Notes on 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

2 Corinthians 2:12‑17  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The apostle resumes for a moment the account of his course, but the aim is to testify his affectionate concern for the Corinthian saints who misjudged him, and, failing in love themselves, saw not his love which spared them, as much as it sought their blessing to the Lord's glory.
“Now when I came unto the Troad for the gospel of Christ, a door being opened to me in [the] Lord, I had no rest in my spirit at not finding Titus, my brother; but having taken leave of them, I went forth unto Macedonia. But thanks [be] to God that always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the odor of his knowledge through us in every place. Because we are a sweet odor of Christ to God in those to be saved, and in those that perish: to the one an odor from1 death unto death, but to the others an odor from life unto life; and who [is] sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many, retailing the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, before God, we speak in Christ.” (Vers. 12-17.)
We see two things here: the apostle's deep value for the gospel; his still deeper value for the saints as in danger of compromising Christ. Hence, whatever his purpose in coming into a new region, and in the face of a distinct opening for the work of reaching souls outside, he could not rest without hearing of those souls, so dear to him for the Lord's sake, and so exposed to Satan's wiles. He had hoped to have heard news of Corinth through Titus; but Titus he did not find; and so, turning his back on those on the eastern side, where he then was, he repairs to Macedonia. His heart was on the saints. Anxiety for the assembly decided him to abandon for the time even so promising a field for the gospel. The church has the nearest claim, and the apostle acts on it. It was not only that the letter he had written bore witness of his love for them, and grief over the grave circumstances of the Corinthian assembly, but also his relinquishment of the gospel work in the word he so valued, and this spite of an opening in the Lord. His heart was tried greatly, as he thought of the saints and of his own letter. Would they accept it as of God, and judge themselves by the light? Would they resent his plain and searching, but deeply affectionate, appeals? The situation was most critical. Taking leave, then, of the saints in Troas, he goes forth where he hoped to hear the most speedy and authentic tidings of their state, and the effect of his own letter.
But, instead of stopping to describe the intelligence conveyed by Titus, the apostle breaks forth into a burst of praise and thanksgiving. It was, no doubt, characteristic of his deep feeling and immediate appreciation that he should thus turn from the human instrument to His grace who had wrought such a happy result, where things were so painful and perilous; but no means can be conceived more admirably adapted to express at once what grace had effected in the Corinthian saints, nor any more becoming a servant of Christ. There is thus the most complete absence of self-vindication, there is no credit taken for superior wisdom. The gracious power of God is celebrated immediately as His victory. Not merely is every means attributed to Him, and the blessing from Him, which piety would always feel and utter gladly, but he speaks in the most forcible way of God always leading us in triumph in the Christ. The best proof of this is the fact that so many commentators, Protestant and Catholic alike, pare down and alter the meaning. Among the rest, our own Authorized translation was so affected by this impression, that they rendered θριαμβεύειν, “to cause to triumph,” instead of lead in triumph, as they should. This it has been attempted to be sustained by the Hellenistic causative usage of μαθητεύειν, βασιλεύειν, καπηλεύειν, and χορεύειν, even in classical Greek. But the usage of the apostle in Col. 2:55For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:5) is adverse, nor am I aware of a single instance in which it can be proved to be ever thus employed. Besides, it really weakens, if it does not destroy, the beauty of the apostle's image, and makes it to be his triumph rather than God's. The one would be a rather unseasonable, and perhaps galling, reminder to the Corinthians that he was as right as they were wrong; the other, a singularly beautiful, though bold, predication of a divine victory, in which he had part as a willing captive, or part of the train. There is no over-coloring of the figure, no representation of himself as humbled and conquered, still less any reference to their fighting against God or His servant. But he turns his joy over their being brought to repentance, and a recognition of his apostolic authority, as well as of his loving services, into a thanksgiving to God, who, instead of letting him feel his abandonment of evangelistic work, always leads us in triumph in the Christ, and makes manifest the odor of his knowledge through us in every place. The allusion is to a Roman triumph, where aromatics were burnt profusely; and on this, too, he seizes to illustrate the going forth everywhere around of his testimony to Christ in the gospel. But the sweet perfumes in a triumphal procession were accompanied by life to some of the captives, and by death to others; and this is naturally turned to point the twofold issues of the gospel.
The unbelieving Jew or Gentile saw no more in Jesus crucified than a dead man; the message founded on Him could not be powerless to such. They could not deny the gracious words of it, any more than of Christ in the synagogue of Nazareth, where He announced His mission in the wondrous citation from Isa. 61
But they saw not, heard not, God in either. But as God delighted in His Son, a Savior, so He pronounced beautiful the feet of those that announced glad tidings of peace, of those that announce glad tidings of good things; and so, too, He smells a savor of rest sweeter than that of Noah's offering, or any other. “Because,” says the apostle, “we are a sweet odor of Christ to God in those to be saved, and in those that perish;” and this be explains carefully: “to the one an odor from death unto death,” which we have seen; “but to the other an odor from life unto life.” Such is the message where it is mixed with faith, for faith sees and hears Him as the Son of God, yet Son of man, who died for man, for sins, but rose in the power of an endless life, that we might live also, and live of His life, where sin can never enter, nor death have dominion more.
No wonder, as the apostle weighs the responsibility of a service so blessed on the one side, so tremendous on the other, that he exclaims, “And who [is] sufficient for these things?” For if the gospel is a word of delivering grace, it causes the truth to shine out so as to intensify the servant's estimate of responsibility. This is just what should be—full liberty imparted, instead of bondage; but solemn responsibility, realized as it never was before, and could not be, in any other way. But here the mass of the Corinthians sadly fell short, not the apostle, whom they had slighted in their self-sufficient folly. “For we are not, as the many, retailing (or adulterating) the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, before God, we speak in Christ.” He did not, like the many, traffic in the word of God; but as of transparency, not this only, but as of God, and this, too, with a present sense of having to do with Him, as all must later, “before God,” “we speak in Christ,” which is far more intimate and forcible than merely of Him.