What does 2 Corinthians 2:14 mean?
ESV: 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.
NIV: But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ's triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.
NASB: But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us reveals the fragrance of the knowledge of Him in every place.
CSB: But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ's triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place.
NLT: But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.
KJV: Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
Paul suddenly breaks off the story of why he delayed so long in returning to Corinth. He leaves it at a tense moment, not to pick it up again until much later in this letter (2 Corinthians 7:5). Paul was so disturbed at that point that he left behind Troas, where God had opened the door to the gospel, to return to Macedonia. Apparently, he wanted to get back and find Titus, if possible, to learn about what had happened in Corinth.
Paul's description of his restless spirit in the previous verse, however, turns to a sudden exclamation of victory. He declares, "Thanks be to God" and describes God's work as something many of his readers would have been familiar with: a Roman victory procession. This was a parade in which a victorious Roman general would march his soldiers and captured enemies through the streets in triumph. Paul compares that to what God does for believers in Christ. He leads us in a triumphal procession, making use of us as prisoners captured from the enemy, in a sense, now available to accomplish His purposes.
In the Roman victory parades, incense was burned in celebration of the defeat of Rome's enemies. In that way, people could both see and smell the evidence of a captured foe as it passed by. Paul describes God's use of His willing captives, Christians, in a similar way. He uses us to spread the fragrance of His knowledge everywhere we go. We serve His purpose of spreading the truth of the gospel down every street He leads us along.
Second Corinthians 2:12–17 briefly continues Paul's story of deciding not to come to Corinth until learning whether they were ready. He hoped to learn of their response in Troas, but his co-worker Titus did not show up with the news. Feeling unrestful in his spirit, Paul left. He then transitions into powerfully describing Christians as the aroma of Christ on earth: evoking death to those perishing and life to those being saved. Paul insists that he and his co-workers are sent by God.
Paul explains why he delayed coming to visit the Corinthians. In great anguish, he had written a painful letter to tell them they must correct a man among them. This person may have challenged Paul's authority as an apostle of Jesus. The Corinthians disciplined the man, and he repented. Paul told them to forgive him. He tells of Titus failing to show up in Troas with news about the Corinthians, then transitions into teaching that Christians are the aroma of Christ on earth to everyone they know.
Second Corinthians continues uninterrupted from the previous chapter. Paul is explaining why he waited to come to Corinth. He wanted to see if they would side with him, or with the man who challenged his authority. They disciplined the man. He repented. Paul commands restoration and forgiveness. He then tells of failing to find Titus in Troas with news about them before transitioning into teaching that Christians are the aroma of Christ on earth, smelling of death to the perishing and life to those being saved. This brings Paul back to the subject of his own authority in chapter 3.
Second Corinthians returns to similar themes as those Paul mentioned in his first letter to this church. Paul is glad to hear that the church in Corinth has heeded his advice. At the same time, it is necessary for Paul to counter criticisms about his personality and legitimacy. Most of this text involves that subject. The fifth chapter, in contrast, contains comforting words which Christians have quoted often in times of hardship. Paul also details his expectations that the church in Corinth will make good on their promise to contribute to the needs of suffering believers in Jerusalem.
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