Ministry Progress in the Light of Difficulty, Part 2.

God always and in every place enables us to carry on effective ministry despite difficulties. 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 gives 4 truths we can use to maintain effective ministry as a church during these providentially difficult times. Last week, we looked at the first.

Paul describes his agony and his relief in 2 Corinthians 7:5-16. In any degree of difficulty, because of the grace of God, we can take steps forward in Gospel progress. Difficulty will always be present. What relief and comfort and encouragement we find when we see those we are discipling walk in the truth!

The Divine Influence of Gospel Purpose (verse 14)

The bittersweet reality of a Spirit-filled soul determined to do God's will is followed by this verse of thanks. Paul was able to persevere even when depressed. These truths caused him to transcend his discouragement. He lived obediently in the midst of this glorious counterbalance.

Degrees of difficulty are unavoidable, but they pale in comparison to the eternal nature of who we are and what we have in Jesus Christ.

The reason for thankfulness is that God is always leading us to triumph in Christ, because we are in Him and He is in us. In this reality, we own Christ's triumph over sin. The Roman military would hold a parade after a triumph in a foreign battlefield. The commander led his army to the emperor in the capital of Rome. Government officials led the parade, followed by trumpeters, a display of the spoils, a white bull for sacrifice, prisoners of war, musicians, and priests. The victorious general rode a richly decorated chariot followed by his chanting army.

Paul likens this scene to a spiritual triumph. Christ is the commander, and God is the emperor who receives ultimate praise. Christ always wins. We will and do already share His victory.

A Roman parade of triumph always bore a distinctive aroma as incense was burned and flower petals were crushed underfoot. Paul says we carry the fragrance of triumph as we live out the Gospel. As Colin G. Kruse commented, "The knowledge of Christ is diffused like a fragrant odor through God's messengers in every place to all people." This is the second reason for being thankful. God has made us witnesses for Him every place we go (Matthew 5:16, Matthew 28:19-20). Our lives matter when living under this purpose.

The Holy Honor of Gospel Purpose (verses 15-16)

The historian Josephus tells us that when the aroma of victory had permeated the air, the procession would stop, and sacrifices would be made at the temple of Jupiter and Capolonius. This was the Roman honoring of the triumph to dedicate all the spoils and all the prisoners to the gods of Rome.

Our lives in Christ are living sacrifices and a sweet smell to God. Our pursuit of Christ-like living is our offering to God. It also serves as a Gospel influence among the people whom our lives touch. The first fragrance is for "those who are being saved." To the victors in a Roman military parade, the fragrance was beautiful; but to the prisoners of war, it was a stench. Our influence can be the same towards "those who are perishing." Salvation is of the Lord. It is ours to be the fragrance; it is His to save. No human can wholly understand this reality.

"Christ alone is accepted before God. Through faith in Christ's perfect work of atonement, the Christian is justified and incorporated into Him. To be in Christ is not merely to be within the sphere of His influence, but is to be really in Him. There is no context for redemption apart from this mystery."

The Undiluted Purity of Gospel Purpose (verse 17)

Paul contrasts sincere ministry with false ministry in this verse. The phrase "many" indicates that there will always be more falsehood in a fallen world than truth; but truth in Christ always triumphs. Paul uses a word that described peddlars who would dilute wine and sell it as original. As one commentator said, false ministers feel free to "tamper with God's truth" for their personal gain. Another commentator identified these with the sacramentalists, pragmatists, opportunists, and legalists of our day. Imagine members of the triumphal parade being distracted by those on the sidelines selling false triumph!

Beware of anyone who wants the demise of any of the 3 institutions God has put in place: government, family, and the church. Pray for them, but do not be distracted. This requires a sincere, forward balance that is aware of many deceivers. We need to have compassion on those made in God's image while we keep our Gospel stand unadulterated.

Paul still holds out the Gospel offer for deceiver and deceived to join the triumph of Christ! He never failed to declare Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). We have no real Gospel if we cannot love and pray for enemies.

Application Points

  • If you are discouraged in ministry, know that your life matters to God in Christ. You triumph in Christ, and your living out the Gospel is an offering to Him and an influence to those around you. This is the greatest significance anyone could ever have!
  • Beware of anyone who wants the demise of any of the 3 institutions God has put in place: government, family, and the church. Pray for them, but do not be distracted.
  • How can you live life like you're in a spiritual triumphant parade?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 – The sub-theme of suffering in this book.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 4:16-18 – Triumph in the depths of difficulty.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Phil 4:6-7 – Thankfulness in difficulty.
  • 2 Timothy 4:16-18, 1 Tim 1:12-17 – Paul's certainty about his personal triumph in Christ.
  • 1 John 5:4, Romans 8:37 – Our complete conquering through Christ.
  • Romans 10:15 – Beautiful Gospel feet.
  • 2 Peter 2:1-22 – False teachers lead people astray because they are not aware of the danger.
A Hymn to Encourage: "Thine Be the Glory"

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son,
endless is the victory thou o'er death hast won;
angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave-clothes where thy body lay.

Lo, Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the church with gladness hymns of triumph sing,
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting!

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of Life;
life is naught without thee: aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors through thy deathless love;
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.