April 12, 2020 - Being Captured

Being Captured

Watch the sermon here.

 

Our scripture reading this morning is 2 Corinthians 2:12-17.

 

The apostle Paul had gone to Troas to preach the gospel. There are not many higher nor nobler charges than to proclaim the gospel. Not only was this his intent but the Lord had opened a door for him.

 

Sometimes the Lord closes doors and sometimes he opens doors. Just prior to the door being opened in Troas we read of doors being closed to other areas:

 

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.[1]

 

Mysia is in the northwest corner of modern Turkey, adjacent to Greece. Bithynia is northeast of Mysia on the coast of the Black Sea. Paul, Silas, and Timothy wanted to go into Bithynia but the Lord closed that door. So, instead, they went the opposite direction, west, to Troas. That door was open.

 

Thus, Paul was on a mission and the Lord opened a door for him. Yet, he says that his spirit was not at rest, so he left and went to Macedonia. Why was his spirit not at rest? Because his brother Titus was not there. Why did Titus’ absence bother Paul so much?

 

It was because he was so concerned about the church at Corinth that he was waiting to hear a report from Titus, since he had been there after Paul had written and they had received his first letter (2 Cor. 7:5-9). Paul, knowing that the church had strayed, rebuked them in his first letter and he was hoping that they would receive his rebuke and repent.

 

Consider! He was so concerned about the church that he could not preach the gospel. This shows that the proper and healthy Christian life is one that cares for the local church. The condition of the church was paramount to Paul. It ought to be paramount to us. Any Christian living that does not have the spiritual health of the local church as a priority in one’s life is defective. Let us check ourselves. Do I care for the church as Paul did? Never mind that the church has problems. Every church has problems. Few churches have problems as bad as those that Corinth had! Indeed, this is why Paul was so thoughtful and caring for them – because they were full of sins and problems!

 

Let us love the church as Paul did!

 

In verse 14 through 16 we read about a “triumphal procession:”

 

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.[2]

 

The triumphal procession to which Paul refers is the Roman triumphas. When a Roman general defeated an enemy, he and his soldiers would lead the prisoners of war in a procession all the way back to Rome. When they actually entered the city the people of Rome would see the great victory the Roman army had accomplished in the sight of the many prisoners. In the city there would be incense bearers along the route, creating a fuller sensory experience to all the watchers as well as the prisoners. The procession would end at the temple of Jupiter, the chief of the gods in Roman mythology. There, some of the prisoners would be put to death. Others would be allowed to live, albeit as slaves.

 

Thus, Paul uses a perfect metaphor for the capturing of sinners for the conquering Christ. Everyone is an enemy of God until they are conquered. As Isaiah declared thousands of years ago:

 

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way; [3]

 

Everyone, every person, begins life and continues in their life, going their own way. We all are rebels at heart. We begin life, and continue in life, as enemies of God until we are conquered. As Paul reveals elsewhere:

 

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God[4]

 

All have sinned. There are no exceptions besides the Lord Jesus. All have fallen short of the glory of God. But, it is not that we have all fallen short by accident. We have willingly refused to glorify God in our lives. Because of our sin and because of our willful disobedience to God we are his enemies.

 

Paul is saying that he was a captive of Christ. He fought against Christ, the heavenly General, but eventually he was defeated, subdued, and captured. He was a captive! I tell you, unless you have been defeated, unless you have been subdued, unless you have been captured, you do not belong to Christ and you are not saved.

 

It is not whether you had a good emotional experience. It is not whether you simply believe the facts about Christ: that he died on the cross, that he rose from the dead, that he is the Unique Son of God. The demons believe those same things and they are not saved. You must have been defeated! Have you been defeated? Or, are you still living in sin? No person living in sin has been defeated (I John 3:6-10). And no unsubdued and undefeated person belongs to Christ. And no one who does not belong to Christ is saved. Oh! Multitudes are deceived on this point! They think that because they believe some facts about Christ or said some weak prayer a long time ago then they are saved from hell. No! Unless you are subdued and the captive of Christ you are not his!

 

Then Paul changes the metaphor. He starts by comparing himself, and all followers of Christ, as those defeated by the Heavenly General. Then he immediately switches by having the defeated ones represented as those who spread the incense. In real life the defeated ones were the enemies of Rome and the incense bearers as Romans. In real life the defeated ones were unhappy and ungrateful. But, in this passage Paul presents the defeated ones as grateful and as both the conquered and the incense bearers.

 

This is the experience of all who are conquered by Christ. When someone asks you what religion you are, a good answer would be, “I am someone who has been defeated, subdued, and captured by Christ. I am in his triumphal procession, spreading the fragrant aroma of life to some and the aroma of death to others.” Is this not what Paul writes?

 

Then he switches the metaphor a third time. From incense bearers, we become the fragrant aroma itself.

 

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,[5]

 

Every follower of Christ bears the aroma of Christ in two ways: by their living and by their speaking. These two ways are like the incense and the fire. Both are needed for the aroma to carry. If you have just the incense then the only ones who can enjoy the aroma are the ones whose noses are right upon the incense. The incense is like our living. Only those who are right next to us can have a sense that there is something different about us. The fire is like our speaking (Jer. 23:29; Is. 66:15). If you have just the fire then people can see the glow from a distance but they will not smell the sweet aroma.

 

When there is both the incense and the fire then the smoke rises and the wind (the Holy Spirit) carries the sweet fragrance to all. For those who are perishing it will not be so sweet. But for those who have been chosen it will be captivating. Thus, we must be the aroma of Christ by our living and by our speaking.

 

In verse 16 Paul asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?” This is a rhetorical question. The answer is already known. No one is sufficient for these things! Not even Paul! Do not think that you have to muster up the right kind of living. Do not think that you must have a natural boldness to speak for Christ. Both your living and your speaking will be by the Spirit of Christ. Christ will live through you and he will speak through you by his Spirit who is within you…if you have been captured by Him!

 

Today is Resurrection Sunday, more commonly known as Easter. It was 1,990 years ago that Christ rose from the dead. (He arose in the year 30 AD.) We celebrate the resurrection of his physical body three days after his crucifixion. But, do not think that the power of the resurrection only has to do with physical death. It does have the power to raise our physical bodies just as the body of Jesus was raised. But it has the power to conquer every form of death and darkness. That means it overcomes spiritual deadness. As followers of the Lord we are not always in the spirit. We have the sense that, many times, our spirits need life. The resurrection life raises our spirits up!

 

The resurrection life has the power to soften our disposition. It has the power to make us kind. It has the power to fill us with love. It has the power to make us an incense!

 

The resurrection life has the power to make us passionate for the truth. It has the power to make us passionate for God’s will. It has the power to make us greatly interested in the gospel. It has the power to fill us with courage and forget about our timidity. Isn’t this what God has spoken?

 

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.[6]

 

The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of power and, if you have been captured, you possess it!

 

The resurrection life is the Spirit of Christ and he makes our words a fire!

 

Finally, in verse 17 Paul writes:

 

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. [7]

 

Paul’s motive in proclaiming God’s word was not to make money. Sadly, this appears to be the driving force behind some televangelists. (There is one near Branson that is constantly peddling products on television.) The apostle was sincere. He was commissioned by God. But, not just Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Every follower of Christ has been commissioned by God. We saw that in our review of the Great Commission last week.

 

We have seen that the Spirit of Christ within us will give us the boldness to speak for him. He will make us a fire so that the fragrant incense will waft forth. That is somewhat mystical. So, Paul concludes this passage with a very practical consideration. How do we speak? These nine words tell us:

 

“…in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

 

“In Christ” – this is by the Spirit of Christ of which we just spoke.

 

“We speak” – the captured life is a speaking life. If you are not speaking then you have not been fully captured. Maybe you were captured but you have ceased to be an aroma. It is time to get the incense burning once again!

 

“In the sight of God” – this is the very practical aspect and motive for our speaking. You must see that God is watching! As you interact with so many lost ones you need to see that God is seeing you and expecting you to be his witness. Paul was so aware of this reality. We, too, need to be aware!

 

I fear that most Christians are more like spectators along the streets of Rome when the triumphal procession comes through. They are watching and waiting to see what happens. They are observing Christ’s captured ones not appreciating that they themselves are captured.

 

So many need to be subdued once again. They need to be submissive once again. They need to be thankful that they are in the procession! But, to be in the procession means that they are an incense bearer. Are you an incense bearer of the good news?

 

“Lord make me a thankful captive and a thankful incense bearer! I am not sufficient to be either. May your Spirit make me these! Amen.”

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 16:6–7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 2:14–16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 53:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 3:23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 2:15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (2 Ti 1:7). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 2:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

 

 

Further Prayers for the Church

Lord, may you energize us to be laboring priests of the gospel, who preach the word in season and out of season to our relatives, friends, colleagues, and the people we meet, in order to gain them and offer them as a sanctified offering to God (Rom. 15:16; 2 Tim 4:2; Acts 10:24)

May we walk in Christ by the spirit in our daily life, growing up into Christ in all things, and being knit and built together as the Body of Christ.

Preserve us and sanctify us as individuals to be separated unto God from common and sinful things and to not be conformed to this age, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may prove the will of God.

Strengthen, uphold, and prosper New Salem church and recover our testimony of Jesus.

May you enliven the dormant believers in our church and in our community. Recover the wayward Christians in the Winfield area. Restore the backslidden saints to the Yourself and to the fellowship of New Salem church – bring them to us as you brought the castaways to David under Saul.

Redeem those who have embraced a false, fact-only gospel and cause them to receive the true gospel and become slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. And may they attach themselves to New Salem church for thy glory and thy kingdom. Amen.

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