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.
II Corinthians 2:12-16 ESV
After a very long break we return to our journey through II Corinthians. In this passage I want to look at the theme of missional living and then I may treat the topic of discerning God’s will in a later post, for which this passage also gives insight.
An Open Door
Many people, including myself, have often used the term “open door” to refer to an opportunity from the Lord to advance in life situation or ministry. This is not a bad term and it is used in Colossians 4:3 where Paul is expressing a desire for an “open door” to preach the Word. But we often treat the “open door” as a sure sign of God’s will and walking through it is a matter of obedience not subject to prudence. We often elevate the concept of an open door to the level of Scripture and bemoan when we allow open doors to pass us by as having “missed” the will of God for our lives.
However, Paul did not see it this way and in fact he saw some things, namely finding Titus, as more important the walking though this open door! For Paul there was a much more important principle in play. There was an open door “in the Lord” but Paul, as a matter of prudence, was not at rest in his spirit.
Paul goes on to make clear that not finding Titus and not walking through the open door was not a defeat or setback. After speaking of leaving this open door he breaks out in praise, much in the same way as he did in 1:15-20. He explains the circumstances that led to his diversion from Troas to Macedonia and instead of being regretful he inserts a “but” declaring “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”. Focus hard on the words always and everywhere. As we saw in 1:15-20, Paul is much more concerned with purpose than he is with place. We spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere we go and it is never in vain for he always leads us in triumphal procession!
Place is not important, purpose is. Paul understood that, this is why he was able to spend so much time in prison with steadfastness. This is why when Agabus warned Paul of the impending trouble in Jerusalem and the Caesarean believers begged him not to go (Acts 21), that he was able to stay focused on the purpose before him, knowing that whether in the market, in the synagogue, or in jail he was always being led in triumphal procession, spreading everywhere the aroma of Christ! Regardless of where we are, according to God’s plan working through our purpose, we are the aroma of Christ. As messengers of him this does not change. Missionary activity is not confined to the location of our “calling” or where there are “open doors” but as “ambassadors of Christ” we are the aroma of Christ wherever we go spreading the knowledge of him.
Aroma of Christ
We see then that everywhere we go at all times we are to be the aroma of Christ. We see that we are not bound to any one location. If prudence dictates that the accomplishment of our purpose, namely obedience to the Matthew 28 commission, be better advanced elsewhere, our conscience is not enslaved and we are free to go, having confidence that wherever we go we are led by Christ as his aroma to the world.
Now what is the nature of this aroma? Getting this right has very real missiological implications. If we are to get this passage right we must see that we are a singular aroma. The aroma of Christ is not in of itself a smell of life and death. For the perception of stench or sweetness is in the one smelling, not in the smell itself. We are not the ones, then as the censers of Christ, that determine whether we are an aroma of life or death. Our goal thus is not to change what people smell, but only by faithfulness to the Word to make certain that what they are smelling is indeed Christ; whether that be to them a smell of death or a sweet perfume of life!
This knowledge relieves a great burden in reality, for in it is a reliance upon God for his work through our spreading of the aroma of or Word of Christ. For indeed the sovereignty of God in salvation is found in this passage, for I cannot on my own volition decide that a rose smells like dung or vice-versa. The smell is what it is. My perception of smell is determined by sensory, biological traits common to man. If what I perceive to smell like death is to turn to the smell of sweetness, then I must be altered on a biological, psychological level that cannot be willed. Thus if I am to smell Christ and deem him to be the aroma of life, then I must be a different creature than the one who would perceive him to reek of death. If to the natural man, dead in sin, Christ is commonly known to stink of death, then it is only a different category of man, the spiritual man –alive in Christ- that commonly knows the smell of Christ to be a pleasing aroma.
Do not then dare attempt to manipulate the essence of Christ to make it more pleasing to a perishing world, for in doing so he will fail to even be the essence of life to some! It is only by spreading the aroma of true knowledge of him that some will smell life!
Finally, like Paul, do not fret about open doors. Do not hunt for them, sitting paralyzed until God opens a door for you. This is not the life that you are meant to live. No, for Christ always leads you wherever you are in triumphant spreading of his aroma. Do not allow your life and ministry to be dictated by place or circumstance alone, though these may be legitimate factors, instead have a single, biblical purpose that you pursue with sincerity of heart, not in self-confidence, but with confidence in the one who always leads you in triumphal procession.