By Moses Marji
2 Corinthians 2:1-17
Key Verse 2:15
“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing”
Good morning, let me say happy Mother’s Day to all our mothers of prayer who raised generations of faithful workers in Christ Jesus and sacrificed their lives to serve in this generation.
Before we explore our passage today and give a brief touch from the first chapter, we studied in the previous two weeks. I would like to take you back 2,000 years ago and try to understand with you how it was like living in the city of Corinth. I would like to see what type of people that made up the church of Corinth. In this way we can understand the issues that the church was going through. Corinth was a coastal city, it was a trade hub and a cross road for merchants. It was of importance to connect big cities, and Corinth itself was a big city. In the year 146 B.C the city was destroyed by the Roman Emperor because there was a Greek movement for independence. Corinth stayed in ruins for 100 years, then in the year 46 B.C was rebuilt again by Julius Caesar, the Roman Emperor. The make up of the people in the City over the next 80 years until Paul’s time was made of Freedmen from the Roman Empire, Jews, Phoenicians, Egyptians, a lot of Greeks who came back to the city and merchants/sailors. The city had grown to a population 600,000 People and grew in wealth. This was a big city and like any other big city in our time, it has very rich people and very poor people even though it was prosperous city. The city was known for 3 things, first in morality looseness. It had the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, where there were 1,000 priestesses or prostitutes. So, there were many practices that were in the city considered normal and part of life, like for example Chicago is turning for Gay marriage as an example. The second thing is that people were considered independent and “enlightened” to explore many ideas and many practices which were influenced from Athens. People were offended if someone interfered in their privacy just like our society in Chicago now-a-days. The third thing was the parity between the rich and the poor in the city Just like Chicago where the majority of people are not able to cover their expenses while the others take a golden chariot just to dine in Athens and come back home. Or like in our days take a Helicopter in the morning to have lunch in New York and come back in the afternoon to the city in Chicago. This was the culture and the make of the city at the time the church was planted in Corinth.
Now let me tell a little bit about the Church in Corinth. When Paul visited Corinth in his second mission journey, Paul preached among Jews in the Synagogue there and among the Gentiles. Many Jews accepted the message of Christ and many Greeks did the same. Pricilla and Aquila were kicked out of Rome so they went to Corinth. There they met Paul and worked with him to preach the gospel. Apollos also was in Corinth, was preaching not quite accurate teachings about Jesus, but godly couple took him under their wing and taught him correct doctrines. According what reach to us, Apollos was really impressive in his speech in public compared to Paul, he was powerful in his presence, on the other hand Paul was really powerful in his letters and his writing, but his face to face communication was less impressive compared to Apollos. The church in Corinth was made up of Jews and Gentiles in one place who have completely different backgrounds. Also, it was made up of few rich Corinthians and majority poor Corinthians. It was a very interesting mix of people from different backgrounds and life styles just as complicated as the city itself, or any other big city. There was only one church in the city. Not just the city but in all Achaia at that time. So people had to solve their issues compared to now a days to just don’t like a decision hub from one church to another and don’t like a church discipline simply leave the church. I hope this gives you more understanding about the church members in Corinth.
In the last 2 weeks we studied the first chapter, I want to emphasize again on Paul’s apostleship. The first letter to the Corinthians was really harsh and the majority of church members took it to heart and did what was in it expect the few who not just rejected the letter, but also questioned Paul’ authority as an apostle. Let me explain to you one issue here, no one chooses to be a preacher, an apostle, an evangelist or a missionary by self-appointment. They have to be ordained and anointed to do the work of God. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist to start his ministry, not because he needed it or need approval of men, but to keep the anointment. When Paul was called to service, he was called directly by Jesus. One may wonder but who witnessed and who anointed him. Was it just between him and Jesus? No, it was not. Jesus appears to an elder of the Church in Damascus called Ananias Jesus told him in acts chapter 9:15-16 “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name”. And from there Paul was an instrument in Jesus’ hands and did according to every single word in the above two verses.
Paul’s apostleship was set by Jesus himself and anointed ceremonially to the believers through Ananias. Paul did church planting, once he was done establishing a church, elders were raised whose job was to maintain the welfare of the ministry and in their turn anoint preachers, and evangelists/missionaries who in their turn go out plant a new church train elders in it to maintain it and the cycle goes on. But usually these elders who were baby Christians spiritually become teenagers spiritually speaking. Do you imagine how hard it is to deal with teenagers let alone spiritual teenagers? Few in the Church of Corinth were spiritual teenagers and had a position in the church of Corinth. They were angry when the first letter of Paul came. And Paul did visit the church most likely just before the first letter and it was a very painful visit. He sent his first letter with Timothy to the Church of Corinth. Last week Paul explained to them the suffering he endured serving God. Everyone suffer in life, but here we are talking about the suffering he endured because of preaching the gospel. But he knew he would suffer as he received from Jesus. But what Paul happy about was the comfort that he received from God because of that suffering, it was so comforting when God was beside him, when God communicated with him, when God gave him tools and gifts to use and when God showed him so much fruits of his labor. The Corinthians in the church were to be his comfort that he suffered for.
Now we move to our chapter, chapter 2 with the key verse 15. Let’s read our key verse one more time “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing”
Look at verses 1 to 4 “So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” Paul’s original plan was stop by Corinth on his way from Ephesus to Macedonia and visit again on his way back to receive financial support to take to the brother in Jerusalem who had famine and were in need of financial support. Paul made up his mind not to stop by Corinth at that point. The church there was still trying to recover from the problems which they had and following Paul’s advice from his first letter. So Paul needed to give them time to solve their issues. He realized that his visit at that point of time will not be of help to them and instead it would be painful to him and grieve the church members. Paul explained that he wrote them his first letter to solve their spiritual issues and once that is done his coming to them would not be distressed the spiritual teenagers who were really causing issues.
Paul did not announce his plan to the Corinthians, but they found out after his first harsh letter that his plan was to visit them on his way to Macedonia. Now those few who were already angry because of his first letter, started to accuse Paul that he was not sincere in his work for Christ to the point that they questioned his apostleship. It is really very hard for him to hear this for those who were his own spiritual children. To understand this, we need to know what were the issues in the church the Paul addressed and that grieved him. As I explained from the city cultural background the city had a very low morality measure. There was a person in the church who was sleeping with his father’s wife, and the church was ok with this, they did not say anything. There are certain sins that can really be very damaging to the church and to what extent the morality level is to be tolerated the church does not do anything about it. It was normal for the city of Corinth, just like gay marriage for the city of Chicago. It is normal. But then what would happen then everything is being tolerated. The second issue in the church was the factions within that church. The church was made of so many people from different backgrounds, and city influence of exploring all ideas was influencing the members to have their own factions within the church. The members who were baby spiritually and were listening to absorbing the word of God, suddenly became rebellious teenagers spiritually speaking who now have a voice in the church and wanted to follow their own ideas and ways. This created several factions in the church.
Then there was the attitude toward offering for the work of God, even though Corinth was one of the most prosperous church in the region compared to all other churches which Paul have planted, their attitude towards support and offering was not the best. And the women in that church try to be as independent as possible with that influence they carried from the city itself, and Paul even address the women issue in his first letter. We are hear in the church are afraid of our women, we have pretty strong women here. Don’t you think? But they are beautiful mothers of prayer. There were many idol worshipers in the city where sacrifices are required, the meat of these sacrifices is sold in the market which Paul referred to in his first letter in chapter 10. As we see, there were many significant issues in the church. Paul wrote them his first letter and decided to wait from them to solve these issues before he goes to see them again. But even this decision was criticized by the few who rejected his first letter and were angry again when they discovered his original plan to visit. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was so distressed with anguish in his heart with so many tears, because he really loved them so much and all what he wanted was their salvation.
Many times, when we hear a sermon or a message we feel that the preacher is talking about me or he is targeting me. It is like he purposely tries to press my button. He put this or that sentence to aggravate me. Then we become angry and have an attitude and we shut down. But the preacher simply was preaching out of love and desire that one word can touch the heart. Servants don’t serve and spend time to prepare a message just to nail someone or because they have evil motives. The few teenage Corinthians considered Paul had an evil motive to send them this first harsh letter. And as a defense mechanism they questioned his authority as an apostle and evangelist. Over the years I heard so many outrageous accusations about our pastor from those who were not happy and just about the leave the ministry just because they could not deal with the sin problem that they have. It is really interesting how we try to find everything wrong with our leader just when we were confronted with an issue or when we receive a hard message that made us angry to the point that we convince ourselves that our leader has an ill or evil motive behind his words, but all what he was trying to do is to love us with so much anguish in his heart. Why the anger and counter attack attitude? It is because of our spiritual immaturity. Some times I just look at a developing issue and discussion between two people, it starts when one party initiates a solution for an issue in the church. That person just wants to improve something, then suddenly he or she receive discouraging comment from another person, then reply and so on. I look and at this and my stomach turns, but I cannot say anything. I look at the issue holistically and realized that we really are having factions in any church as long as we don’t look at issues from a holistic point of view which requires maturity. Paul loved his spiritual children so deeply that he was willing to do anything for them to recover them spiritually to health. Paul did not enjoy writing a letter like the first letter he wrote. It is so hard and it is so discomforting when a spiritual leader has to do that. But at a point he cannot avoid it. And in this letter no matter how harsh it might be there is deep love and mercy. Because of this deep mercy he wrote the letter so that they wake up and correct and remove the sins from the church.
Let’s look at verses 5 to 8 “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.” In his first letter Paul talked about several issues that the believers in Corinth ought to take care of, and this was one of them. Immorality looseness was rampant and it affected the church itself. In the case of that man who was sleeping with his father’s wife according to chapter 5 in the first letter, Paul mentioned that even Pagans did not tolerate this kind of behavior how much more the believers. The majority of Corinthians church members responded by having punishment inflected on this person. I want to explore two points here. Please notice that it is said the majority of church members, which means that still few members in the church did not listen to Paul’s letter and still tolerated that behavior which was really heart breaking to Paul. The other point was that it appears that this person repented and cut off his immoral sexual relation with his father’s wife. He was very sorrowful and beat himself over this sin. It seemed that he repented from his heart but still the majority of the church kept punishing him. They really did not let him recover to his position in the church, which would have broken him completely. We are all sinners, and we all sin and some of us repent of our sins. But once repentance is there, there is no reason for continuation of punishment on that person. At a point of repentance, we ought to forgive and restore.
Look at verses 9-11 “Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven- if there was anything to forgive- I have for given in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” The majority of the church members in Corinth responded to Paul’s letter positively and passed the test of faith and obedience in everything. During our bible study last Wednesday, we were wondering what is really the meaning of forgiveness. Is it just by words, you say to a person I forgive you, and that is it? Is forgiveness only words. We came to a conclusion that forgiveness is much more than words. For example, when a husband or a wife wronged their spouse, and the guilty party admitted their wrong doing and sincerely repented, the other party ought to forgive, not just by words but also practically through action and with attitude. If the grieved party keeps reminding the spouse of their wrong doing on every occasion or fight they have, this is not forgiveness! This means that they still have bitterness in their hearts which they ought to deal with. Forgiveness means not mentioning that deep issue anymore even when angry or when tempted to do so. I really liked a lot this explanation of forgiveness. Don’t you wish at one-point people don’t keep reminding you of your past life and past sins? Love and embrace the repentant believer. Through that, you will gain for yourself a great and strong coworker in Christ.
Sometimes it does not even require words to help someone repent. I heard a story of a man who wanted to divorce his wife for no apparent reason and was ready to marry another woman. The Pastor of the church visited him, as soon as he sat down with him, he couldn’t say anything, he was so grieved and he just sat there sobbing tears. He said that he did not know what came over him but he was so grieved with this man who was justifying his actions of remarriage and not knowing what a grievous thing he has been doing to his own salvation. But the pastor knew that this man was going straight to hell if he does not repent. This man repented and went back to his wife, he said that moment when the pastor was sobbing tears in front of him made him seek God and stop justifying his actions. Paul was so grieved towards the Corinthians with a sincere and deep love for them. Paul was sobbing tears for his spiritual children.
Look at verses 12-13 “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 goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia” I was confused a bit regarding these verse, but I searched and understood what was going on. Where was Titus and why was Paul looking for him? Why in Troas? Many questions that made my head spin. First you need to understand that there were no emails and no internet nor fax nor phones nor cars or airplanes at that time. To communicate with others there are only two ways: one is by approaching them face to face and talking to them; and the other is by sending them a letter. But the letter part could not be sent by email, and so it was sent by a person. And Paul sent his assistant Titus to the Corinthians with his Apostolic letter to them. Paul was in Ephesus, where he spent 3 years at that time. Paul was so eager to hear the Corinthians reply to his letter. He apparently agreed with Titus to meet in Troas, but Titus hadn’t arrive. Even though the environment was open for him to preach the gospel in Troas at the time, he did not have the peace of mind because of his deep love to the Corinthians, and so he could not wait and moved right away to Macedonia to meet with Titus in order to hear the Corinthians’ reply.
Look at verse 14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” This is exactly what happened to Paul and to every Christian. We were in the world, and Jesus Christ raged a war against Satan kingdom. We were citizens of Satan’s Kingdom. Jesus won the victory against Satan’s Kingdom and during that war we were led as captives from Satan kingdom. A triumphal procession is a victory march where the Romans used to march victoriously with their captives and burn incense to their idols for that victory. Jesus did not release us instead he restored us in his kingdom and equipped us with the knowledge of him as we met him personally. We abandoned our old life in Satan’s kingdom and came to live in the kingdom of God. What do we do after this?
Look at our key verse 15 and 16-17 “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death, to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity as those sent from God”. Remember how Jesus promised that Paul would suffer for the sake of the gospel? His suffering was his aroma, his preaching the gospel and his reflection of the word of God. Paul lived out what Jesus assigned him to do and he lived it to the fullness. Paul was ready to carry his mission and he fulfilled that mission of which God gave him to do. This was his great accomplishment before God. It really grieved him that fools who still did not understand the extent of the deep love of God to them questioned his integrity, sincerity and even his apostleship. But even that Paul took as part of his suffering for the sake of Christ. What a beautiful man he was and what a great man he was! Paul spoke the truth to the Corinthians without calculating in his mind. How many times we thought so much before saying some words that we were ought to say just because we did not want to offend someone on the expense of the truth. Paul spoke the truth because it was so necessary and worth the Corinthians lives. He was in tears, and he did not want to be in this uncomfortable position, but he had to do this. This truth is so pleasing to the repentant hearts because it is life to them. But it is death to the angry not repenting and grossly unashamed hearts. All what Paul sought is to finish the task victoriously before his Creator.
May the Lord bless each one of us to be victorious in him and seek him in everything we do. May the Lord give us enough humility to seek repentance and follow his words in our lives. Amen.