In his book Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy wrote, “Great crises produce great men and great deeds of courage.” While it is true that a crisis helps to make a person, it is also true that a crisis helps to reveal what a person is made of. Pilate faced a great crisis, but his handling of it did not give him either courage or greatness. How we handle the difficulties of life will depend largely on what kind of character we have; for what life does to us depends on what life finds in us.
In this very personal letter, Paul opened his heart to the Corinthians (and to us) and revealed the trials he had experienced. To begin with, he had been severely criticized by some of the people in Corinth because he had changed his plans and apparently not kept his promise to revisit them. When Christians misunderstand each other, the wounds can go very deep. Then, there was the problem of opposition to his apostolic authority in the church. One of the members—possibly a leader—had to be disciplined, and this gave Paul great sorrow. Finally, there were the difficult circumstances Paul had to endure in Asia (2 Cor. 1:8–11), a trial so severe that he despaired of life.
Because Paul is so in harmony with the Holy Spirit of God, tenaciously led by God Spirit, he disappoints other people at times in the work God gave him to do. Have you ever been in this predicament as a leader? It can be tension filled and heart wrenching to walk with God while disappointing others’ opinions and wishes. Why? Because you cannot both please God and man at the same time in most cases. Yes, this happens in the church. Yes, it hurts even more because of the deep love we have for each other. Everything about us is put to the test; love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, gentleness and all the other spiritual character traits God is growing and bearing in all of us. The courage to ultimately stick with what God tells us to do will reveal the true character of Who and what lies within us.
The phrases “you hurt the ones you love the most” rings truer than not when striving to be who God wants you to be and do exactly what He wants. As leaders, we must listen to God first and not be pulled by humans, no matter how much “importance” they tell us they have in the church. If, indeed, Jesus in the foundation of His church upon which our lives are built, living stone by living stone, with Jesus also being the Head of the Body of Christ (church), then who must we listen to and obey? Jesus.
That being said, Paul teaches us to care enough to confront, love and forgive. Nothing smells so sweet as when the Body of Christ is restored to harmony with Christ.
“We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.” 2 Cor 1:24
CORINTHIANS—CALLED AND SENT
2 Corinthians 2, The Message
1-2 That’s why I decided not to make another visit that could only be painful to both of us. If by merely showing up I would put you in an embarrassingly painful position, how would you then be free to cheer and refresh me?
3-4 That was my reason for writing a letter instead of coming—so I wouldn’t have to spend a miserable time disappointing the very friends I had looked forward to cheering me up. I was convinced at the time I wrote it that what was best for me was also best for you. As it turned out, there was pain enough just in writing that letter, more tears than ink on the parchment. But I didn’t write it to cause pain; I wrote it so you would know how much I care—oh, more than care—love you!
5-8 Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.
9-11 The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!
An Open Door
12-14 When I arrived in Troas to proclaim the Message of the Messiah, I found the place wide open: God had opened the door; all I had to do was walk through it. But when I didn’t find Titus waiting for me with news of your condition, I couldn’t relax. Worried about you, I left and came on to Macedonia province looking for Titus and a reassuring word on you. And I got it, thank God!
14-16 In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.
16-17 This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? No—but at least we don’t take God’s Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can.
GOD GIVE US OPEN DOORS!
What fragrance to we have when we walk into a room?
Are we compared to the teenage boy who is now trying to attract the opposite sex, whose overpowering fragrance comes wafting through the doors before he does? Or like a sweet-smelling oil that draws people to the Jesus in us while glorifying the God who leads us? This is where Paul is leading us in his illustration.
Paul was sure that God was using him as He was leading him (vv. 14c–17). As the Roman priests burned the incense in the parade, that odor affected different people in different ways. To the triumphant soldiers, it meant life and victory; but to the conquered enemy, it meant defeat and death. They were on their way to be killed by the beasts.
Using this image of the incense, Paul pictured the Christian ministry. He saw believers as incense, giving forth the fragrance of Jesus Christ in their lives and labors. To God, believers are the very fragrance of Jesus Christ. To other believers, we are the fragrance of life; but to unbelievers, we are the fragrance of death. In other words, the Christian life and ministry are matters of life and death. The way we live and work can mean life or death to a lost world around us.
So, how do we smell? It is a matter of life and death to the lost.
Paul closes this portion of his letter with God’s best—
“We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can.”
Lord, Because of your teaching, this is my prayer,
Tell me what to say, with your love of compassion flowing from my heart, sincerely and honestly. May the sweet aroma of your presence in and around me, draw people to you, dear Jesus, the One who resides and abides in me.
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, So others may know and follow, too, Amen.