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"Triumph Always"
2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Wednesday AM Bible Study
June 11, 2008

Have you ever felt as if you tried to do your best in the service of the Lord, but that all you did was blow it? Have you ever felt that you sought to obey Him, but then felt that all you did was make the situation worse? Have you ever felt that you were called by God to open your Bible and share with someone what it says, and that all it did was make them angry at you?

Paul, apparently, had that feeling too; but in this passage, he shows us why we have constant reason for encouragement at those times. Jesus Christ always leads us in His triumph; and when we obey Him, He will always bring about His own glory through us.

I. THE TRIAL (vv. 12-13).

A. The context of this passage is the "harsh letter" that Paul had written to the Corinthians; calling them to repent of their pride over a sinful man in their midst (see 1 Corinthians 5). After he had written this harsh letter, he had no peace in his heart. He was engaged in a fruitful work for the Lord in Troas at the time (across the sea from Corinth); and it was very clear that the Lord had opened a door for a great opportunity there. (You can see some of the background for this in Acts 15:8-12).

B. The restlessness of his heart was because he was waiting to hear word from his coworker Titus as to how the Corinthians had received his letter, and how they responded to his call for repentance. Did they finally hear his appeal? Or did their hearts become even more hardened toward him? He became so concerned that he was willing to leave a fruitful work in Troas in order to find out what he could. (It needs to be said, though, that he didn't completely 'abandon' the work. He mentions leaving "them"; i.e., his coworkers. Others remained to carry on the work in this 'open door' from the Lord.)

C. Sometimes, when we act in obedience to the Lord's call, we have to wait for the results. Sometimes, it seems that we have blown it. "I spoke God's word to people," we may say; "and all it seems to have done is make matters worse!" But this passage encourages us that such is not the case. Paul doesn't describe the repentance of the Corinthians until 2 Corinthians 7:5-7; where he tells of how Titus met him with the good news. But clearly they repented! In fact, the content of Paul's letter from here to 7:5 is an expression of his joy at finding out that the Lord had blessed his work after all!

II. THE TRIUMPH (vv. 14-16).

A. Paul thanked God, in response to the coming of Titus, for the fact that He always leads His people in "triumph". Paul speaks here metaphorically of a Roman Triumph—a very public event in which a victorious Roman general would be welcomed into town with a great celebration. Happy, shouting crowds lined the streets and highways; and incense would be burned as a symbol of the celebration of victory. The fragrance would be spread everywhere. The victorious general would be the center point of the parade. Before him would be led the enemy's captives who would be set free. Behind him would be brought the conquered enemies on their way to execution. Paul uses the picture of the Roman triumph as an expression of praise God; affirming that, no matter what, we are led by Christ in "triumph" as the captives He has set free (Ephesians 4:7-8; Colossians 1:13; 3:15).

B. What's more, Paul affirms that through us is defused the "fragrance of Christ". Just as the incense of the triumph spread the news of the victory, so Christ—in ways that are very often unknown to us—is nevertheless spreading the fragrance of His own "triumph" everywhere we go. He makes us His "victory" fragrance. We should be confident in the knowledge that (1) we are always led in His triumph, and (2) we are always being used by Him to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere we go.

C. We should understand that this fragrance has a different impact on people. When the fragrance of the Roman triumph was spread, it too had a different impact on people— depending on their relationship to the conquering general. To those that the general had rescued from captivity, it meant the fragrance of life. To those who followed along behind, it was a stench that reminded of their impending judgment. So also with Christ: His fragrance shown forth in us means life to those who are destined for life, and death for those who are destined for destruction. Some receive it as a message of joy; others are offended by it as a message of judgment. But no matter were we go, God still constantly uses us to communicate His gospel to the world.

D. Paul rightly asks, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Certainly not we in ourselves! We could never go around impacting people in this way in our own power. But praise God; it's Christ Himself who brings the victory. He is the "conquering General". And so, in fulfilling his ministry faithfully, Paul trusted in the power of Christ Himself to do the work through him (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-14). It was his call to faithfully preach the gospel; and it was God's business to make the word of the gospel successful. And He always does! (Isaiah 55:11; Acts 13:48).


A. Paul's confident faith in the truth that he was led about in Christ's "triumph" had an impacted how he preached the truth that God had entrusted to him. Though he had, at times, worried, the experience with the Corinthians had now reminded him to preach the truth without compromise. Many, who had presumed to be teachers to the Corinthians, were not doing so. They were compromising the message of God's word in order to make it more palatable, and to win favor for themselves from the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 12-13).

B. God works through His word; and it's not right for His preachers to "peddle" it—that is, to try to minimize it so that it becomes more marketable to the world; leaving controversial parts out, emphasizing the parts that people will like, or even going so far as to change it to make it agreeable to people's sins. Instead, Paul and his coworkers set themselves to preach God's word (1) in sincerity, (2) as from God, and (3) as in His sight (see 3:7-4:6). Knowing that we are always—in all circumstances—led in Christ's triumph, should motivate us to trust in that triumph and spread the truth of His word as He has called us to speak it.

* * * * * * * * * *

There are times when God calls us to do something; and when, out of a fear of man, we refuse to do it. We blow it badly at those times—and yet, God is able to make sure that He triumphs unto His own glory. Our failures do not cause Him to fail. But when that happens, we lose the reward that we could have gained if we had obeyed instead.

But that's not what this passage is talking about. Rather, it teaches us that when we do the opposite—that is, when we faithfully do what God has called us to do and proclaim His word to the people of this world—and it seems that our doing so only makes matters worse, that we should never despair. God always leads us in His triumph in Christ; and makes us a fragrance for Christ in this world. He never fails!

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