener to the smell of death. Trust Him; He is the resurrection and the life. He transforms that which is dead into life.
B. Be a fragrance to God
- We are the fragrance of Christ to God, Paul said. In the Old Testament fragrant offerings were given to the Lord to represent the love, the worship, and the prayers of the people.
Ephesians 5:1-2, Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
- Paul also points out, however, that not everyone appreciates the aroma of Christ. To them it’s a reminder of their death which they would prefer to ignore.
- To others, when they see your life, they recognize that God is doing something in you…
Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
C. Our sufficiency is from God
- Verse 16 - who is adequate for these things?
- Paul goes on to say that his confidence is in Christ. The pride of the American culture is to be self-sufficient, but the person who is self-sufficient has cut themselves off from the help God provides.
- Paul has learned that there is no value in being self-sufficient, he needs God and so do we.
- Our part is sincerity. You know what made David a powerful leader and a great warrior?
- He was a worshiper. As a young man David worshiped as he watched the sheep. He played his harp, he wrote Psalms and he did it because of his heart after God.
Psalm 71:5, For You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth.
2 Corinthians 2:14-3:5 NASB
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? 2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,