Paul begins by reminding the believers in Corinth about his “overwhelming love” he has for them (vs. 4). He refers to this short “letter of tears” which he apparently wrote between the two Corinthians letters. In the midst of their trials and conflict Paul, who is a pastor at heart, encourages them to show love toward those who have fallen into sin and had to be corrected lest they sorrow too much and get discouraged (vs. 8). The Apostle also goes on to express his concern about Titus, whom he expected to see before I leave for Macedonia, but have not seen him yet (vs. 13). Together they had formed a ministry team during his recent missionary labors.
My favorite part of this chapter is the description of Paul’s thanksgiving for the believers in Corinth. Everything we do, he says, centers in Christ, and as believers we acknowledge Christ and lift Him up as if we were in a parade for Him. Christ is the one who releases the fragrance of the knowledge we have of Him everywhere we go. Paul reminds them that we smell like the aroma of Christ’s offering to God as we work both for those who are being saved and for those who are perishing (see vs.14-15).
One of the things I love the most, as a missionary in the Philippines, are the wonderful aromas here. When we first moved here, my children missed their friends at home quite a bit. My son took things especially hard, but eventually he came to me and said, “Daddy, do you know what I love about our new home?” I asked him to tell me. “I love that we live in a jungle.” I listened and then realized what he meant. Immediately behind our home are lush banana trees, and my children especially love the fact that our home is under a large mango tree. All around are tropical flowers and fruits. And each day we have an opportunity to thank the Lord for so much beauty.
Not far away from our campus is a trash dump. Whenever I am close by, it reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s contrast: “We are the fragrance of Christ to those who are being saved, and smell like contagious dead persons to those who reject our message about Christ and are perishing” (see vs. 16). Just like a trash dump, it is not difficult to tell the difference between the smell of flowers as opposed to the smell of trash. Thus Paul counsels us to continue to smell like the fountain of life to those who believe, and to those who are being saved.
Michael W. Campbell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Historical/Theological Studies
Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies