Online Bible Commentary
The Fragrance of His Knowledge
2 Corinthians 2:12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, 13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia. 14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ. (NKJV)
On his third missionary journey, after ministering in Ephesus for two years and three months, the Apostle Paul left for Macedonia in May, A.D. 56. In Macedonia he visited churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.
Paul was in Macedonia from June to November of A.D. 56. It was there that he wrote the letter of 2nd Corinthians, likely in September and October of A.D. 56.
This letter was written to the church at Corinth, Greece, in response to events happening in the church there. While Paul was in Macedonia Titus came to him from Corinth with news from the church.
Titus reported that the church in Corinth was beset by false teachers. These false teachers were undermining Paul’s teachings and questioning his apostolic authority, and so Paul responded with this letter. He began the letter by attempting to reaffirm his apostolic authority.
Some of the criticism directed towards Paul was that he had changed his travel itinerary. Initially Paul intended to travel to Corinth from Ephesus, but here he is now in Macedonia and writing them a letter instead of actually being there with them in Corinth.
After explaining why he changed his travel itinerary and calling for forgiveness of his repentant accusers in the previous passages, in this passage Paul now begins to differentiate himself from the false teachers.
Paul begins by recounting his journey when he was driven out of Ephesus by riots against his ministry. On his way to Macedonia, he passed through Troas, a significant city on the west coast of Asia (v. 12a).
In Troas, “a door was opened to me by the Lord”, Paul’s ministry found success in the city (v. 12b). The Lord blessed his ministry efforts and hearts were changed for Christ. This was a welcome blessing, following the events of Ephesus.
Even so, Paul had “no rest in my spirit” (v. 13a). Paul could not help but think of the false teaching that had occurred in Corinth.
He was disappointed that he did not find Titus in Troas, because Titus was coming from Corinth with up to date news on the situation there (v. 13b). So, when he did not find Titus, Paul “departed for Macedonia”, even though his work in Troas was meeting with success (v. 13c).
Fresh off his success in Troas, Paul praises the Lord by writing “thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (v. 14a). He envisions himself as a soldier of Christ marching towards Macedonia in victory.
Roman soldiers, when returning to Rome victorious in battle, would march into the city in a parade of great pageantry, followed by the spoils of war, including treasure and captives. Along both sides of the street, citizens would burn spices releasing sweet aromas to welcome the victorious soldiers.
Paul refers to these sweet aromas when he writes “through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place” (v. 14b). He writes “we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life” (vv. 15-16a).
The sweet aroma of spices signified triumph to the soldiers but death to the captives. In the same way “the fragrance of His knowledge”, signifies “life” to those who are “saved”, those who have become Christians, but signifies “death” to those who are “perishing”, those who have denied Christ. So, “the fragrance of His knowledge” is powerful and is not to be misused.
Paul, and his helpers, are “sufficient”, to the task of bringing “the fragrance of His knowledge”, but only because God works through them (v. 16b, v. 3:5). By contrast, those “peddling the word of God” for their own personal gain, the false teachers are not sufficient because God is not working through them (v. 17a).
Paul and his helpers are “as from God”, and “speak in the sight of God in Christ” (v. 17b). They are representatives of God and they are accountable to Christ for their ministry.
This accountability is a great weight upon the shoulders of those who are called to represent God. It is not to be taken lightly. They are entrusted by God with the power of “the fragrance of His knowledge”.