Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
Piper Update: Just so you know, Pastor John and Noel returned from Europe Friday afternoon, in time to be a part of the BCS graduation ceremony. He says, “I come back encouraged with what God is doing to magnify the centrality of this Gospel in Romania, French speaking Switzerland and France, and Germany. The hunger for a great God-centered view of God is strong. I think this was a good investment of our lives and it was great to have Noel with me. But I love having a solid home base. There is no place like Bethlehem.”
AIM: My aim in this sermon is to commission you, the downtown campus, into this coming summer season with a text that I pray causes you to see yourself as servants of Christ giving off the aroma of Christ everywhere you go.
This fits in the flow of the last three sermons from Jason Meyer as he has led us in seeing the centrality of the cross and how the gospel shapes everything—our relationship with God, our personal identity and our corporate identity.
Our text would build on that, with an understanding of our selves as servants of Christ emitting an aroma of Christ—engaged in God’s mission to glorify Christ.
PRAYER: Father in Heaven, Christ changes everything. By his death on the cross you have lavished us in your great mercy, reconciled us to you as dearly loved children, justified and forgiven and have become your very own people united in you. Help me and help us to see you as Paul sees you in this text, see ourselves as revealed in this text, and send us out on either a new or a renewed mission of the gospel this summer
BACKGROUND: Let me remind you of a few things by way of background and context.
- Paul, the great missionary apostle of Jesus, was on his 3rd and final journey to strengthen existing churches and starts new ones. He had set out from Antioch in Syria, and stayed in Ephesus for 3 years. Of his ministry in Ephesus (modern day Turkey) he says, 2 Corinthians 1:8: “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.”
- Paul had assured the church in Corinth that he would return to them in 1 Corinthians 16:5: “I will visit you after passing through Macedonia …”
- Between that message and this letter, Paul had written a letter of rebuke, a painful letter to them. And he didn’t know whether they received it in humility or if they dismissed it.
ILLUSTRATION: It reminds me of time I wrote a pointed email to a friend. I kept checking my emails over and over again to see if they had responded, and hoped they had received my pointed email in love.
- His partner, Titus, was to meet Paul and bring him an update. But Titus didn’t come. That’s what Paul refers to in verse 13: “My spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there ...”
- Not knowing how his rebuke had been received in Corinth, Paul chose not to go there: “23b: It was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth ... 2:1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you” (2 Corinthians 1:23b & 2:2).
- So he gave himself to ministry in Macedonia and that ministry too was hard: “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within” (2 Corinthians 7:5).
- While he was there, Titus brought good news that the church had responded to his rebuke in a generally favorable way and in this letter expresses his intention to visit Corinth again.
Q: Why do I tell you the context? Because my burden is that your troubles, despair, and afflictions do not cause you to step out of summer ministry life. Rather, I want you to join Paul in thankfulness to God and allow this text to commission us to press on in the gospel ministry even if we are at the same point today that Paul was when he wrote 2 Corinthians 1:9, “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
IN CHRIST, GOD LEADS US AND SPREADS THROUGH US
So with an aim to join in Paul’s thanksgiving to God in verse 14, lets answer the question, “Why does Paul gives thanks to God in verse 14?”
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.
Paul gives thanks because in Christ, God leads us and spreads through us.
I. IN CHRIST, GOD LEADS US (14a)
“ … in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession…”
Q: What’s a triumphal procession?
ILLUSTRATION: The closest thing to a ‘triumphal procession’ that I can remember in the Twin Cities was the two times the Minnesota Twins won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. (I know some of you were not even born). Just as the triumphant Twins players, manager and owner rode through the streets victorious—so victorious Roman generals would parade through the streets celebrating victory after major battles.
Some bible scholars have taken this to mean that Paul is referring to his participation in the glorious triumph of Christ. Thus Paul would be thanking God for the triumph of Christ over all things and his participation in it.
But that’s not the point here. While it is true that in Christ’s triumph—all who are in Christ triumph—the meaning of this metaphor makes a very different point. To illustrate the meaning of ‘triumphal procession’ in this text, let’s go back to the Minnesota Twins victory parades and add one element.
ILLUSTRATION: What if the parade, was led by the triumphant Twins but then following behind them through the city streets was the team they defeated. Imagine the Cardinals in ’87 and the Braves in ’91 taking up the rear of the parade displaying their defeat.
That’s more like what the word means. The word was used, yes, of the triumphant roman general victory parade, but at the tail end of those parades was the defeated enemies being lead through the streets in shame—before they were executed.
That’s what the word means as it is used of Christ’s triumph in the only other place it is used in the NT, Colossians 2:15: "[Christ] … disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him."
In Colossians the meaning is this: Christ has triumphed over Satan’s insurrection and rebellion, and leads them in public display of his victory over them. If Paul’s use were consistent, as we would expect, Paul’s meaning would be this: Christ has triumphed over my insurrection and rebellion, and leads me in a public display of his victory over me.
- I was in rebellion against God, but he has reconciled me by the death of his son and saved me by his life (Romans 5:10 ESV)
- I was his enemy, and in Christ’s triumph on the cross I have been defeated in my rebellion, and reconciled to God
- I passionately loved all that was opposed to God in the world, but by the cross that world has been crucified to me and I to that world (Gal 6:14).
- I have been killed by the Love of God—crucified with Christ and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
- I follow the triumphant Lord Jesus, as a conquered slave, “… a servant of God … for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth…” (Titus 1:1)
Q: When? Verse 14 says, “always.” When things are going well. When we are in the midst of affliction and trouble. God is always leading us in the triumph of Christ as those rebellion has been conquered by his love.
Q: Who? Paul and his companions. Yet because of the phrase prepositional phrase ‘in Christ’ it does not seem to be a stretch to me to infer that this is true in some real sense for all who are “‘in Christ”—not just apostles.
Q: What can we say so far? That Paul gives thanks to because GOD LEADS US. In fact, God always leads us a defeated rebels, conquered by the triumph of the love of God for us by the death of Christ. He gets the glory of triumph, and we get the joy. Paul’s thanks has another aspect to it. ...
II. GOD SPREADS THROUGH US
The rest of verse 14: But thanks be to God, who … through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.
One scholar notes, “The burning of incense along the victory route was part of the ceremonial of the Roman triumph.”
So Paul give thanks both for being LED in TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION, but also as the rest of verse 14 states, because through us the fragrance of the knowledge of him spreads everywhere, like the incense of the victory parade. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
Briefly, note 4 things about this fragrance given off by us who are ‘in Christ.”
- Knowledge of God (14): The fragrance is the knowledge of God (v. 14) and it goes everywhere through us. I take this primarily as the spreading of the gospel by our words, accompanied by sacrificial love for others.
- Aroma of Christ to God (15): When God smells this fragrance, it is “the aroma of Christ” (v. 15). Ephesians 5:2 echoes this, saying, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” I take this to mean that when God smells the lives and ministry labors of servants of Christ we smell like Jesus as we love and lay down our lives for the church and in the cause of the gospel.
- From Life to Life: When believers smell this fragrance is the “fragrance from life to life” to those being saved (v. 15). “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
- From Death to Death: When unbelievers smell this fragrance is the “fragrance from death to death” to those perishing (v. 15).
This is the saddest, most sobering thing. That which is the aroma of Christ, knowledge of God, the knowledge of God in Christ is for SOME the smell from death to death. The grace of Christ for them becomes judgment. The mercy of Christ for them becomes damnation.
2 Corinthians 4:3–4: Our gospel is veiled … to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
AIM: My aim in this sermon is to commission you, the Downtown Campus, into this coming summer season with a text that I pray causes you to see yourself as a messenger of the gospel of Christ.
Our text is a word of commissioning.
- May God lead us this summer into ministry us a humble defeated rebels, conquered by the triumph of his love for us in the death of Christ our triumphant Lord.
- And through us who are in Christ, may God spread everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ through us.
- May we be an aroma of Christ to God, life to those being saved and inevitably an aroma of death to those being perishing.
Even as a frontier missionary, Paul didn’t insulate himself either from believers or unbelievers but ministered the gospel to both—and entrusted God for the responses.
Our Summer Setting:
- When you entered the service you should have received a guide for Summer activities.
- Outdoor Baptisms at Lake Nokomis the first two Wednesdays in August
- Sr. High Sup-n-Stuffs Tuesdays & Union Gospel Mission outreach
- Jr. High Jams Thursdays
- College Summer in the Cities at Jared and Amy Wass’ home
- And more
- Downtown Every Wednesday evening Connection at Peavey Park (Chicago & Franklin avenues). Preaching on the glory of Christ.
May you and I be an aroma of Christ at every one of our church and small group gatherings this summer.
Likewise in summer outreach, may we be an aroma of Christ:
- Campus Outreach beach project
- Short Term Ministry Mobilization launching pad
- NEED: SALT (Somali Adult Literacy Training) meets at the downtown campus Mon.-Thurs. mornings from 9AM-noon. We ask for a minimum commitment of 6 months because our outreach is based on building a friendship. To volunteer one morning a week please contact Carol Van Ess. (You can call the church for her contact information.)
- You and your small group lead a Backyard Bible Club. It’s not too late. There are two training sessions left this Wednesday, North and South.
Or work in and through the community to be an aroma of Christ through …
Leading a National Night Out Block Party and meet your neighbors and make your neighborhood a safer place
Volunteer to coach baseball or softball—Or perhaps you are playing on a neighborhood team like the one put together by BUI’s Jericho Road mercy ministry and Jeff Noyed.