September 13: 2 Cor 2
September 13, 2010
In this chapter we have one of those sudden gear changes which are so characteristic of the Apostle Paul and which, indeed, remind us that, although all scripture is God-breathed and authored in an ultimate sense by God, this does not override the personalities of the various human authors of the Bible. Here, in verse 14, Paul breaks without warning from his narrating of his trip to Macedonia (picked up again at 7:5) to engage in a veritable cascade of exclamatory passages about God, Christ and the gospel.
In this first digression, he seizes on the idea of God as being like a Roman general, leading his captives in triumphal procession. A triumph was something granted only to the greatest and most successful of Roman military leaders, and an event at which they displayed the spoils of their conquests to the Roman public. The nearest equivalent today might be the parades awarded to successful sports teams when they return to their home towns with some championship trophy and process on an open top bus through the city streets, displaying the cup or their medals to adoring fans.
The difference in Rome, of course, was that it was not a cup or a medal on display. Rather, it was the people who had been subjugated; and one can assume that the procession that brought glory to the general did, by the same token, bring shame to those conquered peoples on display. Indeed, such displays today would no doubt contradict the Geneva Convention.
The image is apt, for what is a Christian but an enemy of God who has been defeated by God and made subject to him through the gospel? The procession is glorious and triumphant, but it brings glory only to God, not to us. We have nothing of our own of which to boast. In our fallen state, we were utterly opposed to acknowledging God's sovereign claims over us; now, conquered by Christ, we bow the knee to him; but the point is we were conquered by him - those who think that salvation is somehow a co-operative exercise between God and human beings, who think that people become Christians because God makes them an offer that is so attractive they just cannot refuse, cannot understand what is said here. We are not co-generals with God; we are not even footsoldiers in his army; rather, we are conquered enemies.
The beauty of this is, as Paul goes on to say, that our very existence is a demonstration of the gospel. As incense and spices would be burned at a Roman triumph and would fill the air with scent, so our triumphal procession is an aroma, of death to those who continue stubbornly to oppose Christ and of life to those whom Christ conquers and adds to the triumph. That is a huge responsibility for us - to be in our very selves an embodiment of God's saving action. Who is sufficient for these things? Praise God that Christ Jesus, God manifest in the flesh, is so.