Triumphant: 2 Corinthians 2
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he continues explaining why he has not yet made the trip back to Corinth. His primary explanation is that he did not want to come again under sorrowful conditions. It’s a sound reason: nobody likes sorrow and grumpiness when they visit people. (One could insert various passive-aggressive jabs about modern visits here, but let’s not.)
He then goes on to address the issue of restoring someone who has faced church discipline. While Paul does not explicitly state it, some have suggested that this should be applied to the specific case of 1 Corinthians 5. I am inclined to think that, instead, the Corinthians had overreacted to Paul’s instructions and gone after various people they thought had offended or bothered Paul, without contemplating the reality that the harm was to the body, not just to one member of it.
The response that Paul commands is this: the offender should be encouraged in their repentance and restored to the fellowship. And, for what it’s worth, any church discipline concept that does not have the view of restoration and embrace at the end in mind, isn’t worth doing. The purpose is not simply to isolate the sinner—it is to see restoration and renewal.
The rest of the chapter touches on where Paul has been, including the brief mention of Troas. It seems logical that this is a reference to Paul’s vision in Acts 16, and we see some additional details. He was in Troas and waiting for Titus, but could not wait any longer and went on to Macedonia out of obedience to the Spirit. Keep in mind, the chapter is partially addressing how and why some travel plans have to change. Here, Paul is pointing out that sometimes the ministry of the Word and the opportunity of open doors for the Gospel mean that one shifts plans. He was planning on traveling with Titus but had to go on without him—and possibly, go a different direction.
The Corinthians are being reminded that Paul’s first purpose is spreading the Gospel, wherever he has the open door for the work.
Focus in on 2 Corinthians 2:14 for a moment. Paul speaks of God leading us in triumph in Christ, and the image that would have come to mind is the Roman Era version of the “ticker-tape parade.” Victorious generals were celebrated with a “triumph,” a procession showing examples of their victory. Included in those examples would be the treasures captured from the enemy, captured enemy personnel (some headed to slavery, some to death), and liberated allies and citizens. This last group participates as part of the celebration, how they have been delivered from a terrible fate by the general being celebrated. It also, at times, included those from among the enemy who had surrendered in the early stages—those who recognized that standing against Rome was foolish.
If that is the image Paul wants to evoke, then the church at Corinth would be reminded that they are part of the liberated captives in the triumph. Their purpose is to celebrate their deliverer and show to others the benefits of having such a great general.
Now, on to the heart of the matter: we, like the Corinthians, find ourselves in Christ’s triumph. We are either among those delivered or will, at some point, find ourselves among those condemned. That is the first application: surrender to the Great Lord of Lords, and be in His triumph.
Second, it is good for us to remember that it is His triumph, not ours or anyone else’s. We are to keep our eyes fixed on our Deliverer and realize that He rides alone. Others may have been involved, as the legionaries and centurions of Rome were for the triumphs of the day, but they are not celebrated at the triumph. It is for the general to reward them, later—
And so it is with the worship of the church and the worship of Christians. We celebrate the One who has saved us and trust Him to reward His faithful servants later. (Note: we still say thank you—but we do not transfer allegiance!)
Third, it is important for us to recognize our two responsibilities: the first is, as said, to focus on the One who has delivered us. The second is to reflect to the watching crowds that He is worth following! The delivered ones would have spared no expense, no effort to draw the crowds to the worship of their deliverer…
What do we do about our Savior and Deliverer? Do we make sure that our worship of Him causes us to blend into the background and Him to stand out?
1. The references to aroma would have connected not only to the triumph but also evoke the fragrant offerings of the Old Testament. But there was definitely aroma involved in the triumphs…after all, you cram that many people together before the invention of the shower, and I guarantee you’ll want all the incense you can stand.
2. It’s within the realm of possibility that Paul does not want to evoke the Roman triumph, but I think we need to be careful chasing more esoteric concepts. Paul didn’t write to people with tons of spare time to research what he was talking about. He wrote to people who lived in a specific place and time, and just like it’s a safe assumption that a letter to the Arkansans that referenced “football” meant “American football, where you carry a non-round object in your hand) and not “soccer,” though many other places use “football” for that sport where you kick (with your foot) a round ball. (Who knows why they don’t call it soccer?)
Likewise, the predominant culture would have informed Paul’s choice of imagery. Be careful in Biblical interpretation that you don’t try to outsmart the original audience. We all want to be smart, but oftentimes, the basic idea is obvious.