Much of this new letter from Paul to the Corinthians revolves around a need Paul felt to defend his authority and reputation as an apostle. We saw some of this in 1 Corinthians too. It would appear there were other self-proclaimed apostles who had come to the Corinthian church after Paul who were discrediting Paul and trumpeting their own reputations. In Paul’s response, we find some of the clearest teachings on what it means to be a minister of Christ, what our goal is for ministry, and from where our power comes (and we are all ministers if we choose to be, even if we don’t receive a paycheck from a church). As much as possible, as we make our way through 2 Corinthians I am going to focus my posts on these ideas.
Today’s passage is a familiar one:
But thanks be to God — the God who always leads us in his triumphal procession in the Messiah, and through us reveals everywhere the sweet smell of knowing him. We are the Messiah’s fragrance before God, you see, to those who are being saved and to those who are being lost. To the latter, it’s a smell which comes from death and leads to death; but to the former it’s the smell of life which leads to life. (2:14-16)
It is not our job to save. Our job is to witness, to live, to smell. In fact we can’t help but smell. That is just what happens when we live the way of Christ in this world. People will sense something from our lives about what it means to know and be known by God. Whether they like the aroma of our life is also out of our control. Some will, some won’t. And in the context of this passage, it has nothing to do with our level of sincerity. Lost people can’t appreciate the smell of life. But saved people find it as comforting as the smell of home-made brownies. Our job is to walk, and even this is out of our control. Prisoners of war were paraded, often in chains, through cities like Corinth in a “triumphal procession.” God is even in control of where we walk. Yet, we walk, and as we do a smell is emitted. That is our job: to smell.