Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

April 13, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians


II. Apology for Paul’s Ministry. (1:12–7:16)

A.  The Conduct of Paul. (1:12–2:17)                                                                       

               Lesson II.A.3: Paul’s confidence in the Corinthians. (2:12-17)


2nd Corinthians 2:12-17 (NKJV)

12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord,

13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.

14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?

17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.


12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord,

He came to Troas, and there he found an open door. It was the will of God for him to stay there and to preach the Gospel rather than proceed on to Corinth at that time. Paul was not being fickle. He was being faithful. He was faithful to the opportunity which God gave him. My friend, if you can’t do anything else in life, you can be faithful. Be faithful to the opportunities that God gives you. If He opens a door, don’t hesitate to go through that door.

In no place does Paul give a comprehensive description of his recent plans and travels. He first planned to go from Ephesus through Macedonia to Corinth (1 Cor. 16:5){1]. Then he decided, while in Corinth during his painful visit, to come back there on his way to Macedonia (2 Cor. 1:16){2]. Further thought, after his return to Ephesus, led him to delay his trip to Corinth to give them time to repent of their rebellion (2 Cor. 1:23){3]. So he returned to his original plan, sent the “stern letter” to Corinth by Titus, and traveled north from Ephesus to Macedonia. Titus was to travel north from Corinth and east through Macedonia, and meet Paul someplace along a prearranged route. Troas (full name, Alexandrea Troas), a seaport on the northwestern tip of Asia Minor, was one place where the meeting might have taken place. Wherever Paul went he preached the gospel; so he says that he came to Troas “for,” that is, to preach the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. People were ready to listen; a door was opened (Acts 14:27{15]; 1 Cor. 16:9{16]; Col. 4:3{17]; these passages make it clear that God opens the doors by providing a favorable situation and opening men’s hearts and minds to listen). By the Lord seems to mean by His service.

13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.

In Troas he had been greatly encouraged. The natural thing would have been for Paul, with his strong evangelistic fervor, to seize the opportunity and give himself wholeheartedly to building a strong church in Troas. Some of the Christian group pictured in Acts 20:7-12 were no doubt converted at this time, although Paul could have won his first converts in Troas during an earlier visit mentioned in Acts 16:8{4].  But he couldn’t settle down to reap the harvest for a couple of reasons: First, because of his anxiety about the trouble in Corinth; secondly, because even while he was preaching the Gospel in Troas, he was grieved in his heart because Titus hadn’t come to bring him word concerning the congregation in Corinth. He waited for Titus to come, but Titus didn’t come. He was too concerned with meeting Titus at the earliest possible moment to stay in Troas too long. His mind was divided, and he couldn’t find relief from the tension and anxiety that the Corinthian crisis was causing him, and so at last he turned his steps toward Macedonia, and went over to Philippi in hopes of meeting Titus sooner. His departure for Macedonia was evidence of his anxiety, not of his vacillation (See 2 Cor. 7:2-7). This perpetual concern for the spiritual welfare of the Corinthians should have banished from their minds the idea that Paul acted out of fickleness. He thought and prayed constantly for their welfare; his plans and movements were controlled by his love and concern for them.

At this point Paul seems ready to tell of the joyful meeting with Titus somewhere in Macedonia, and of his delight at the good news Titus had brought. The outburst of thanks in verse 14 shows that the good news came—that the Corinthians had dealt with this sin in their congregation and that the man had now repented and had turned from his sin. But Paul doesn’t tell of it until 2 Cor. 7:5-7{5]. The thought of how the turn of events at Corinth has vindicated him has led him to interrupt the narrative and discuss at length his ministry as Christ’s apostle.


14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ. In this dramatic picture, Paul is saying that preaching the Gospel is like leading a triumphal entry. The back drop is a Roman triumphal entry. One of the great Roman generals would go out to the frontier—to Europe where my ancestors were at the time, or down into Africa—where he would have victory after victory, for Rome was victorious in most campaigns. The conqueror would then return to Rome, and there would be a great, triumphal entry into the city. It is said that sometimes the triumphal entry would begin in the morning and go on far into the night. The Roman conqueror would be bringing in animals and other booty which he had captured. In the front of the procession would be the people who were going to be released. They had been captured but would be freed and would become Roman citizens. In the back of the procession would be the captive people who were to be executed.

In these triumphal entries there was always the burning of incense. They would be burning the incense to their gods to whom they gave credit for the victory. All the way through the procession there would be clouds of smoke from the incense, sometimes even obscuring the procession as it passed by.

With this as the background, Paul is saying, “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ.” This is wonderful, friend. You can’t lose when you are in Christ. You can’t lose! Paul says that God always leads us to triumph. Wait a minute, Paul. Always? In every place? We know you had wonderful success in Ephesus, but you didn’t do so well in Athens. Do you feel that you triumphed in both places? “Yes,” Paul says, “He always leads us to triumph in Christ.” Are you having a victory when nobody turns to Christ? “Oh, yes,” says Paul.

The good news Titus brought leads Paul to thank God (2 Cor. 8:16){6] for His sovereign and gracious control of the apostles life. In the Greek to God stands first, to emphasize where the credit and praise belong. In Christ, that is, in union with Him and in a life lived in His service, God leads the apostles in triumph, like victorious generals, parading in triumphal procession, led their captive foes chained to their chariots. So in all this missionary travel God is leading Paul, who in letter after letter gladly acknowledges that he is the prisoner (Philem. 1, 9){7] or servant (Rom. 1:1){8] of Christ his Lord. This idea that God and Christ control his life and travel is another answer to those who have thought his change of plans a sign of fickleness. But Paul’s thought expands beyond the immediate situation; he is preparing to discuss his apostolic ministry in a broad way, and the words always and every place show he is thinking of his entire ministry. Perhaps he still thinks of the conquerors procession, along whose route incense was released.

It is God’s triumph that Paul celebrates, the triumph he won through Christ. The changed atmosphere in the church at Corinth is a victory for God because it is a victory of the Spirit of Christ. Freedom from bitterness or resentment is Christ’s victory within us. We are made free by the mastery of His love. In the Christian life there are no victories that are not God’s.

Yet God’s victory, of course, is also our victory. The picture of these defeated captives dragged at the heels of some arrogant conqueror does not represent the Christian life, though there is truth in it. God’s triumph in which we share is possible through only His conquest of us. It comes when we are forced to our knees in surrender to His love. That surrender comes through the judgment of God in which we see ourselves as we are, and pride and self-will are broken. This had happened to Paul. The experience of his conversion was never absent from his mind. There the pride in his own goodness which had sustained his resistance to the truth was shattered. In the light of the crucified Christ his lovelessness was laid bare. He was reduced to such despair that he fell to the ground in abject defeat and surrender, asking only, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). He was a captive of Christ, as completely conquered as one in a Roman general’s procession of triumph. But in this captivity he found freedom. His real self was released in power to triumph over the evil that had once ruled his life. It is the Christian paradox that in bondage to Christ is the secret of freedom. When we yield our sword to Him, we become conquerors through His love.

And through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. So Paul, by his preaching, and the knowledge of God (of Him, may mean of Christ) releases along the route of his travels the fragrant fragrance of tribute to God. In speaking of the fragrant smell Paul may also think of sacrificial incense (Rom. 15:16{9]; Eph. 5:2{10]); his mind often moves freely from one allusion to another as he writes. But the main thought is that his apostolic ministry has been one long triumphal procession of the victorious God, who in Christ has controlled and led him, and now has given another proof of this in the recent triumph of Paul over his foes in Corinth.

Through us, God diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. The surrendered life has a quality which is like the perfume that permeates the air from a flower that is crushed. This influence is hard to describe. Paul calls it a fragrance. Others have described it as a radiance. This quality is found in those who are so conscious of the love of Christ that they are unconscious of themselves. It cannot be artificially produced; it is the reflection in us of God’s Spirit. When Mary broke the box of fragrant ointment over Jesus’ feet in self-effacing love, “the house was filled with the odor of the ointment” (John 12:3). Goodness born out of love for Christ has the quality of peace and happiness which Jesus described in the Beatitudes. Robert Louis Stevenson spoke of it as “flowering piety.” It appears when resignation has blossomed into the joy of accepting and doing God’s will instead of merely submitting to sorrow or misfortune as fate, or when the judgment of God that lays us low becomes the means of the triumph of His grace. It is the fragrance of His knowledge. Its effect on others is to produce an experience of God. God is not revealed by argument, but by a quality of Spirit which creates the capacity to feed and respond, as light awakens the eye to see. Nothing else will reach the hearts of men. Lives which lack serenity or grace have no attractive power. Only a power which makes us happy in spite of adverse conditions can speak to the secret unhappiness of those who are unreconciled to life or to God.


15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

In that triumphal entry there were those who were going to be set free and those who were going to be executed—but all of them were in the triumphal entry.

The apostles, who preach the gospel that gives the fragrance of the knowledge of God are here called the fragrance. It is the message rather than the man that gives the sweet-smelling odor, and this message concerns Christ; so it is really the fragrance of Christ. Just as to God opened verse 14, so here of Christ stands first with emphasis in the Greek clause; Paul continually seeks to drive home the truth that the gospel concerns the will and work of God, the saving action of Christ. It is not based on the human resources of the apostles; they (the apostles) point men to the divine source of redemption and moral power. In verse 15b the illustration takes a startling turn. The perfume or incense of the gospel message produces quite different effects in those who hear it; verse 16 will explain that. But now Paul states generally that the message is truly Christ’s fragrance in all who hear it, whether they are being saved or are perishing. The men who are in these two groups, are shown by their reaction to the gospel, to be on their way either to salvation or to ruin.

For we are to God the fragrance of Christ. Like incense from an alter, the fragrance of Christ rises to God from surrendered lives. It gives God satisfaction, as the writer to the Hebrews suggests: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Heb. 11:16). In them God sees the fruit of His age-long purpose of redemption. To realize this deepens our sense of the importance of our loyalty to Christ. Christian lives are the one product in history which gives history its meaning. The value of a civilization may not be properly judged by art or architecture, or by the comfort and security it offers, but by the number and vitality of its Christian men and women. Political and social theories must be tested by the extent to which they encourage the growth of Christian character in freedom, co-operation, moral principle, and reverence for personality.


16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?

Paul is overwhelmed by this—“who is sufficient for these things?” My friend, the greatest privilege in the world is to give out the Word of God. There is nothing like it. I would never want to run for the presidency of the United States. It is difficult to understand why anyone would want to be president in this day of unsolvable problems. But it is glorious to give out the Word of God! Do you know why? Because He always causes us to triumph.

When the Gospel is preached and multitudes accept Christ that is wonderful. It is just as wonderful when I tell somebody about Jesus, and they accept Him as their Savior. We can see the triumph there. We are an aroma of life unto those who are saved. But now wait a minute—what about the crowd that rejects Christ? We are an aroma of death to them. I have to admit that I feel awful when I think about those to whom I have preached the Gospel only to see them leave still without Christ. I may be their worst enemy, because when they must stand before Christ they can no longer say that they never heard the Gospel. However, all people are now in the triumphal entry. Many will not be set free; they will be judged. But regardless of our destiny, we are in the great triumphal entry of Jesus Christ, because He is going to win my friend! Every knee must bow to Him, and every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Every individual will have to bow to Him someday—regardless of whether He is the person’s Savior or Judge. No wonder Paul exclaims, who is sufficient for these things?

To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. Today the incense is ascending; the Word is going out. And we are an aroma of life to some and an aroma of death to others.

But as the aroma of incense during a triumphal procession spreads everywhere and has different effects on different people, for example, on those who were about to die, and on those to whom victory meant life, so has the sweet savor of Christ had varied results according to men’s reaction to it. It makes good men better, and bad men worse, just as light on an unhealthy eye may produce blindness, while to a healthy eye it brings greater illumination. The Christian spirit brings men to judgment. It awakens the conscious to moral realities. It brings human pride and all its superficial triumphs to the dust. Men may resist that judgment or try to escape it, only to plunge deeper into evil. They resist goodness and are hardened. Neglect of spiritual values, as well as deliberate rejection, dulls the spiritual senses. This is what Paul means by death—the total loss of the spiritual sense. It is a tragic possibility. The final issue of moral choice is between life and death.

On the other hand, acceptance of God’s judgment through the influence of the Christian spirit opens up to us His grace and forgiveness. The knowledge of God to those who receive it becomes an aroma of life leading to life. Spiritual capacity grows by exercise. Vision becomes clearer by obedience. Christ becomes more and more to those who follow Him. The reward of following Him is thus a deeper understanding of His message and a greater freedom to obey it. The decisive point of Paul’s whole life was his obedience to “the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

It is the same aroma of Christ, the same message of His saving work; it is always an incense or tribute offered to God. But the results differ sharply. The gospel finds one group on its way to ruin, spiritual death; their rejection of it sends them farther on the way. In the other group the message is welcomed, and it helps them on the way to God’s full gift of eternal life. Paul does not say how this happens, but only states the fact. The gospel confirms some in their sin; they reject it and become more hardened in wrong doing. It finds in others the response that is an open door to immense blessings. Paul firmly believed that God’s will and wisdom are back of this; his belief that men are responsible for their decisions was equally as strong. But here he does not seek to balance the sovereignty of God, which to him is a basic fact, and man’s responsibility, which is also true. He turns rather to a question which shows that to him it is a terrible responsibility to confront men with a message which either hardens them in sin or opens the way to life: How can any man dare to carry on a ministry that has such immense, eternal issues.

Who is sufficient for these things? It is a responsible thing to be a Christian. There is no difference between lay people and the clergy in this matter. All need love, insight, and the power to reflect without distortion the mind of Christ. The concern of all Christians must be to make sure no one is turned away because they misrepresent Him. Our only safeguard is complete humility and utter sincerity. Paul goes on to speak of this in the next verse.


17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.

The question asked in verse 16 is who is sufficient for these things? One might expect the answer, “No man.” But Paul implies in this verse that the apostles are sufficient. Not in themselves, nor by their own resources (2 Cor. 3:5){11]; but Paul like every true apostle is sufficient. The many, that is, the false apostles who have been troubling the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:13){12], are not. They are hucksters, peddlers. They think of personal advantage and profit (2 Cor. 11:20){13]; they adulterate God’s Word, the message of salvation, to suit their interests (2 Cor. 11:4){14]; and so Paul applies to them the figure of the unscrupulous petty tradesman or peddler who thinks only of using every tricky means to make financial profit. In contrast, the ministry of Paul and his apostolic comrades stands the test; they can be trusted with the life and death issues of the gospel.

a)     They are sincere; integrity and loyalty to God rule their motives and methods.

b)     They are sent from God and get their message from Him.

c)      They give their Christian witness knowing that they speak in God’s presence and so are known to Him and responsible to Him.

d)     They speak in Christ; their lives are linked with his, and they do their work in His Spirit and with the Power God gives through Him.

Peddlers are petty merchants who sell their wares from door to door. I remember as a child that my mother bought encyclopedias from a door-to-door salesman and brushes from the Fuller Brush man. It is an occupation that has all but disappeared in our day. But here, Paul seems to suggest that there is dishonesty on the part of these peddlers. The apostle is thinking of men who use cunning to persuade people to buy cheap and adulterated goods. They are not concerned either with the quality of the goods or with the real interests of their customers. Some preachers are only clever salesmen, doing good business for themselves. Their stake in the truth they preach is not the good of their hearers, but the advancement of their own reputation. Paul insists that the preacher must be sincere without mixed motives, and seeking no personal gain. He cares only for the reputation of Christ. He must be a channel of truth, not an exhibitionist who puts himself in the forefront. He will present the truth unadulterated by specious ideas of his own, by political bias, or merely patriotic enthusiasm. He will not appeal to the self-interest of his hearers, but to their interest in the kingdom of God. Only a preacher’s utter sincerity combined with truth will deliver him from unworthy motives, and from the self-consciousness, the timidity, the doubt and the discouragements that spring from self-concern. He must do his work in the sight of God. Integrity in truth can come in no other way. To know that God is watching will keep us from “handling the Word of God deceitfully” (2 Cor. 4:2).

This is the entire plan of the Christian ministry. We are not to corrupt the Word of God or distort it or make merchandise of it, but to give it out in sincerity as the Spirit of God reveals its truth to us.


scripture reference and special notes

{1](1 Cor. 16:5) Now I will come to you when I pass through Macedonia (for I am passing through Macedonia).

(2 Cor. 1:16){2] to pass by way of you to Macedonia, to come again from Macedonia to you, and be helped by you on my way to Judea.

{3](2 Cor. 1:23) Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth.

{4] (Acts 16:8) So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.

{5] (2 Cor. 7:5-7) For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. 6 Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.

{6](2 Cor. 8:16) But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.

{7](Philem. 1, 9) Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 9 yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you--being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ--

{8] (Rom. 1:1) Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

{9](Rom. 15:16) that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

[10] (Eph. 5:2) And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

{11] (2 Cor. 3:5) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,

{12] (2 Cor. 11:13) For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.

{13] (2 Cor. 11:20) For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.

{14] (2 Cor. 11:4) For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted--you may well put up with it!

{15] (Acts 14:27) Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

{16] (1 Cor. 16:9) For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

{17] (Col. 4:3) meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains,


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