Join us as we study through 2 Corinthians verse by verse. Our discussion questions, teaching points, and applications can help you or your small group get the most out of this book as you grow in understanding and obedience.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 Inductive Bible Study Guide

Triumph in Christ

Discussion Questions

  • Where is Troas?
  • Why did Paul go there?
  • Who was he hoping to find there?
  • What does verse 14 mean that God “always leads us in triumphal procession?”
  • How do believers spread the “fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere?”
  • How can believers be “the aroma of Christ?” What is this “aroma” like?
  • What does it mean that to some this is a fragrance from “death to death?”
  • How about “life to life?”
  • Who is sufficient for these things?
  • What is a peddler of God’s Word? What is their motivation? What are they selling?
  • How are true preachers and evangelists different from peddlers?

Cross-References

Colossians 4:3 – At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.

Romans 8:35-39 – Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 John 4:4 – Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Leviticus 23:18 – And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Numbers 28:27 – But offer a burnt offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord: two bulls from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old.

Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

1 Peter 2:6-8 – For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

2 Corinthians 3:5-6 – Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Teaching Points

1. When I came to Troas to preach the gospel – Troas was Northwest of Ephesus. It was a coastal town. This Greek city is currently situated in modern day Turkey. Paul visited this city on his second missionary journey.

He says that a “a door was opened for me in the Lord.”

This verse reminds us that God is the opener and closer of doors. There were many factors which influenced Paul’s ability to go in to an area and share the gospel. Did he have the means to support himself? Did he have somewhere to stay? Was the local synagogue receptive? Was the local government hostile to the gospel message? Did he have time? Paul recognized that God was in control of all of these factors.

In the modern day world, when you ask people what they believe many will say, “I believe in myself.” They think that they control the destiny of their lives. But we know that God is on the throne. He channels king’s hearts like streams of waters (Proverbs 21:1)

Application: If you are hoping for an open door, the solution is not a crowbar. Trying to squeeze through a door God has shut will not end well. Instead we come to God with humility. We petition Him to open those doors. And we also ask Him to close the doors He does not want us to go through. The second part can be difficult. However, if we truly have faith in God then we will rest peacefully knowing that the result is in His hands, which is the best place for it to be.

Take for example the Christian worker serving God in another country. He needs to apply for a visa. He prays for God to open the door to stay in that country. At the same time, he knows a successful visa application is in God’s hands. So he is willing to accept the outcome of the application, whatever it is. And if he is denied, he takes that as clear leading from God that it is time to move on.

2. My spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there – Paul had some reason to believe that Titus was in Troas and was hoping to find him there. But he was not there, reminding us of the difficulties of even basic communication in the ancient world. It seems that Paul mentions this to the Corinthians, probably because he hoped to in turn send Titus to them to help resolve some of the issues which they were facing.

3. God always leads us in triumphal procession – Paul uses a metaphor which would have been familiar to his readers in the Roman world. After a military victory, Roman generals would return home to parade through the streets together with the conquering soldiers. Wreaths would grace the heads of the victors. Captors would be marched to their execution. And incense would be offered to the Romans gods.

Paul compares this procession to evangelists taking the gospel into new places. Evangelists are also celebrating a great victory, Jesus’ victory on the cross. He has triumphed. Jesus’ triumph is over sin, death, the grave, and Satan.

Evangelists bring the gospel, joyfully proclaiming this victory for all to see. Like the smell of incense accompanying this Roman processions, believers are spreading the fragrance of knowledge of Jesus.

Believers are reminded through this metaphor that we should not be discouraged. Paul was a bit discouraged and distressed (shown in verse 12), but then he remembered that followers of Jesus are victorious. As he says in Romans 8:35-39, we are overwhelming conquerors.

A Roman general returning from victory in battle need not be discouraged by minor troubles on the homeward journey. He won already. The result is fixed.

In like manner, the believer who faces some afflictions or setbacks in sharing the gospel, should not give up. He should instead remember that Jesus has already won the victory.

Application: If you are Jesus’ side, you are on the winning team. Sharing the gospel is difficult. Perhaps you have been rejected. Perhaps the response is not nearly as positive as you hoped. Take heart. God is leading you in a triumphal procession! Sharing the gospel is a statement of God’s victory. Now we see it. One day in the future all will see it when Jesus leads His church in the final triumphal procession and takes up the throne in Jerusalem.

4. We are the aroma of Christ – This idea connects to the last verse. In the Roman triumph parades, incense would be burned to the gods. Here Paul says that believers themselves are like a living aroma sacrificed to God.

In the Old Testament, priests offered sacrifices which were described as being a pleasant aroma to the Lord (Leviticus 23:18, Numbers 28:27). In the New Testament, we ourselves are to be a living sacrifice, pleasing to the Lord (Romans 12:1). When believers serve God in sincerity and truth, it is like a pleasing fragrance to Him. He delights in it. On the other hand, when we sin our sins rise up like a terrible stench all the way to heaven (Ezra 9:6).

Worshiping God is not just a twenty minute corporate session on Sundays. We worship God as a lifestyle whenever we obey Him, sacrificing our own desires. Worshiping God is equal to glorifying God. And we glorify God when we choose His way over own way. We worship God every day in the little decisions we make to serve Him. When you let your wife eat the last piece of cake, when you agree to stay and work OT and let your co-worker go home early, when you turn off the TV because your spouse asks you to spend time with the kids: all of these are ways to worship God. When you do these things you are a pleasing aroma to Him. And coming back to the immediate context, when you share the gospel and tell people about Jesus, He is most pleased.

5. Among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, death to death and life to life –

God is not the only one who “smells” our aroma. We take the gospel to a lost world. It is received by two distinct groups. Coming back to the illustration, the incense offered in the Roman parades would have been a sweet smell to the victors. But to the captives nearing their execution, it would have been nauseating, reminding them every moment of their defeat and their coming death.

So the gospel is received in two ways by two distinct groups. The elect are on the path to salvation. They either have believed are are going to believe. These respond to the gospel call as if it is a pleasant aroma. They are excited and happy to hear this good news!

There is little in life as joyful as sharing the gospel to a person who joyfully accepts it and becomes a follower of Jesus. Their joy is contagious. So we rejoice and even the angels in heaven rejoice. For them, this gospel aroma is a fragrance of life. New life in Christ. Eternal life with Christ.

But not everyone responds to the gospel with joy. Many are hostile. Jesus is a rock of offense to many.

1 Peter 2:6-8 – For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

For these people, they detest the gospel and Jesus. Perhaps it is because of their prideful tendency to rely on themselves. Or for some, it is because the gospel points out their sin and makes them feel guilty. They prefer to live in the comfortable darkness.

John 3:18 – Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

To those who don’t believe, the gospel is like a proclamation of death. It assures their culpability. It takes away all excuses. And it reminds them of the judgment and wrath to come. So for these the aroma of the gospel is a fragrance from “death to death.”

6. Who is sufficient for these things? – The NIV says, “who is equal to such a task?” The answer is of course, “no one.” we cannot depend on ourselves, our own intelligence, or our own logic.

Paul continues with this idea is 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 – Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We are not competent, but He is. So we rely on God.

Application: You will not save people through clever arguments. Your own logic and wisdom are not enough to change hard hearts. Do not rely on yourself, your clever answers to questions, your years of research, your quick wits, or your fluid presentation. Be humble. Trust in God. Pray that God will empower you and give you boldness. Pray that His Spirit will convict. Pray that He will transform the heart of stone into the heart of flesh. If you have been exhausting yourself trying to change someone, spend some time right now to pray for that person. Ask God to change their heart for you cannot.

7. We are not peddlers of God’s word – A peddler was someone who was trying to sell an inferior product. Because the product itself was not high quality, the salesmen had to resort to tricks. Witty salesmen could still sell such products through conning their buyers. Here are some ways they might peddle their goods:

  • Outright lying
  • Grandiose claims
  • Deceptive advertising
  • Fake reviews (perhaps people in the crowd who claimed to have used the product, but were plants)
  • Flashy shows
  • Pressure or intimidation
  • False promises (money back guaranteed, but then skip town)

Evangelists of the true gospel are not peddlers. They need not and should not do any of the above.

True preachers are commissioned by God in the sight of God and speak in Christ. The “product” we are “selling” is of the highest quality. We have the real thing. It is truth. As Paul says in Romans 1:16, it is the “power of God.” Therefore there is no need for deceit or exaggeration in order to get people to accept the gospel. Methods like that actually serve to cheapen the perceived value (nothing can actually cheapen the gospel) of what Christ offers.

Take for example the miracles of Jesus. He did not put on a show. He did not wave around a wand. There were no flashing lights. The miracle was performed almost as a sidenote to Jesus’ message. They were the real thing. Therefore they needed no embellishment or enhancement.

Simon the sorcerer (magician) in Acts 8 was astounded at the real power of God. He had been faking it all this time. So he wanted to purchase the gifts of the Holy Spirit with money and Peter rebuked him.

His hope was to make money. And that is the same motivation of these peddlers. Some of these peddlers had infiltrated the Corinthian church. They were selling cheap imitations of the gospel, which had been mixed with corrupting doctrines. With clever deceptions they attempted to trick people and gain followers. But unlike Paul, they were not operating with sincerity. Their real motivation was selfish. Most likely they hoped for money or power.

Application: Do not resort to your own clever arguments in trying to convince people to believe in Jesus. Trust that it is the power of God. Preach it knowing that you are commissioned by God. The gospel is true. You are on the winning team. That knowledge can give you boldness as you share.

Many churches these days try to attract people by things other than the gospel. In a sermon Paul Washer described seeing a big sign outside of a church which said, “Fun.” He said he would have ripped this sign down if it was at his church. The sign on the church should say in big letters, “Jesus,” not “fun.”

When churches water down the gospel to try to attract people, they are not attracting people to God’s truth or power, but to a cheap and powerless imitation. Lights and stages and parties and pizza and bowling and loud music are not the point.These things will not change lives. The gospel of Jesus will.

Whether personally or in your church, don’t try to make the gospel easier to accept or more palatable for the current generation. Your job is not to make them accept it. That is God’s job. Your job is to share it faithfully and accurately. And if you compromise the gospel to win people, when you win them it will not be winning them to Christ.

Preach the gospel boldly, truthfully, and accurately. That means sin, repentance, and Jesus should be front and center. And rely on the Holy Spirit to convince the listener of the truth of the gospel message.

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