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Second Corinthians

Spirit in our Lives

2 Corinthians 2:14 - 3:17

{14} But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. {15} For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. {16} To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 2:1416 (NIV)


When I was in college I spent quite some time reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer. I was fascinated with the way Hitler came to power, his ability to move so many to such fanaticism. Being interested in the subject, I once watched a documentary presentation of one of his propaganda films, made before the war. It was a "news film" about a party rally at Nuremburg. It was indeed a powerful series of images, glowing with the idea that the Fuhrer was indeed the savior of Germany, and that here again was the pride in the Fatherland sought by so many. Despicable though its cause was, it was propaganda of so high an order as to be called art.


Paul takes the opening of today's Scriptures from a similar procession. The phrase used describes a Roman triumph: the highest honor awarded to a general. To obtain a true Roman triumph, certain conditions had to be met:

~ The general must have been the actual commander in the field

~ The campaign must be completely finished and the troops home

~ At least 5,000 enemy must have perished in one battle

~ New territory must have been added, not just retained

~ Victory must be over a foreign foe, not a civil war.


If these conditions were met, a great parade was held. The procession came out in this order:


~ State officials and the senate

~ Trumpeters

~ Spoils of war

~ Scenes from the captured land

~ White bull for sacrifice

~ Prisoners to be executed (enemy leaders)

~ Musicians and lictors

~ Priests swinging incense filled censers

~ The general, in a four horse chariot. He was clothed in a purple tunic with golden palm leaves; covered by a purple toga marked out with golden stars. He held an ivory scepter with the Roman eagle; a slave stood behind him holding the "crown of Jupiter" over his head.

~ The general's family

~ The general's army


Interestingly enough, Paul uses this image and calls us the "aroma of Christ." Psychologists tell us that aromas are often associated with our strongest, most emotional memories. You can imagine what that incense smelled like. To the family and the troops (to us and the angels?) it was the sweet smell of victory. To the prisoners, the smell of impending death. Just by being around, we remind the foes of Christ of their fate. We are the light of the world.


Such a thought always produces in me the thought that I am not able to be such. How could I be? Or as Paul puts it here, "Who is equal to such a task?" Only those to whom the Spirit gives life and power.


The Letters of our Lives


{17} Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. {3:1} Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? {2} You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. {3} You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. {4} Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 2:173:4 (NIV)


Even at this early stage of the church, we see the "preacher for profit." Our Lord told us that this would be so. He described them as "ferocious wolves" (see Matthew 7:15-20). How are we to tell them from the real servants of God? Paul gives us the answer here, echoing Jesus thought. Paul's fruits are the Corinthians themselves! He describes them, as in the context of his argument about "letters of recommendation", as his own letters of recommendation. Written on their hearts is the letter of those who formed us. Three questions:


1) What kind of letter are my students for me?


2) What kind of letter are your children for you?


3) What kind of letter is Eastside to the community?


My sister-in-law says she can see my father in me. I can see me in my son Doug. When he was a baby, people said things like, "Oh, he's your kid. I can tell by the [ears, chin, eyes, etc.]" Now that Doug is grown, people see my character in him [as he has grown to be much better looking.]


In the New Testament there is a continuing contrast between Law and Spirit. In our families, Law is what we tell our children; Spirit is what we give our children.


The Law and the Spirit


{5} Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. {6} He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant‑‑not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. {7} Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, {8} will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? {9} If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! {10} For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. {11} And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! {12} Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. {13} We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. {14} But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. {15} Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. {16} But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 3:516 (NIV)


The Spirit within us is writing His letter to the world in our characters. In verses 5 and 6, we see one of the key characteristics of how the Spirit does that: strength through weakness. No one could possibly be worthy of the calling Paul had, but the Spirit makes him able to perform it. My own strength can stand in the way of the Spirit giving me far greater strength! As Paul wrote earlier to the Corinthians,


For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. ‑‑ 1 Corinthians 1:25 (NIV)


Paul - as any orthodox Jew of the time would - does not deny the truth of the Law. Instead, throughout his writings, there are two ideas which are prevalent:


1) The Law is our schoolmaster (see Galatians 3:24 in the King James - "put in charge" in the NIV). It is profitable for us to read it, for in it we learn how God dealt with ancient Israel - and there are many lessons to be heeded from this.


2) But the Law is also a veil. In our time, this can mean not only the Law of Moses, but also the self made law - the rules and regulations made up by men as a substitute for the righteousness of Christ. The good news is that when a man turns to Christ, Christ tears away the veil - as he tore the veil of the Holy of Holies at His death. He will tear away the veil of legalism and let you look into the face of God - if you will turn to Him.


Indeed, the Law can now hold us back from being what God intended us to be. We are created in the image of God, and are meant to be free; we are held in the bondage of sin , until Christ sets us free. But what is freedom?


Freedom in Christ


{17} Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. {18} And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with everincreasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 3:1718 (NIV)


What is freedom? I submit that freedom is not license, nor is it ever absolute. It is the ability to be what you were designed to be - without limits. An eagle in a mole's tunnel is not free, no matter what you tell him. There is no use dropping the mole from an airplane and telling him to flap his arms. Both animals would be terrified; in a very real sense both are bound - the eagle confined in the tunnel; the mole wanting to get back into it.


We are designed to be like God. As we grow in Christ, we are being transformed to be like Him. Just as my son grew from a physical resemblance of his father to a spiritual resemblance, so we as Christians are growing in His likeness. And there is the test: do others see the likeness of Christ in you??

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