9 – The Triumphant Ministry (1)

From chapter nine of The Ministers in the Lord’s Recovery – Genuine Ministers of the New Covenant

The Triumph of Paul’s Ministry

In 2 Corinthians the apostle Paul reveals that the apostolic ministry of the new covenant is not only surpassingly glorious, abounding with the eternal glory of God, but also always triumphant, celebrating the glorious victory of Christ. In 2:14-16 Paul employs paradox to describe the triumph of the new covenant ministry by offering the following vivid description:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in the Christ and manifests the savor of the knowledge of Him through us in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God in those who are being saved and in those who are perishing: to some a savor out of death unto death, and to the others a savor out of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?

Here Paul alludes to a Roman custom in which a general returning from a successful campaign would parade through the streets of Rome with the prisoners he had taken. The victorious commander would lead the long procession as a display of his triumph until presenting his spoils at the Capitol. Part of the pageantry accompanying the procession was the burning of incense, which to the captives who were about to be executed was a savor of death, but to those who were to be spared, it was a savor of life.75 Paul likens the Lord Jesus to such a victorious General and himself and his co-workers to the conquered captives in His triumphal procession. Formerly, Paul was an enemy of Christ used by Satan to persecute the believers and ravage the church of God (Gal. 1:13, 23). However, when the resurrected and ascended Christ appeared to him from the heavens, he was defeated by Christ and placed in His train of vanquished foes (Acts 9:1-30; cf. Eph. 4:8). Henceforth, wherever Paul and his fellow apostles, his fellow captives of Christ, traveled for the sake of the ministry, they as incense-bearers scattered abroad the excellent knowledge of Christ as a sweet fragrance (Phil. 3:8). To the believers the apostles as a fragrance of Christ were a savor of life unto life, but to those destined to perish, a savor of death unto death. Hence, in a seeming paradox, on one hand the apostles were defeated ones captured by Christ, but on the other hand, they were participating in His victory throughout their ministry journeys under His leading.

The ministry of Paul and his fellow apostles brought the victory of Christ wherever they went (Rom. 8:37; cf. 1 Cor. 15:54, 57; 1 John 5:4-5). Despite intense opposition, God always led them in triumph in the Christ. Their ministry was unconquerable and ever-victorious, for it was one with the triumphant Christ. Through Paul, the gospel of God’s kingdom spread to the Gentile world, reaching a significant portion of the territory around the Mediterranean Sea. Paul’s preaching was so widespread that by approximately A.D. 60, a few years before his imprisonment, Paul declared to the Romans that as “a minister of Christ to the Gentiles” he had “fully preached the gospel of Christ” from Jerusalem to Illyricum, a region in Southeast Europe (Rom. 15:16, 19). Through Paul’s triumphant ministry throughout the known Gentile world, many sinners were led to salvation, numerous churches were raised up, the name of the Lord was magnified, and “the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Rom. 15:16; Acts 19:17, 20; 2 Thes. 1:12).

Moreover, because it bore and emitted the fragrance of Christ in every place, this ministry had a potent effect on people, issuing in life to some and death to others. In carrying out their ministry, Paul and his fellow apostles received both glory from the lovers of God and dishonor from the followers of the devil (2 Cor. 6:8; 1 Cor. 4:10); they received both evil reports from the opposers and good reports from the believers (Matt. 5:11; 2 Cor. 12:16; 1 Cor. 4:13; Rom. 3:8); and they were despised as deceivers in the eyes of the Judaizers and people of other religions and philosophies but esteemed as true in the eyes of those who loved the truth of God (cf. Matt. 27:63; 2 Cor. 4:2; 1 Thes. 2:3). According to the book of Acts, Paul repeatedly faced both warm reception and vehement opposition; while some rejoiced, glorified the word of the Lord, were persuaded, believed, welcomed him, received his word with all eagerness, followed him, and joined him (Acts 13:43, 48; 17:4-7, 11-12; 18:7-8; 19:18-19; 21:17; 28:14-15, 23-24), others plotted to kill him, opposed him, contradicted his speaking, blasphemed God, persecuted him, cast him out from their borders, attempted to treat him outrageously and stone him, stoned him until he was left for dead, beat him with rods, threw him into prison, agitated and stirred up crowds against him, scoffed at him, were hardened against him, spoke evil of “the Way,” instigated an uproar against him, and beat him in an attempt to kill him (9:23-25; 13:8; 13:45, 50; 14:5, 19; 16:16-24; 17:13, 32; 18:6; 19:9, 23-41; 20:3; 21:31-36; 23:2-3, 12-22; 25:1-5; 27:42; 28:24-29). Just as the Lord Jesus came to cast fire on the earth, issuing in divisions among people (Luke 12:49), so also the apostles’ ministry stirred up trouble almost everywhere they preached. For instance, after they spoke the gospel to Jews and Greeks in Iconium, “the multitude of the city was divided, and some were with the Jews and some with the apostles” (Acts 14:1-4). They were accused of throwing the city of Philippi into confusion (16:20), caused “no small disturbance” in Ephesus (19:23), and were labeled as “men who have upset the world” (17:6). Paul was referred to as “a pest and an agitator of insurrections among the Jews throughout the inhabited earth” (24:5). As Paul and his fellow apostles marched in Christ’s triumphal procession, scattering the sweet incense of Christ, many who inhaled this aroma of Christ were likewise conquered by Christ, were made captives obedient to the faith, and joined the procession celebrating Christ’s perpetual victory over His enemies (Rom. 1:5; 16:26).

75 J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, vol. II (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1881), p. 98

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