Series on II Corinthians, I The Dedication of Paul to Ministry, B Successful, 2 Savor of Christ to God, Text: 2:12-17 Title: Triumphal Procession


Last study we saw the success of Paul’s ministry in love that was not afraid to discipline. Now we see it in the gospel of God’s grace. Our text begins with frustration in verse 12 and 13,  Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia. Paul had gone to Troas to pursue a great opportunity. He expected to find Titus with good news about the Corinthians. When Titus was not there, Paul had to redirect his concern to the Corinthian church. He was undaunted. Success did not depend on everything going smoothly, but on pleasing God. Our text ends with the affirmation that this was Paul’s goal, verse 17,  Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. We know that the gospel has suffered severe setbacks in our own country. It is also true that it has enjoyed great success elsewhere. Before the Protestant Reformation there was one Christian to every ninety-nine people in the world.  In 1993 the ratio was one Christian to every nine people in the world, most of them outside the USA. But this is not the criterion for success. The criterion is here in this passage in a marvelous metaphor of victory, which Paul takes from the Roman culture. In order to understand it better we need some Bible background, which we will look at under four headings, The Odor of Sin, the Odor of Sacrifice, the Odor of the Savior and the Odor of the Saints.

I The Odor of Sin

Fragrances, perfumes and colognes are big business in our society. We care about how we smell to one another. We ought to be more concerned about how we smell to God. In Leviticus 26:31, the Lord says to disobedient Israel, I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. In Amos 5:21 he rails against hypocrisy saying I hate, I despise your feast days and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. God is expressing his opinion in what we call an anthropomorphism. He has no nose or bodily parts but we do and so we can understand when something stinks. How do we smell to God? Do our ways please God?  We have removed his Word from our schools, and his commandments from public display. We approve what he disapproves, for example, homosexuality and infidelity. We export more pornography than any nation on earth, and in what one preacher called the ultimate hypocrisy, we lament the death, and we should, of so many in the bombing of the World Trade Center. At the same time within our gates we slaughter millions of unborn children. How do you think we smell?

II The Odor of Sacrifice

Because of our behavior, from time immemorial, God has ordained sacrifice for sin. There is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. When offered in sincere repentance sacrifices were fragrant and sweet smelling to God. When Noah came out of the ark he offered sacrifice to God. The Bible says that the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma of the sacrifice, and said in his heart, never again will I curse the ground because of man even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. The sweet smell of that sacrifice established a peaceful order that remains to this day in spite of man’s sin and rebellion.

III The Odor of the Savior

The reason that sacrifice was so powerful in the Old Testament was that in it God contemplated the sacrifice of his only Son who was the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Listen to what Paul says about Christ’s sacrifice in Ephesians 5:1 Be imitators of God therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. By one offering Christ has forever put away sin. He was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. He was a lamb without blemish and without spot. By giving his righteous life he has won God’s favor for all who trust in Him. Not only did this one sacrifice of Christ authenticate all the sincere sacrifices of the previous centuries, but it also covers all our imperfect and sinful efforts to serve God now. Thus the apostle Paul can write to the Philippians in 4:18, that the offerings which they sent through Epaphroditus were received by him and were a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. I guarantee they were not perfect offerings but through Christ they were made perfect.

IV The Odor of the Saints

And now we come to the metaphor of our text in verses 14-16, But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? The triumphal procession of a Roman general took place only when he was the commander in chief with a completed campaign in which he had gained victory and pacified the conquered region, brought home the troops, and killed 5000 of the enemy. Then the senate marched in front followed by the trumpeters and the spoils of battle. There followed, in turn, pictures of the conquered land, a white bull for sacrifice, the captives in chains, either to be enslaved or executed, the armed jailers, the musicians, priests swinging censors filled with sweet incense and then the general himself. This is what Paul has in mind here, and from it he draws at least two applications. First he speaks of our fragrance to God. verses 15 says, We are to God the aroma of Christ. This is true no matter what the outcome of our mission is. Our witness may fail, our evangelism may fail, but the ultimate victory is assured. Consequently, the important thing is to be faithful and this pleases God. Whether Paul is in Troas or Corinth, whether he is successful by the world’s standards or not, God is pleased. There is an old verse which says, “Amanda Beel was sure to be at the mission lady’s tea, cutting, rolling, tying knots, praying for the Hottentots. But tho she wept when told the plight of rickshaw boys in heathen night, coolies, waifs, and Chinese sages, unevangelized for ages, millions who had never heard, said to her neighbor not a word.” Not a good scent! The second application has to do with the way we smell to the world.  In verse 16 we read,  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Paul employs the absolute here, total life or total death. In this procession you were either a victor and the incense smelled glorious because it reminded you of life, or you were condemned and the incense smelled awful because it reminded you of your death. So it will always be with the proclamation that Jesus is the only Savior. Some will be angry, frustrated and hateful that you are reminding them of death. Others will be joyful in receiving life. Where are you today? Please make sure that you are on the victorious side and that Jesus is your personal savior. We invite you to receive him as lord of your life. The elders will be down in front to consult with you if you have the desire to give your life to Jesus. do not hesitate. If you are reading this message at a later date, seek out help. There are only two reactions to the gospel. It smells good or it stinks. Which do you want?