The Fragrance of the Christian Ministry

Bible Book: 2 Corinthians  2 : 12-17
Subject: Ministry for Christ; Christian Ministry; Christ, Service to

Paul has been relating his personal situation and tying it to the situation in the Corinthian Church. These thoughts will evoke memories that cause a long reflection on the subject of the glory of the Christian ministry [until chapter 6 verse10]. Grateful we are for the Spirit’s leading in this joyful outburst of recollection of God’s reviving Paul by his reunion with Titus in Macedonia. For here starts full blown description of the wonder of all Christian ministry [be it clergy or laity]. These chapters reveal the rich depth of Paul’s character and his mature grasp of the great things which come from service to Christ. In spite of all the pressure, persecution, and opposition Paul had experienced, he thought of the ministry in terms of triumph and not of difficulty.

Paul’s reflection begins by disclosing the interval between his dispatch of Titus with the lost letter (2:4, 7:6-7) and Titus’ return to report on the condition in the Corinthian church. These were turbulent times and Paul learns afresh how dependent he was on God to accomplish anything of lasting value. But ministry does accomplish much, for God is in it.


Verse 12 relays that God open the door for Paul to begin a fruitful ministry in Troas. “Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,”

Paul had planned to rendezvous with Titus at Troas and learn of the Corinthian situation and their reaction to his letter. He and Titus were going to minister at Troas, an Asian City and a favored Roman Colony. [Alexandria] Troas was where land and sea travel transfer occurred making it ideal center for missionary activity. Even beyond the need was the fact that God had opened a door for the gospel by giving Paul favorable opportunity to preach Jesus Christ with power and conviction. This was exactly what Paul asked believers to pray for (Col 4:3; 1 Cor. 16:9). Yet the weight of concern for the Corinthian church takes precedence over the rich harvest in Troas.

We learn in verse 13 that the evangelization of the lost was overridden by his concern for the Corinthians. “I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.”

Paul’s hopes for a great harvest were crashed when Titus failed to rendevous with him. Titus was a Greek convert whom Paul loved and trusted (the book of Titus is a letter that Paul wrote to him). Titus was one of the men trusted with collecting the money for the poverty stricken Jerusalem church (8:6). And was probably sent with the sorrowful letter. When Titus did not appear in Troas, Paul became concerned for Titus safety. Since He might have been carrying the collection for Jerusalem and could have fallen prey to bandits or was hurt by the offended part of the Corinthian congregation. Paul thus left Troas to search for him in Macedonia. In Philippi Paul found him (7:5-6) and the good news that Paul received (7: 8-16) led to this letter. Paul would then send his faithful disciple Titus back to Corinth with this letter (8:16,17).


How do you find one person among hundreds of thousands of people when he could be any place within hundreds of miles? Paul felt that finding Titus was a miracle. Only God could have lead them together without phone, e-mail or face-book to help reunite. To Paul this reunion confirmed that he was being led by God. When God is at work, there are no coincidences.

Remembering God sovereign watch care Paul bursts into praise in verse 14. “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ.”

In the middle of discussing his unscheduled trip to Macedonia, a sudden outburst of gratitude replaces the previous concern for what evil could be occurring in Corinth and needing to leave the fruitful ministry in Troas. It is characteristic for Paul to break off from a thought in order to praise God for His unfailing goodness which remains constant through all the changing circumstances and tensions of our human experience. This explosion of thankful remembrance will last for at least 5 chapters.

Even when it does not seem possible, when one walks in Christ, God always leads in triumph. Realizing that present triumph let Paul see how God was leading him in Christ’s triumph, even in the days when the dark prince of death stalked him as he reported in chapter 1 and in his concern for the Corinthians and then for Titus. How unfailing he has been led in triumph.

VICTORY, not defeat, can be the norm in the Christian life. God sees every believer as being in Christ, whom He raised from the dead and seated “at His right hand...far above all principality and power” (Eph. 1:20-21). Because He is the Victor, and we are “in Him,” we too can be victorious over sin.

British writer Guy King told of standing on a railroad station platform, waiting for a train from London. Another train pulled into the station from the opposite direction, and the members of a soccer team got out. The players were returning from a game in another city. News had not reached home as to the outcome of the game, so those awaiting the team didn’t know if they had won or lost. A small boy wiggled his way through the crowd and asked a returning player the score. As soon as he heard it, he ran excitedly up and down the platform shouting, “We won! We won!” That youngster was brimming with joy because he identified himself with the players. In a sense, their victory was his victory.

You and I can live triumphantly because almost 2,000 years ago Jesus paid sin’s penalty by dying on the cross and broke its power by rising from the dead. We share in His victory through faith because “as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). He is the conquering Savior before whom no foe can stand. We can thank God “who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (2 Cor 2:14). We are “more than conqueror through Christ who loved us” (Rom. 8:36) when we yield ourselves to the all-conquering Christ.

God “always leads” those who live in Christ, who live the crucified life, in triumph. No matter what difficult circumstance Paul went through there is never any question about being in a state of spiritual defeat. Again and again Paul rings the theme in this epistle that God’s grace triumphs over and through human frailty.


[The picture imagery conveyed to Paul’s original readers is a captive of God’s victory processional. In Roman triumph processions the Roman General would marched in victory with his entourage, consisting of two groups: Those that are saved, and those that perish. The first group consisted of those allowed to live as slaves of the Empire. They were being led into a new life. The latter group was the condemned. They were being led to their death. Each group carried a burning incense. The one was a savor of death unto death, the other was a fragrance of life unto life. Calvary was the mighty display of the infinite power of a sovereign God. The human race was divided into two categories: those of life unto life and those of death unto death. KJV Parallel Bible Commentary. Hindson, Ed & Kroll, Woodrow]

The second part of verse 14 indicates that Christians who walk with Christ are dispersing the presence of God wherever God leads them. “And manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place (opportunity).”

The knowledge of God is the sweet aroma which Paul is igniting like an incense bearer. Note that the leading and manifesting is all of God. It is God who led Paul in triumph and God who is manifesting the knowledge of Christ through Paul and us in every place. The apostle Paul just as we are, was only the vessel or instrument through whom the fragrance was released. Paul thanked God that Christ was being made known everywhere he went because he lived his daily life in Christ and not in the flesh.

The robber thought he had committed the perfect crime, he had left no clues-or so he assumed. What he didn’t count on was someone remembering how he smelled. One witness did and was able to identify the suspect because of SOMETHING HE HAD LEFT BEHIND.

We leave something wherever we go. Not, it’s not odors I’m talking about now, but influence. A story by Stuart Holden reminds us of this truth. A young man who had been living in a boarding house was packing his bags to move to another town. When the owner of the house asked him if he had everything, he replied, “I think so. I’m just making sure I’m not leaving anything behind.” Wisely, the owner reminded him, “There’s one thing you will leave behind, young man, your influence.”

If you are a Christian, you have been called by God to let your life’s influence make a favorable impression on others- even people you do not know personally. In the office, in the home, at the store, or in school, is your influence Christ-like? Do people know you because of your kind comments, you loving concern, your generous spirit, and your respect for others? If not, what you are leaving behind is an influence that is worse that the telltale odor of the robber who got caught.

A heart kindled by love for God will flow with the sweet attracting aroma of our Lord. That’s kind of influence we need to leave behind which will make it easy to believe in Jesus.

In verse 15 [picking up the picture of the incense that was a part of the procession] Paul even refers to the sharing of the gospel as the diffusing of the fragrance of God. “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;

In spreading the fragrance of Christ the believer himself becomes an aroma. By us God diffuses the knowledge of Christ as a fragrance because it is well pleasing to God, whatever effect it produces. Yes, we are an aroma of Christ in that we are the means, the instruments, the vessels dispensing the knowledge of God. When garments are perfumed with frankincense and myrrh every place that is enter is filled with the fragrance. When a man is filled with Christ, God’s divine presence is made known every place he goes. The offering of grace is an aroma not only to those who accept it, but also to the perishing for grace is still grace even when it is rejected.

In verse 16 the different views and outcomes of the gospel are conveyed. “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?

In a Roman triumphal procession, the Roman general would display his treasures and captives amidst a cloud of incense burned for the gods. To those who would live the aroma was sweet; to those captives destined for death, it was sunk of mortality. When Christians preach the gospel, it is good news to some and repulsive news to others, Believers recognize the life-giving fragrance of the message. To nonbelievers, however, it smells foul, like death–their own.

The Gospel of grace is never preached or lived in vain, but is in effect, either leading one to life or to death. It is the same message, the same fragrance, but to one it is life, because they receive it, to another death because they reject it. Christ is a tried corner stone, chosen and precious, the rock of salvation to some to others he is the stone of offense (1 Peter 2:7-8). The word of God is not intended to leave people neutral (Jn. 3:19, 15:22).

IS SALT GOOD OR BAD? It’s not that simple, is it? For instance, the salt that melts dangerous ice on winter roads is also the salt that eats through the steel of cars. And the salt that an athlete needs to prevent dehydration is the salt that some experts believe plays a significant role in many health problems, such as high blood pressure.

Truth, like salt, has more than one side. As we learn more about what the Word of God says on a specific subject, we grow in our understanding of how to apply God’s truth to life. Then, as we obey that truth, our lives will demonstrate its different effects.

For example, as Christians we are the preserving salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13), but we are also a sign of destruction to those who resist Christ (2 Cor. 2:15-16). These were both true in Christ’s ministry. And because He lives in us, our lives are to have the same effect on others. The Savior is merciful and patient to those who call upon Him in faith, but He is also the Judge, whose anger rests upon those who arrogantly resist Him.

Let’s diligently study God’s truth so that we will increasingly become the aroma of life to those who believe in Christ, but a warning of death to those who reject Him. It’s God’s way of making our witness effective.

After a church service one Sunday morning, a woman who had been HELPED BY THE MESSAGE wanted the preacher to know about it. In her enthusiasm. However, she mis-spoke herself and said, “Oh Pastor, your sermon today was exactly what I needed! It was like water to a drowning man.”

Her confused metaphor reminds me of the dual effect the gospel has on people who hear it. The ones who accept it find it to be life-giving -like water to a person dying of thirst. But to those who reject it, it is death-dealing-like “water to a drowning man.” Charles Simeon commented that “the gospel must either take us by the hand and lead us up into the sunlight, or it must bid us away down into the dark.”

What a warning this should be to the unsaved! To hear the gospel and trust Christ for salvation brings life. But to continue rejecting Him is to guarantee condemnation. It’s a matter of life or death.

The gospel is good news to those who accept it but bad news to those who reject it.


Since life and death rest in our sharing of the Gospel Paul announces, “Who is sufficient for these things?

The question seems rhetorical. The mention of the awful and ultimate effects, either in salvation or damnation cause us to exclaim “who is sufficient for these things.” How can any mortal fail to be conscious of his own utter inadequacy when he knows what the results of his life will bring to people? The answer is that no one in and of themselves is sufficient. It comes from the receiving the grace of God then giving it freely to others.

None of us is equal to the task of representing Christ. Our adequacy can only come from God (1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5). He has commissioned us and sent us (Matthew 28:18-20). He has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to speak with Christ’s power. He keeps His hand on us, protecting us as we work for Him. So, if we realize that God makes us competent and useful, we can continue to share no matter how inadequate we may feel. Serving Christ requires that we focus on what He can do through us, not on what we can’t do by ourselves.

Verse 17 informs us that in Paul’s day, just like our own, many use Christianity for what they can take instead of give. “For we are not like the many, peddling the Word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

Apparently many were using the Word of God for their own benefit. The word peddling could also be translated huckstering or trading. Many claim sufficiently within themselves for the task, but have no divine call, no divine gift, and no diving anointing. They hawk the Word of God as a means for personal gain. This cheapened and degraded the message with impurity was like a dishonest merchant mixed water into the wine. They sought their own gain. Attempting to get a following for themselves instead of for Christ.

Neither can you bargain with the Word of God. You cannot offer it cut rate so that it will be more acceptable. It already is God’s Word of grace, but it is also a word of the Lordship of Jesus and a word of damnation to those who reject it.

By way of contrast Paul uses the emphatic conjunction but [àlla] to show that he is exercising his ministry not with human sincerity but in the sight of God they speak in Christ. He did not simply speak with sincerity, for you can be sincerely wrong, he spoke while abiding in Christ. In Christ indicates in the His God’s will, by God’s calling, by God’s gifting. The message is clear. We must avoid diluting or adulterating the Word of Life.


We may not know not what effect we have on some the people we share the Gospel with, be it in word or deed, but we know it has one of two effects. It brings them life or death. But we are not Lord’s of life and death. Judgment may proceed through us or salvation may proceed through us, but woe to us if think we dish out judgment and salvation. To God alone belongs the power. Only He can lift life up out of death. We do not know who will receive and who will reject the gospel message, therefore we are to share His truth in the power of the Spirit with one and all. His word to us all is “Freely you have received, freely give.”