September 13, 2020
12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 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. 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. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 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. (2 Corinthians 2:12-17 ESV)
Many years ago, I attempted to learn to read Greek with the naïve assumption that once I had that skill all the language of the New Testament would become clear. I did not get far into the class before I discovered that Greek words could have multiple meanings just like they do in English. One verse in today’s passage is a valuable example of this. Here is the verse from three different translations.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV)
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. (2 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)
14 In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. (2 Corinthians 2:14 MSG)
When I initially looked at this verse, I thought that the translation in the NIV could not be correct. The more I have thought about it, the more convinced I am that Paul uses a general Greek term to paint a picture and then lets us use the context to determine where to place ourselves in the picture.
Who are we in Paul’s word picture? Are we the conquered captives who will be executed at the end of the parade or are we the soldiers who share in the glory of our triumphant leader? I think it is possible that we are both and that translators are faced with an impossible task as they must choose one or the other.
I admit that I prefer the victor picture over the captive picture. I know there are still parts of me that resist being made completely captive to Christ. I need to surrender to Christ so that my flesh can be executed, and my spirit set free. Surrender is a decision to recognize that my will is not my own. This would be easy to recognize if my ankles were shackled in chains and I was being forced to walk with the point of a spear in my back. Unfortunately, I live in the constant illusion that I am free. I need to remember that I have been captured by Christ and by His capture I have been rescued from a kingdom of darkness and brought into a kingdom of light. Only by surrendering to Christ and becoming captive can I ever hope to be truly free.
I think that the captive image is the first one that came to the minds of the initial recipients of this letter. Living under the power of Rome in a culture that celebrated all forms of evil it must have been difficult to imagine being one of the victors in the parade. It is difficult for us to imagine ourselves the winners given our current circumstances. I can only imagine that Paul is telling us that now is not the time to hide. Now is the time to draw attention to ourselves and most of all, to our leader, Jesus. Some will smell victory and decide to surrender and join the parade. Others will do their best to stop the parade and capture us by convincing us that we have chosen to follow the wrong leader.
Many are convinced that victory comes when we have sufficient power to destroy those who oppose us. Jesus wants us to realize us that the power to live only comes through a willingness to surrender and die.