Never Give Up! – 4. On the Victory Side
2 Corinthians 2: 12 - 17
Tiger Woods’ marriage is on the rocks because of multiple adulterous affairs. Commentator Brit Hume was asked about it - he said that he thought Tiger could save his golfing career but salvaging his personal life was another matter. Then his comments went in an unexpected direction –
“The Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal – the extent to which he can recover – seems to me to depend on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be - Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.” His comments have resulted in a tidal wave of criticism. He has been called “narrow-minded.” But Brit Hume wasn’t finished yet. He went even further during a radio interview –
“Christianity is uniquely and especially about redemption and forgiveness. That is what the cornerstone of the faith is about. Now other faiths aren’t hostile to the idea, but think of what the message of Christ and Christianity is. It is that the God of the universe sent His only begotten Son, who died a hideous death on the cross, to atone for all of our sins.” He is saying nothing new here at all. But in calling for Tiger Woods to convert to Christianity, he ignored those who say either say nothing publicly about religion or praise all religions as basically good. Near the end of his interview he said that the name of Jesus has always been explosive. Nice word. It reminds me of Paul’s comment that the gospel is the “power” of God providing salvation for anyone who believes. Not everyone loves Jesus. Many people prefer never to hear his name mentioned in public. If you don’t want an explosion, keep quiet about Jesus. Brit Hume dared to open his mouth and calmly say what Christians have always believed - that there is forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ. I hope Tiger Woods will take it to heart. I hope more Christians will take courage to be as bold as Brit Hume. One other thing stands out to me. When asked why there were so many negative comments about Christianity, Brit Hume replied this way: “You speak the name of Jesus Christ . . . and all hell breaks loose.” It’s always been that way. Jesus himself reminded us that “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Remember that a sword cuts both ways. When we preach the Good News of Jesus, not everyone will happy with us. Some will sneer, others will ignore us, and some will believe our message. We never know in advance what reaction we’re going to get. You can’t look at an audience and say, “That man will believe but his buddy next to him won’t.” It doesn’t work that way. When anyone speaks up for Jesus - Some will like it. Some won’t like it. Some won’t care either way. How do we stay encouraged when we know that some people will not only reject our message but us as well? How do we stay focused on our task instead of worrying about what others may think about us? 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 offers us a clear answer to discouragement by reminding us that when we are joined with Jesus Christ, we are on the winning side. We may lose a few battles, but the victory belongs to the Lord. If we are on his side, doing his work, we cannot lose. Paul was fearful about what was happening in the Corinthian church. He was looking for Titus who had news from the church at Corinth. So greatly was he troubled that he left an open door in Troas to go find Titus in Macedonia. I think he was so troubled in his spirit that he couldn’t concentrate on his work. We’ve all been there. What are the marks of a faith that keeps going when it would be easier to throw in the towel?
1. Unfailing Success v. 14
3 little words - God leads us. You want to be in a victory parade? Make sure you get hooked up with the winners. Why so much joy over a rugby team? They are “your” team, they represent “your” area, and in some way that is hard to define, they represent you. You belong to them and they belong to you. True sports fans understand what I’m saying. You live and die with your team. When your team wins, you win. Paul’s thinking of the parades held in Rome when a victorious general brought his troops home. The parade started with public officials followed by trumpeters followed by spoils taken from the conquered land followed by a white bull for sacrifice followed by wretched captives in chains. Then came the musicians. At length the conquering general appeared in a chariot pulled by white horses. Then came his family followed by the victorious soldiers. As the procession moved through the streets, the people shouted “Triumph!” “Triumph!” “Triumph!” It was a day so grand that a man might experience it once in a lifetime. Paul pictures Christ as the conquering general with his people marching with him in the grand victory parade. Having subdued all his enemies, he marches in ultimate triumph, the Undefeated Sovereign and the Ultimate Victor. No one can stop him. No one can stand against him. Paul says, “All who believe in him march with him in his victory parade.” When he wins, we win because we’re on his team. He wins the victory, but we share in the triumph. He gets the glory, but we join him in the grand celebration.
2. Undeniable Impact v. 15, 16a
Paul calls Christians “the aroma of Christ” and “the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” Perhaps he is thinking of the incense that the priests swung as the general and his soldiers marched through Rome. That sweet smell meant victory, but to the wretched captives the same smell was a fragrance of death. While the crowds cheered, the captives knew that they were marching to their own execution. We preach and some believe. For them the message of the gospel is life unto life. We preach and others want nothing to do with it. For them the message is death unto death. The same message produces life in one and reveals death in the other. What awesome issues hang in the balance every time we speak of Jesus Christ. This applies not just to the preacher but to every Christian everywhere. The gospel is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways at the same time. It reveals our sin and then offers an eternal remedy. It explains our guilt and shows us the way to forgiveness. It strips away from us every self-centered excuse we have, and then it offers to clothe us in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Think of all that we receive when we come to Christ: Forgiveness. Pardon. Adoption into God’s family. New birth. New life. Eternal life. Peace with God. We are declared righteous. God’s wrath is turned away. We are accepted by God. We are redeemed from our sins. The Holy Spirit lives within us. Jesus intercedes for us. God invites us to call him “Father.” We join the worldwide family of God. We have a high priest in heaven who feels our weakness. We are equipped to serve the Lord. We have an eternal inheritance. We become citizens of heaven. We are predestined to become like Christ. All things work together for our good. We are new creations in Christ. We are now reconciled to God. Christ lives in us. Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We have a home in heaven. We will someday be raised immortal and incorruptible. We will someday reign with Christ. But some people don’t want that, can’t understand it, don’t believe it, think it’s not true, think we’re deluded to believe it, and some object to us telling others what Christ has done for us. They certainly don’t like it when we tell others that they need Jesus too. The name of Jesus is powerful. It cuts both ways. Some people don’t want to hear his name at all. But that’s impact nonetheless. Wherever the message of Christ has gone it has always created controversy. Some believe it and find hope and peace and eternal life through Christ. Others reject it, sometimes angrily because Christ threatens them down to the core of their being. Our Lord stands as a rebuke to every man who thinks, “I don’t need God” or “I can do it my way” or “I don’t need forgiveness.” Some people get very upset about the gospel. Now where does that leave us? Should we just shut up for fear of offending others? Should we pretend that it’s all the same to God? Should we talk as if Muslims and Christians and Hindus and Buddhists and Jews and secularists all stand in the same position when it comes to salvation? We dare not keep silent in a day of spiritual controversy. We must declare what we know to be true. Jim Elliot once prayed, “Father, make me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road. Make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” We don’t control how people respond. It’s not that God calls us to be the “aroma of Christ” to the world. We are that aroma whether like it or not. Unbelievers can sense the fragrance of Christ in our lives. Some are attracted, some repelled. We aren’t responsible for who receives our message and who rejects it. Paul wasn’t such a big hit in Athens. Ephesus was a tough city too. He got run out of Thessalonica. When he got to Jerusalem, the folks there weren’t happy to see him. But through it all Paul kept on keeping on, travelling and praying and preaching and winning people to Christ and planting churches. That’s how the gospel spread across the Mediterranean world.
3. Unquestioned Integrity v. 16b, 17
If our very lives are the sweet smell of life to some and the stench of death to others, how should we then live? As Paul says, “Who is equal to such a task?” The answer is, no one! Not you, not me, not the smartest man or the most gifted woman on earth. In ourselves we cannot do what God calls us to do. But in Christ all things are possible. Therefore, Paul says, knowing that the gospel cuts both ways, we live like this: Honestly-We do not peddle the Word of God. Sincerely-We are not hypocrites. Courageously-We are sent from God. No greater challenge than to simply be who you really are. Most of us struggle with that because we don’t feel very good about who we are. I know I struggle with it and have struggled with it in some ways all my life. It’s so easy to get down on yourself and think, “You ought to be a better person” or “You’re not a very good Christian” or “What if people knew the real you?” There is truth in all those statements. But if being yourself is not enough, faking it won’t get you anywhere. Paul says, “We didn’t get into the ministry for money. We came to Corinth because we loved you. And regardless of what you think, we’re not hypocrites. What you see is what you get. We can say that because God has sent us, and therefore we don’t have to pretend to be something else." Ray Stedman – “It is hopeless to look to secular leadership to get us out of the mess we are in. If the church is not going to say to the world what God has sent it to say, there is no hope for this country or any other country today. It is truth we need. It is light in our darkness we need.” Twenty centuries have come and gone since Christ walked this earth, and it is still true that he is the great divider of the human race. There is no one like him, no one who can be compared to him. He came to bring a sword, and that sword rests now in our hands. Not to use as a weapon for conflict but as a testimony to his divine power. Nothing has changed! We are still the aroma of Christ to the saved and to the lost. Some believe and are saved. Others reject and are lost. That was true then, and it is still true today. What is our calling in light of this text? To be faithful to the One who loved us and gave himself for us. Do not be discouraged even a little bit. By God’s grace we are already in the victory parade with Jesus. Be encouraged, brothers and sisters.
Be faithful, fellow Christians.
Be bold, saints of the Lord.
Thanks be to God who in Christ has put us forever on the victory side. Amen.