A Fume Or A Perfume, which do you want to be?
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 2:12-17
12 When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. 13 But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him.
14 But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?
17 You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us.
Tonight scripture comes from Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul left from Jerusalem went due North then cut across Asia Minor [Turkey] to Troas on the Aegean Sea. Troas is located on the Northeastern side of the sea just South of the Hellespont. It is a hop, skip and jump from Traos to Macedonia. The voyage has series of islands with the center most point being the Samothrace.
I have struggled to organize our material but finally came up with an outline that will guide me through tonight’s thoughts. We are going to examine Paul’s ANXIOUS MIND, God’s AMAZING GRACE and our AWESOME TASK.
I. PAUL ANXIOUS MIND
Paul is expecting to see Titus at Troas but he does not show up and Paul is visibly upset. Paul became anxious; so much so that he is dysfunctional. A door of opportunity is open before him but he lacks the presence of mind to enter. He is worried sick over the Corinthian situation. So much so that he has no peace of mind. He becomes so obsessed with anxiety over the Corinthian situation that he does not seize the opportunity to evangelize Troas. This is so not like Paul. Under normal circumstance, a team of wild horse couldn’t stop him from evangelizing.
I am so thankful for the book of 2 Corinthians. This book reveals a human side of Paul that we would not know otherwise. Although worrying is a sin and is stimulated by lack of faith, Paul confesses his anxiety and lack of peace, so much so that he was rendered dysfunctional. I glad the moment of weakness is recorded because I have many such moments and it encourages me to know that the same thing happened to Paul.
Worry is similar to grief in that it is a sign of love. Parents who love and care for their children, worry about them. When you run into a parent that does not worry, it is because they do not care. When I was a teenage and young man, my Mother had a curfew and it was mid-night. I heard kids say more than once, “I don’t have a curfew, I can stay out all night if I choose.” They were actually saying, “My parents don’t care…they are not waiting up for me.”
I understand that we are not to become or remain obsessed with anxiety but I think a little anxiety every now and then is a good sign. I know one thing for sure, I can relate to Paul. I know that anxiety hinders study, sermon preparation, devotional time, bible study, evangelism and mission. We will never produce our best until we relax. This is why recreation is so important to people who have stressful jobs–our creative juices, the inspiration is not going to move in a tense body.
So I realize anxiety can work against us but in Paul’s case it was a definite sign that he cared deeply about the church at Corinth.
II. GOD’S AMAZING GRACE
When I first read tonight text, I saw Paul’s anxiety clearly but I did not see God’s amazing grace. After reading the passage 20-25 times and reading every commentary I could get my hand on, bingo, I saw it and then I thought, how could I not see it? Paul is a bit distracted and discouraged but then the thought of a Roman General came to mind and he realized that he was a part of General Jesus conquest.
When a Roman General had a great victory or conquest of additional territories, the Emperor would do a parade in his honor; something similar to our ticker tap parade. The parade would feature the general leading the procession riding in a gold chariot. The General would be followed closely by his sons, then his officers, then the priest burning incense, then the captives. It was a big deal in Roman culture. The incense would be a fragrance to those who were allied to the General but it was be an odor, a stench to the captives. The parade would end at the Circus Maximus and then the captives would be thrown into the arena with wild beast.
Jesus is the conquering general [King] and we are members of the royal family. We follow him as He leads the way. In Christ we are more than conquers. Jesus won the battle; He is the victor but those of us who follow Him get to walk in victory with him. Just as the family of a general would have nothing to do with the battle, yet get to celebrate the victory. It is a beautiful picture of GRACE. We walk in victory because of what Jesus did in our behalf.
Paul said, “Not only do we walk with HIM, we are the incense.” We are a ‘perfume’ to the believers but we are a ‘fume’ to the unbelieving. To believers we are a pleasure, to unbelievers we are a pestilence. The key is to understand that we are marching in the victory of Jesus.
III. OUR AWESOME TASK
I like the question raised in verse 16…who is adequate for such a task as this?
The word ‘adequate’ is hikanos which is used 45 times in N.T. It is the same word John the Baptist used when he said, “I am not fit to baptize You.” In reference to the Roman Centurion, it is translated ‘worthy.’ It is also translated sufficient and enough in size, time, length. Paul answers his own question in 2 Corinthians 3:4-6…
We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit.
Getting the gospel to the world is a monumental task. To be honest with you, it blows me away. Had God said to me personally, “Jack, your task and yours alone, is to get the gospel to the world,” I would have collapsed in despair. Thank God it is not my personal charge but that given to the church. Even so, it is still an AWESOME TASK.
Are we up for the task? Are we adequate? No, a thousand times no, but God via His grace and Spirit will enable us; He will make us adequate.
I heard a story many years ago about a preacher who went to a town in the mid-west to do a revival. It was a small town of lest than 20,000. The First Baptist Church was located on main street just across from stores and businesses. The pastor had a visitation in the day and the revival services at night. Each day when the members came for prayer and assignment, the pastor had cards prepared and he handed one to each prospective visitor. On one of the visitations, a mentally challenged man came in for the prayer meeting and visitation but the pastor ignored him. He didn’t think the man had enough sense to go visiting so he never gave him a card.
You or I would have gotten our feelings hurt: we would have went home and never returned for visitation but this man was unimpeded. The towns leading rebel and church hater ran a furniture business almost directly in front of the church. The mentally challenged man, walked across the street and went into the store. The man was in the middle of a sale but our friend interrupted him, he said, “John, would you like to go to heaven.” John was very irritated that he had been interrupted and embarrassed by the question; he said abruptly, “No, I don’t want to go to heaven!” But before he could say more, the intellectually challenged man said, “Well, go to hell then!” Then he turned and left the store. The businessman was furious. He was much more angry with the pastor and the church than he was this simple man. He tried to finish his sale but he kept hearing the man’s voice be replayed in his mind….”Well, go to hell then!” As the day progressed, the voice became more frequent and it was driving the businessman crazy. By night time, the voice was tormenting him and no matter what he did, the voice kept coming back…”Go to hell then.”
He had no peace. When he began locking his business and getting ready to go home, he noticed people gathering at the church for the revival service. Mysteriously, he was lead across the street and went into the service, sitting on the very back row. By the time the invitation came around, he was broken and contrite, he went forward under heavy conviction and gave his heart to Christ.
The pastor was in shock. Before presenting the man to the congregation, he asked. “John, what prompted you to come tonight?” John told him the story…The intellectually challenged man that you sent today said something that I could not shake. He asked me if I wanted to go to heaven and I rudely said, “No,” to which he said, “Go to hell then.” I have not been able to get that voice out of my head all day.
The story may shock you but it doesn’t me. It is not our ability that works, it is our availability. It is God who works, God who enables and He can use anyone He chooses. I attended the COLS a week or so ago. It was the celebration of the life of a simple man. He was an Ag teacher. A small man physically with a low voice. I had a hard time understanding him. I doubt that he had any evangelistic training in his entire life but he loved people and he knew how to relate. He would go get his pastor or a staff member and carry them to someone he was praying for; he would initiate the conversation and then after a few minutes say something like, “I brought my pastor with me, he has a few words he want to say,” then he stopped talking and went to praying silently. Many of his converts were former students. I would not dare anyone to imitate this man but it would be great if we had folks who would follow his example. I met this man at the church I served in college; got to work with him 18 months. I had never saw anyone like him before or since.
Folks, it does not take degrees, training institutes, diplomacy, eloquence or intellectual brilliance to witness for Christ; it simple takes a desire to be used and willingness to go. It is God who enables, convicts and changes lives. The intellectually challenged man did not change the furniture salesmen’s life , Jesus did.