The Fragrance of ChristSermon passage: (2 Corinthians 2:12-3:6) Spoken on: August 9, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Keng Wan Ling For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Corinthians
Sermon on 2 Corinthians 2:12-3:6
Everybody loves a parade! From our National Day parade, to all the street festivals in USA, there is something exciting and uplifting in being part of a crowd, and watching floats stream by. Normally such parade show off strength and accomplishment. I mention this because in today’s passage, Paul mentions something like a parade- a triumphal procession.
Today’s passage is the start of a somewhat lengthy digression. Paul started by saying how he was unsettled he could not find Titus in Troas (v13), and way later in Chapter 7 talks about how he finally found Titus in Macedonia.
So what’s with the parade? Paul is thankful that God always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ. He’s referring to the Roman triumphal possession- a grand spectacle. After every military victory, the conquering general drove through the streets with his soldiers, parading and displaying his booty. There might be human prisoners, animals, ships, precious jewels and statutes. There might be so much it the parade could last 2-3 days! Imagine that!
That might sound like we are the triumphant victors, led by Christ our leader. However, the twist in the tale here is that Paul is referring to himself as one of these prisoners being lead in captivity. He’s talking about himself as a prisoner and servant of Christ. What a shocking picture! Why is he thankful for being a prisoner?
Paul the Prisoner of Christ:
Paul has many identities- the zealous missionary, the caring pastor of churches, and now, the suffering prisoner of Christ. In several other places, Pauul refers to himself as “prisoner to Christ” (cf Phileon, Ephesians). What Paul means is that his relationship with Christ constrains him in what he does, that he seeks God’s will instead of doing only what he wants. From the very start, with his “road to Damascus” experience, God has captured Paul's heart and life. Paul didn't set out to do what he ended up doing, and had run away when he was earlier called, but now, he was willing to do anything for Christ whom he loved.
By way of analogy, our relationship with our parents, our spouse, our children, our families, constrain and determine what we do. For example, when it comes to choosing where to go for holiday or what to eat, we try to think about not just what we want, but want our older grandparents might enjoy, or what the younger children might want to see. In my own life, this means, I means I have eaten largely at the same dim sum restaurant on Sunday lunch for the last 20 years because of my family. It also means that family dinners mostly at Sushi Tei – or anywhere that has Japanese ramen- because of my young niece and nephews.
Because Christ is important to Paul, Paul is willing and thankful to be constrained for His sake, doing His work and seeking His will. Please note that Paul is not talking about being mere puppets of God. Not so- in many cases, God gives us choices, and works with us where we are, with our gifts and personalities and circumstances.
But it does mean that, as partners with God in His work and ministry on earth, we stop putting ourselves at the centre of the universe. It means that we try out best to obey to Christ’s commandments, and to submit ourselves to Him, even if it goes against what you might have wanted to do. It means reflecting God not only in big decisions such as your career, what courses you want to study, who you marry, where you life, but also in small decisions such as how you spend your time.
Hymn writer Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) was one who felt strongly how important complete surrender to God is. She wrote the hymn Take My Life and Let It Be at the end of a visit where she prayed for, and God gave her, all the 10 members of the household (initially some were non Christians, and others were lukewarm). Her own hymn stirred her to do more. As she wrote the words Take my voice and let me sing..., she made a decision to give up her career as a concert soloist, and sing only for Him.
Spreading the Fragrance of the Knowledge of God
It is through our lives of obedience, as we make the good news known, that God works through us to spread everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of God. Our lifes are as incense, as sweet fragrance, pleasing to God, in safe way Christ’s submission and offering was also pleasing to God (Ephesians 5:2 “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”).
For some Christians, like Paul, this fragrance comes from a life of suffering.
For Paul, the term “prisoner of Christ” is particularly poignant, because He was called to a ministry of substantial hardship. Paul’s suffering was very much a part of his identity and his journey as God's apostle.. Whether in 2 Corinthians, or his other writings, his life of suffering comes through very strongly. It makes for somewhat serious reading - even when the man is talking about joy, as in the book of Philipians, he’s in fact writing from prison. When Paul’s apostleship is challenged, his sufferings are one of the things he draws on to defend himself. He says that his life of suffering is the means of revealing the knowledge of God.
While it doesn't mean that everyone has to suffer, Paul affirms that God's people can help show the power of God in the midst of their adversity (2 Corinth 1:7), just like God’s power is revealed in his own life. This idea will be explored in later sermons, but for now, I wanted to share some quotes to see how others have shown the power of God at work in their lifes, by their response to bad things happening.
You may remember Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralysed when a teenager but champions God’s work till today. She says, " I wish I could take to heaven my old, tattered wheelchair. I would point to the empty seat and say, "Lord, for decades I was paralyzed in this chair. But it showed me how paralyzed You must have felt to be nailed to Your Cross…the weaker I felt in this chair, the harder I leaned on You. And the harder I leaned, the more I discovered how strong You are. Thank you, Jesus for learning obedience in your suffering...You gave me grace to learn obedience in mine."
Watchman Nee was another servant of God well acquainted with times of poverty and suffered from terrible health through tuberculosis, a stomach disorder and a heart ailment. He says, “Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor of sweetness.”
You might say- but I’m not apostle Paul! I’m not some famous Christian, I’m just an ordinary person trying to get by the best I can. When I’m doing so badly at my school work. When my career and my job are in jeopardy. When I really want to have children but I can’t. When my health is frail. When I’m broke and need money… Is my broken life really spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ? Paul says yes. He says that we are the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of life to those who are being saved.
Oswald Chambers, who wrote a classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest, said, “ As a saint of God my attitude toward sorrow and difficulty should not be to ask that it be prevented, but to ask that God protect me so that I may remain what He created me to be, in spite of all my fires of sorrow. “ God willing, if we endure the fires of sorrows, these will fan the flames of the fragrance of our testimony and our witness.
The church as a letter from Christ
When we live this way, others see Christ in us. Paul describes the Corinthian church as a letter of Christ, verifying that his (Paul’s) ministry is authentic. Why does Paul keep talking about letters of recommendation? This is because it was the practice for a recognized religious authority to issue reference letters, to prove that someone had the required authority for a task. Today, if someone tries to stop you to search you, saying that he’s a police man, what would you say? You’d ask to see some proof or evidence, perhaps his warrant card, to confirm he has the authority to do so. Similarly, when Paul went to Damascus to arrest and jail the Christians, he went with such letters issued by the high priest (Acts 9:1-2). Now that he was no longer a rabbi, Paul didn’t have any human person or authority issuing him such letters, and so his opponents scorned him as a “self-made” prophet.
Jesus didn’t have any letters of commendation as well; it was by His works, and later, the actions of His believers that draw others to believe in Him. If Jubilee Church is taken as a letter from Christ, how well would we verify that Christ’s ministry and power is authentic? This letter is written, not with ink but with the Holy Spirit, written on our hearts, a letter which is known and read by everybody. People don’t just see the actions of one or two or three Christians, although that is important, but they see what the community does as a whole.
So what should this letter convey? At its most basic, it should convey the message of salvation- the God so loved the world, that He sent His only son, so that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. That message may come out explicitly- we can say so. It can also come out implicitly, we can make known that God’s love is the reason we do things like social outreach, in worship, in bible study. It comes out in how we treat people around us, how we act in the office, how we behave in school.
Be warned, though, this letter might not always be well-received and it is not an easy message to deliver. John Piper says, “Some people smell the sacrificial love of Christ… and it only smells like death. They hear the gospel and all they hear is death. They look at the cross and all they see is death. They see no life. No hope. No future. No joy. And so they turn away. And if they turn away forever, they die. They are the perishing. The smell of death leads to death. That’s the heart-breaking side of missions.” What a horrible thought that is, that it might be how some people perceive us! What a hard job it is- on top of needing to submit to God (i.e be a prisoner of Christ), and to live our lifes right as testimonies (i.e. exude the aroma of Christ), now we have to face the heartbreak of rejection.
Ministers of the new covenant of the Spirit
Paul says as much when he asks, “ Who is equal to such a task?”, and answers it by saying it is only possible by the power of Holy Spirit. Unlike the law of Moses, under which judgment is pronounced on those who break the law, in the new covenant, sins are forgiven, and the Spirit helps God's people to live in the right way. Luckily for us, our competence comes from God.
I’m ending with The Message translation from Eugene Peterson- let that be a reminder and a prayer. “ Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God's living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it. “
So let our community be a letter from Christ written to people who need to hear the Good News, written not on paper with ink but on hearts. Let our lives be as those led from place to place in one perpetual victory parade by God through Christ. Let us endure whatever comes our way- perhaps sorrows and hardships- so that wherever we go, we give off a sweet scent rising to God. Let us pray.