2 Corinthians 2:14-3:5
October 10, 2015
Beginning with verse 14, I want to just begin by saying thank you to everyone who was praying for me on my trip to Africa. I had a wonderful trip and I know that you were praying for me and I really, really appreciate that.
Life is hard in Africa, particularly in that area. We were in the Congo, so if you kind of think of the map of Africa and go right to the center and then go a little bit south and towards the Atlantic Ocean, we were in Kinshasa, which is the capital of DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it's a huge city of 10 or 12 million people, and we started ministry there in 2002, with just a small beginning of a church, and today there are 19 churches there. So I was doing a Pastors Counseling Team. We were raising up another eight or so leaders to plan more churches over the next couple of years, and so it is just wonderful and encouraging to see the church doing well there, and I'll tell you what, they are growing in their faith.
There's a depth to their faith because the pastors are teaching verse by verse and chapter by chapter. Many of the people don't have Bibles, so for them, this is such a huge opportunity to be having the word of God ministry into their lives, and I'll tell you what, church for them is the highlight of the week. I mean, services are three hours long, and I’ll have no more complaints about the length of my sermons, I'll tell you that. They are three hours long, and when they come to worship, I mean, they come to worship, and it is just awesome, and also their volume, I'll tell you, you think our music is loud? Whooo! I mean, I'm behind the speakers and it is so loud that I have the interpreter next to me and I'm like cupping my hands trying to yell into his ear, and he's struggling to hear me.
But they love worship and they love it loud and they love to just enter into the presence of the Lord and I brought your greetings to them, and they sent their greetings to us, and so I have a little video. When I was teaching at the church, I said, "I want to bring your greetings home," so I took my little iPad and kind of did a video, and I had—actually I had to do a 360 because I had people sitting behind me as well. So here's a little video of them greeting us.
It's wonderful to have, and I committed to them that we are going to send them 800 French Bibles. Amen. We're going to send them 800 French Bibles, and 25 study Bibles for their pastors, and so we'll be figuring out how we're going to do that, but we're going to do it, and so I'm excited, glad that I went, and, of course, we'll have more stories as we go a bit, but very, very wonderful trip and looking forward to just seeing what God is doing there in the future. It's just amazing what he's done so far.
Let's open our Bibles to Second Corinthians, Chapter 2. We're going to begin with verse 14. The title of our message this morning is Triumphant Believers. What God would have for us. Let's pray.
All right, this is Second Corinthians. Actually, it's his third letter. We don't have the first one. We just finished studying First Corinthians, and this is a follow-up to it written maybe a year or a year and a half afterward. If you remember as we were going through First Corinthians that it's a book of correction, and that is because there was a lot of spiritual immaturity in that church, and so he brings one chapter after the other, words of correction to encourage them to receive this and to be transformed to bring about a spiritual maturity into their lives.
Now, some, when they got that letter, some responded by receiving that word of correction and taking those words to heart and to bring about those changes that he said that needed to be brought. Others, however, did not receive it so well and, in fact, essentially threw Paul under the bus questioning his authority as an apostle of Christ, essentially saying, "Who do you think you are?" You know, it takes a certain degree of maturity to receive a word of correction, but that word of correction is the very thing that we need to bring more maturity.
If you can receive a word of correction, if you're teachable of heart, you can become more mature, but it's the one who cannot receive correction at all who will always remain immature. They refuse to receive a word of correction. Now this is good for us to really consider, because frankly, the word of God is filled with corrections for all of us. We all need that word of God to change our lives and to bring that word of correction.
How do you respond to it? I think there are some who respond to God's word of correction, you know, and adjusting our course. We respond with an open heart. God, your word is wonderful. Your wisdom is high. Your heart is to bless my life, and when you bring a word of correction, even a word of discipline, I know that you're doing it out of love for me. I walk in it, God. Speak into my life. Now that's going to bring greater and greater maturity into your life.
But other people are absolutely unteachable. “Now I'll just figure this thing out. Don't tell me what to do,” and those are the ones that never, never change. So it's important for us that we look at our own lives and make it personal. Here’s a great Scripture in Proverbs 27:6. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy." You know today, when we—well, of course, we don't really send letters, per se, we send emails. When we send an email, we can pretty much get a response pretty quickly to that. We know right away how they responded. When Paul sent that First Corinthians letter that we just finished studying, he had it hand delivered, probably by Titus, but he had to wait many months before he knew how they responded. He knew that he wrote a strong letter. He knew it was the very thing they needed, but he was very anxious to know how they would receive it.
Now, finally after many months, Paul got news that there were some who received it well. He rejoiced about that, but then he heard others were responding by questioning his authority as an apostle, so he writes this letter. This is Second Corinthians, and this letter, he explains the Gospel with great power and great clarity. So we're going to see an insight into the Gospel here that's very wonderful.
He establishes his authority and his calling with great power. He refutes them strongly, but he also gets very personal with them. This is one of the most personal, intimate letters. Paul opens his heart. He bears his heart to them, because he loves them, and in fact, you get a sense of that in verse 4, so Second Corinthians 2, verse 4, we get a sense of the personal heart of Paul for them. He says, "It was out of much affliction and anguish of heart that I wrote to you" that First Corinthians letter. "It was with many tears, not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you should know the love that I have especially for you. Hey, when I wrote that letter, I knew it was strong, but I wrote it out of anguish of soul and tears in my eyes because I love you so much. It's kind of like your mom saying this hurts me more than it hurts you, sort of thing. But he means it. "My heart is for you."
Now the contexts of the verses that we're going to look at today is this. Paul was anxious to hear word. What did they say? How did they respond to it? So he had arranged for Titus to meet him in Trelas, the city on the western seaport of the area we call Turkey, but he wasn’t there. And so he's eager to hear the news, so he moves on to Macedonia. He finally does meet up with him there, but while he’s waiting, he's reflecting on his life, his ministry and on his faith, and that’s where we get great insight.
I. God Always Leads Us in His Triumph
So let's begin. Second Corinthians, Chapter 2. let's actually begin in verse 13. Kind of runs into it better. I had no rest for my spirit not finding Titus, my brother, but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia, but thanks be to God, and here's his great insight into his own heart and his own faith. But thanks be to God who always leads us in his triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of him in every place for we are a fragrance of Christ, through God, among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one, an aroma from death to death. To the other, an aroma from life to life. And who's adequate for these things? We are not like many peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, as from God, we're speaking Christ in the sight of God.
Chapter 3, verse 1. Are we beginning to commend ourselves again, or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? Hey, you are our letter written in our hearts, known and read by all men. Being manifested—now listen to this phrase. I really like this phrase. 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, and such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves. To consider anything else coming from ourselves, our adequacy, our sufficiency is from God. These are great verses. Really helpful. Insight into faith, and it strengthens us when we consider it.
One of the things we need to grasp right away is in verse 14. “God always leads us in his triumph,” he said. This is his faith. This is the insight that's helpful to build our faith. What does it mean to always be led in God's triumph? Notice he says it's God's triumph. It's his victory. It' s his triumph. In other words, he's not suggesting here that the Christian is filled with personal triumph so that he can boast of his personal accomplishments. He's not saying that the Christian always has such wonderful things happening in his life that his football team always wins. We know that's not the case. We know that's not the case.
Or, you know, the Christian, he always gets that promotion. Everything, everything always goes his way. That's not the case. That's not what he means by this, and it also doesn’t mean that the Christian's free from trouble or difficulty. Oh, Paul encountered more difficulty and trouble than just about anybody I know.
A. God is the One who is leading
In fact, we're going to have insight into that in the chapters to come. What we need to understand what this means, so what is he saying? First of all, he's saying, "God is the one who's leading." Notice this. This is the work that God does. "I thank my God," he says, "because he always leads in the triumph of Christ."
Now notice there’s three parts. First, that God leads. Second, that He leads in his triumph. Now this is important. There's an aspect of God's sovereign hand which is at work in our lives in such a way that He orders our steps. Do you believe that God orders the steps of your life? See, this is faith. This is the substance of real faith. Not theoretical faith, faith that's walked out in the daily aspect of life. Do you believe that God orders the steps of your life?
Let me give a verse. Psalm 37, verses 23 and 24. "The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord, and he delights in [00:13:43] though he fall, he will not be utterly cast down for the Lord upholds him with his hand." Great verse. It's substance of faith. Paul absolutely believed and understood that God ordered him. See, mature faith believes that God does order our steps and that that faith and looks—he looks for that divine appointment—those arrangements that God makes, because this is trusting that God orders our way.
You know, this last trip to Africa, I really sensed that God was ordering my steps, arranging divine appointments. It just seemed like every leg, every part of the journey, you could just see God making his arrangement. I left, it was super early on that Thursday morning, and we got up at whatever, 3:30 in the morning, and got to the airport and I'm having breakfast at the airport, and I hear this voice behind me. I recognize that voice, and I turned around and hey, it's Jeremy, one of our drummers. "What are you doing?" 'Oh, I'm going on a mission’s trip, blah, blah, blah. Fine, good connection.
Then in Washington, D.C., and I'm sitting there. I found a little station where people can plug in their laptops, and so I plugged in, trying to charge up and this guy comes over with his little girl. A little six-year-old girl, and he puts the girl literally in the seat right next to me, even though there were other seats. He put her literally right next to me, and then said to his little girl, "Now don't you move," and he walked away, and I thought, "Did he just leave a six-year-old girl in an airport?" And immediately, you have to sense God's doing something here. This is a God arrangement.
And off he walked. So I said to her, “What’s your name?” She didn’t speak to me, which was good. “How old are you?” She didn’t speak to me. “I notice you have a guitar, an electric guitar,” and I said, “Do you play the guitar?” She handed me the guitar and now we have something. So I said, “Let me see if I can tune it for you,” and it was terrible. Then she said to me, “Can you teach me how to play that?”
Now we have a friend. I said, “Well, I don’t know. Let me try.” So I tuned it up and I kind of showed her a few things and—here’s a picture of her right here. Finally, I said, “What is your name?” “Faith.” “Humm,’ I said. So I’m playing a little bit and she starts singing with me, and I said, “You making that up?” She said, “Yeah, I can make up songs.” I said, “Well, make up a song. Just sing. Sing whatever you want and I’ll just figure out what you’re doing and I’ll play with you.” So she started singing this song, and then finally I said, “You know what?” He handed me my phone. "You hold that and record this." I have this beautiful recording of her singing this song, and the last words she said as she was singing, was, "Thank you for letting me do this with you." Oh, you just won my heart. Her dad finally came back. She said, '"Dad, meet my friend." I gave him my email address and actually, she was on her way to Liberia where her mother lives, and she was going to be with her mother, so they were on the same flight with me to Brussels, so I got to talk with her on the flight, and then I said, "Let's all—I’ll buy you breakfast. Let's have breakfast." And I really sensed that God just put her there, either to protect her, to encourage her, but to show me also that he orders my way.
B. God gives His triumph
Then in Africa, on and on. We saw these different ways that God was moving and it was beautiful to see because there it's very easy to see. On the way back, I was in Washington, D.C. on the way back, and I was looking for a place to charge my laptop so I'm kind of looking around, and someone says, "Oh, there's a charging thing over here." "Oh, okay." I came over there and a guy says, 'Hi, Pastor." I said, "How do you know me?" He said, 'Well, whenever I go to Portland to visit my daughter, I go to your church. I said, "Well, that's amazing. Wonderful.” I said, “What do you do? Where do you come from?" "Africa." That is just amazing. God has just knitted us together in a beautiful way, over and over you see the hand of God leads us. He orders our way. The one who believes that will look for it. Now, he also says that God leads us in his triumph. God gives us his triumph. It doesn't mean that he leads in such a way that we never encounter trouble—as I said, Paul encountered more troubles than most people could imagine.
In fact, Jesus himself said that we'd have trouble. Jesus said, "In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage. I will overcome the world. He's acknowledging—listen, this is a dark and evil and broken world, and you live in it. Take courage, though, because I have overcome the world.” See, have faith in the midst of your troubles. Have faith in the midst of your troubles. Faith is your victory. When your eyes are always looking to him because he orders your steps, and He brings you through the trouble into his victory. Faith is victory because you are looking unto him who is your favor, who is your help, who is the one who loves your soul.
You know, so many people get beaten down in life, and you really see that in Africa. It's almost just a natural state of being because there's so much difficulty. Everything is hard. Just the basic, element things of just getting through your day is always a struggle, and it's easy to just see it in their eyes and in their spirit. They're just beaten down, and many people have this in life. They're just beaten down. So many discouragements, so many things, so many things that just happen that they're just beaten down, and they're discouraged, depressed and in despair. Jesus said, "Now listen, I know this is the condition of the world. I'm saying to you to take courage. I've overcome the world. Look unto me. Fix your eyes unto me. Faith is your victory. When your countenance is lifted up, when your heart is lifted up, when your faith is strengthened, when you look unto him and know that he orders your way, faith is your victory. Let me give you a verse. First John, Chapter 5, verse 4. "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world," and this is the victory that has overcome the world. Our faith. This is the victory that has overcome the world. Our faith.
Let's turn in our Bibles to Hebrews, Chapter 11. I wonder—as we turn there, this is the famous chapter which we would call the hall of faith because of the ones that he highlights here in this chapter. Men and women who have demonstrated tremendous faith. But I want you to see something with me. We're going to begin in verse 32. Let's just read through these verses and see something interesting.
What more shall I say? Time would fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fires, escaped the edge of the sword, for weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight, women received back their dead by resurrection, others were tortured, not accepting their release in order that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others, though, would experience mockings, scourges, arrests, chains, imprisonment, stoned, they were sawed in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword, they went about in sheepskin, goatskins, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, men of whom the world is not worthy, wandering about in deserts, mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
All of these. All of these gained approval through their faith, but did not receive what was promised. Not yet. Why? Because we also will obtain it and we will obtain it together in a beautiful way. “God has provided something better for us,” he says.
But apart from us, they should not be made perfect. They will enter into this glorious aspect of the new Heaven and the new earth together. Beautiful picture. But notice something about this hall of faith. They all lived in their faith. Some of them died in their faith. Some of them suffered in their faith. But they were all victorious in their faith. We are victorious when we understand by faith that God is for us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. No tribulations. No difficulty. Not even death 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? How about Romans 8, verses 37 to 39? Very famous verses. In all of these things, we overwhelmingly conquer. Victorious, in other words. Victorious overwhelmingly, through Him who loved us, for I am convinced, I am persuaded, this I know. Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is found in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Now this is key. Because the question in many people's minds is this. Why is it, then, that God in his great love does not keep us from troubles?
For many this seems inconsistent. It's difficult for them to compute in their minds. "You say you love me, and yet I go through troubles. I go through trials, I go through difficulties, and yet you say you love me.” In their minds, you see, they equate the two together, and they evaluate whether or not God loves them according to whether or not they have difficulties. The judgment in their minds of God's love is whether or not they have trials, and whether they have troubles. "If you loved me God, I would not have troubles. If you loved me, I would not have trials." And so they use this. They're convinced that a God that's good should not allow evil to exist. There is a place where evil does not exist. It's called Heaven. This is not Heaven, this is earth.
This is the place where God has made man. He's made man with the words of truth to freely receive him or to freely reject him. And if man rejects God, what are they left with? They're left with the nature of man, and all the evil thereof. This world is filled with those who have rejected him, and thus this world is dark and troublesome, and filled with many whose hearts are hard.
All the corruption that is in this world. You go to a place like this, and you see it, it's a tragedy, all the suffering because of corruption. That's really what it is. Many, many parts of the world, many suffer because of those who are above them who are corrupt. Jesus gave a parable to explain with this parable very well. He said, "The kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, the enemy came and sowed taro amongst the seed, this poisonous seed of weeds, sown amongst the wheat, and as they began to grow up, his workers came to him and said, "Sir, did you not plant good seed in the earth? An enemy has come and now there's taro growing up amongst the wheat. Shall we go and pluck them out? He said, "No. No, otherwise you might damage the wheat. Leave them be. The wheat and the taro will grow up together until the harvest, and then they will be separated, and He's giving us this picture.
Now, the good and the evil will grow up together in this world, but they will be separated at the end of the age. In other words, God did not promise to keep us from troubles, but He did promise to be with us in those troubles. I will walk with you. I will never forsake you. See, in Hebrews 13, verses 5 to 6, He himself has said, "I will never leave you, I will never forsake you." Get this here. So that we confidently say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? What can man do to me?” We say this confidently. What does it mean confidently? It means faith, strong faith, keep courage, Jesus said, "I have overcome the world." This we said confidently, "The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid." I love David, "Though a war rise up against me, in spite of this, I will be confident. There's a strength of faith in it.
II. We are the Fragrance of Christ
Now, let's go back to Second Corinthians, Chapter 2. Notice the next thing he says, "We are in the fragrance of Christ. In the midst of all of this, God manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. In other words, people should smell something in your character that's sweet and pleasant. He's using the sense of smell here to describe the nature of a person's character. That's good because that's a good analogy.
A. How you smell matters
You know, when you smell something you don't see, you're just smelling. Same with character. You can't see what's inside. You know, I can only see the outside of you. You can only see the outside of me. The rest of it we have to smell, you might say. Does character have smell? Oh, yes, yes. Character has smell. Using an analogy, of course, but there's an old Southern expression. My family's from the South so I like to take hold of Southern expressions. You know, if there's somebody that doesn't have something—there’s something wrong in their character, you can just sense that there's something wrong about that person. What do you say? You say, "There's a skunk in the woodpile. Somewhere there's a skunk in the woodpile [00:29:23]. You would say, "Well, I can't put my finger on it, but I know there's something wrong with that person's character."
By the way, the opposite should be true in the Christian's life. Wouldn't it be a tragedy, wouldn't it be an absolute tragedy if someone said in regards to a believer, "I don't know what's going on with that person, but there's a skunk in the woodpile." That should not be. That should not be because knowing we are manifesting the sweet aroma of Christ. You know what should be said about the believer? "There's something about you. I don't know. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but there's something about you that is very pleasant. Whatever you have, I want it, because there's something that's very pleasant about you. I like being with you." This should be a character that smells sweet and pleasant. In other words, we can say it this way. How you smell matters. You know, smell—it is a very powerful sense. We often associate memories to important events to smells that were part of them.
For example, for many, many years when I smelled cigarette smoke, it would remind me of my father, and, you know, early, early—early, early morning we’d get up to go pick berries, and my dad would smoke a cigarette in the car as we’re driving to go pick berries, and listening to country western music. So I associate that with my dad. I smell smoke, my dad. Listening to country western music, and then I really think of my dad. You see, what happens is.
You know, for example, for many, many years, when I smelled cigarette smoke, I thought immediately of my father, and early, early--early, early morning, we would get up to go pick berries and, you know, my dad would smoke a cigarette in the car as we're driving to go pick berries, and this is in the county listening to country western music, so I associate that with my dad. I smell smoke--my dad, listening to country western music, then I really think of my dad.
You see, what happens is you smell like what you are around. You start to take on the smells of what you are around. For example, if you are outside in the fresh air and then you come inside, someone can easily say to you, "Oh, you've been outside. You smell like fresh air." Fresh air has a smell. Cut grass, it has a smell, or "You were just mowing the grass." It has a distinct smell. When I was in the restaurant business, I would come home from work every day, and I had a smell on me which is not a great way to come home. But you pick up the smells from what you are around. When I was in Africa, there was a smell. Africa smells. Africa smelled like smoke. The smoke of cooking fires. You know, with troubles, they move. Many people have to cook on a cooking fire, and so I came home and a couple of days later, a neighbor was burning leaves, and it was kind of coming through our ventilation system here, and I was going around like, sniff, sniff, sniff--that's Africa. That smells like Africa. We pick up the smells. Now, here's the point. The aroma of Christ comes from the transformation of character, because of his presence in your life. He transforms you. When you are drawing near to him, when you're with him, his character becomes yours. He begins to smell on you.
Here's a great verse for it. Acts 4, verse 13. He says, "Now, they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men. They were amazed at this. And then they began to recognize them as having been with Jesus." See, I love this verse. But these are uneducated and untrained men, but look at their confidence. Look at their mood. In other words, look at the Holy Spirit on them. Ah, they were with Jesus. They were with Jesus. They begin to take on the aroma because they were with Jesus.
This is the key, the aroma of the character comes from what happens in the inner man. In the inner man. I can't see your inner man, but I can smell it. We can't see the inner man, but we can smell it. We have the sense of it. He is using it as an analogy. We do have a sense of it. It comes from Christ transforming us, in the inner man. You welcome him into the inner man. He begins to work. He changes death into life.
See, when you open the door of your heart, he is using the analogy of a house. Jesus said, "Behold I stand at the door and knock," and the idea is, it's like your house. You open the door. "If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in, and we will eat together." It's a great analogy because actually, all houses—your house, my house, all houses have a smell. You may not like it, but it has a smell, and those smells are caused by, of course, whatever is going on in the house.
It reminds me of—a number of years ago when we were living in Aloha, and I came home one day and I thought, I smell something in the house, and I said to Deb, 'Do you smell something?" "No, not really." I'm sure I smell something. I get up the next morning and it's like—sniff, sniff, sniff—I smell something. "No, I don't think so." It's hard to smell it when you're living in it. You know what I'm saying? When you're living in it, it's hard to smell it. And then when I came home that night from work and, you know, coming from the outside, sniff, sniff, sniff. There's something in this house.
Now the problem is that we had some guests that were coming over for dinner, like the next night, and so I get up the next morning and I thought, okay, there's got to be something going on. So finally I decided I'm going to call our neighbor and ask him to come over here and smell our house. So I called him, so I called Dean and said, "Hey, Dean, can you come over, being my neighbor, and smell my house because I think there's a smell but I can't tell, but you've got a fresh nose. He said, "Sure. What are neighbors for?" So he comes over, he walks in the door, and he goes—sniff, sniff, sniff—oh, yeah. Oh yeah. I said, "Well, what do you think it is?" "Something’s dead." What? And so, I—you know what that is? That is what it is. Something's dead. We've got guests coming for dinner. That kind of thing makes you lose your appetite.
Here's the thing that's interesting. You can't add air freshener to the smell of death. Can you imagine? What would it smell like? You've got the smell of death and then you add air freshener to it. You know what? It doesn't help it at all. But isn't that a picture of something? We open the door. We let him in. There's death here. He's the resurrection. He's the life. He is going to fix that. He transforms it.
So, of course, I had to get rid of the smell. I figured that something crawled underneath the house and died. So I went outside and I opened the vent. Sure enough, I've got to go in there. Someone is going to have to go in there. So I got my hazmat suit on, got my gloves, got my mask and the whole thing, and I had to—and sure enough, it was a possum. You know, they go away from everything to go and find a place privately to die. Well, they went to the farthest reaches of the end of our house and I had to climb and crawl all the way back there to pick it up and put it in this bag and drag it all the way back out. But death was and it takes no time at all before the house smelled fresh again with life.
See, when you open the door of your heart and say, "Lord, come into my life," there has to be a trust. There has to be a trust that says, "God, if you see anything here that's dead, touch it, transform it." He'll make your character fresh, new, alive again. There's a lot of things in our lives that don't smell so good. See, this is what I'm saying. Back to Corinthians Chapter 2, "We are an aroma." He says, "But be a fragrance unto God." God is the ideal, the sense of that character is unto God. It's glory to him. We are the fragrance of Christ through God. Now, in the Old Testament, they had fragrant offerings that were given to the Lord, and these were to represent something. It represented the heart of love, the heart of worship, the heart of prayers, like incense of praise, and then you say, "Well, Jesus is that sweet aroma." That's how we receive it.
B. Be a fragrance to God
Notice in Ephesians 5, verses 1 to 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. Now he points out here in this chapter that not everybody appreciates the aroma of Christ. For some, it's the smell from death to death. In other words, it's a reminder of their death. It's something they would prefer to ignore. People—this may be shocking for you to hear it. Not everybody appreciates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some people are offended at it.
I remember when I was going through Bible School and working at the restaurant business in the day-to-day world, and people, as soon as they found out who I was, you know, a Christian going to school to become a pastor, they would take offense at it. What did I do to you? I did nothing. I'm just me, and you're offended by me? What did I do to you? I reminded them. They don't want to be reminded of God. They don't want to be reminded of who they are. But others, when they see your life, they recognize, ahh, there's something that smells good. That gives glory unto God.
Matthew 5:16. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and that glorifies your Father which is in Heaven. Ahh, there’s something right and good. Now notice what he says in verse 5. “See, our sufficiency is from God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves, to consider anything that’s coming from ourselves. Our adequacy is from God. Our sufficiency. Notice what he says in verse 4. And such confidence we have in this, such confidence we have. You know the pride of the American culture is self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency. I am an American. I am self-sufficient. I am a self-made American man. The person who is self-sufficient, I suggest, has cut themselves off from the help that God provides. The one who is self-sufficient has limited himself.
Paul has learned that there’s no value in self-sufficient. He needs God. Our adequacy is not in ourselves. I need God. I need God to order my life. I need God to surround me with his help. I need God’s favor. He has learned that he needs God. We need God. What’s our part, then? What’s our part? I like what he says in verse 17. As for sincerity, that’s our heart. That’s our part. It’s sincerity. You know what made David a powerful leader and a great warrior? What made David a powerful leader and a great warrior? He was a worshipper. His heart was after God. He was a worshipper. He was a young man, David, watching the sheep, playing his harp. Worshipping. Sincerely. Sincerely. Writing Psalms. Why was he writing Psalms? Did he have in his mind, you know, these are good. Someday I should get a publisher. No, no, no. God, I want you to have my heart. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me by still waters. He restores my soul. God, let me sing out. Let me sing out to your heart. There’s something right about that heart. Psalm 71, verse 5. You are my hope, oh, Lord God. You are my confidence from my youth. I know that my God is for me, and I want to honor you. I want to worship you. I want your life to be mine. Let’s pray.
- 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,
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