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. 2 Corinthians 2:14
Years ago I had a friend who led a church in a different movement and denomination to mine. He always appeared to be faith filled, he seemed to never get sick and faced adversity as if it was a fly that landed on his arm. He would always see challenges as small annoyances. When we prayed together he prayed for thousands of salvations and asked God for hundreds of thousands of pounds without batting an eye lid. I must admit to having fluctuated between, am I theologically utterly wrong, to was he a bit crazy. It was some years later that I discovered that he was struggling financially and his marriage was under pressure. He was a triumphalist. He was not alone in his views, triumphalism exists in many Churches and amongst many Christians. So this verse where it says, Christ always leads us in triumphal procession caught my attention, mainly because I asked, does He, always? (Sorry if I have theologically offended you)
The bottom line in triumphalism is the belief that the victories that we will experience only in the age to come are available to us now. This is going to be tricky! I’m not saying that we as Christians shouldn’t rejoice in the daily victories we experience by virtue of the enthronement of Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, we have authority over demonic spirits (Luke 10:17-20).
Yes, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).
Yes, we have been raised up with Christ and are seated together with him (Ephesians 2:6).
Yes, we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who has overcome the world (I John 5:5).
Yes, Jesus himself promises great and glorious rewards to the one who conquers” now (Revelation 2:7-12).
The last thing I want to endorse or encourage is a defeatism that fails to embrace and act upon every good and glorious blessing given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, many Christians and many Churches could do with being less defeatist and I know I can be a glass half empty person.
But where many end up is in their belief that such truths give visible and irreversible victories in the present that result in a life free from persecution, suffering, or demonic assault. In fact they guarantee triumph. It’s the idea that since I’m a “child of the King” (I have had this quoted to me on many occasions) I have a right to live in financial prosperity and complete physical health, free from that “groaning” under the lingering curse of the fall which Paul appears to indicate will continue until the return of Christ (see Romans 8:18-25). I am talking about a triumphalism that tells others that, if they don’t believe this way of thinking, then they have a “lack of faith” and, because of that lack of faith, it has resulted in a protracted , daily struggle from which Jesus came to deliver them.
Surely the Christian life is one that celebrates our triumphs and our ongoing trials. I have been in Churches where there has been healing and loss, where one couple were told they could not have children and another couple told they are expecting their first child. Where singleness and and marriage stand next to one another and where there are those with money and those who are without.
Are trials our enemy? What would happen if we were to wipe them out of our existence, would we be in heaven? Are sorrow and joy friends?
Nowhere in Scripture is this tension any more evident than in 2 Corinthians, where Paul can speak of being “afflicted in every way, but not crushed” and of being “perplexed, but not driven to despair” and of being “persecuted, but not forsaken” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Paul in fact describes our life.
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. -2 Corinthians 4:10
Paul described what his understanding of life was in 2 Corinthians 2
14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 2 Corinthians 4:14-17
If we go back to verse 14 Paul says, “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.” There it is in black and white, God will always lead us in triumphal procession. So Nigel adjust your theology, your faith and you life…….So what does Paul mean?
The Greek word translated “triumph” or “triumphal procession” (thriambeuo) is used in the NT only here and Colossians 2:15. Most agree that the term refers to the Roman custom in which a victorious general would lead his conquered captives in triumphal procession, often to their execution. I have seen with my own eyes the triumphal arches in Rome, they are a spectacular sight.
However some do look at those words slightly differently.
The King James Version uses the words , “causeth us to triumph” (a view also endorsed by Calvin), meaning that Paul had a share in the triumph that God was celebrating. Although some argue we are not in triumph as it has already been won.
Another view is that the image is of a victorious general leading his troops, not his conquered enemies, through the city streets in a triumphal celebration. On this view, Paul is one among many soldiers, all of whom are triumphant conquerors.
Some say that, “God triumphs over us,” in the sense that all Christian converts are “conquered” by God at conversion. Paul, could be alluding to his encounter with God on the Damascus Road. Others acknowledge the imagery of the Roman triumphal procession but limit its application to the shame endured by those who were captured. So, Paul is simply identifying himself with the humiliation of those prisoners who were put on parade.
My best interpretation would be; On one hand, it is God who leads Paul (and by extension, others who preach the gospel as he does) in triumph. Yet, on the other hand, to be led in triumph by someone else implies captivity and suffering. So to lead in triumph points at the same moment to the victory of a conquering general and the humiliation of his captives marching to execution. Some have described it like this, it is at the same time triumphal and anti-triumphal. It is as God leads his servants as prisoners of war in a victory parade that God spreads the knowledge of Christ everywhere through them.
However in these victory processions the prisoners would be dejected and defeated but from this captive’s lips comes only worship and praise to God, so Paul starts verse 14 with: “but thanks be to God” his captor.
Paul compares himself to conquered captives who are being treated badly and subjected to humiliation while yet in the glorious service of God. Paul consistently tells us about his weakness and suffering as a captive slave of Christ and that therefore anything he has achieved means God receives all the glory.
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 1 Corinthians 4:9
The reference to aroma and fragrance (verses 14- 16) probably points to the OT sacrifice and the odour of the smoke that ascended to heaven, in which God took unique pleasure. Paul portrays his proclamation of the gospel of Christ as a strong fragrance. In the victory parade picture of this verse, Paul is God’s captive, whom He leads out, the knowledge of Christ emanates, exudes, flows out from Paul wherever he goes. Simply put, knowing Jesus smells great, a wonderful reality that God makes known in the suffering and struggles of his children.
There is so much that is already ours, spiritual triumphs to enjoy for which we give unending thanks. But there is also much that we do not yet possess, blessings that are reserved for the age to come. It’s not always easy to discern when we should, by faith, confidently claim our inheritance and when we should, in humility, embrace the weakness of living in a fallen world. I find it complicated but one thing I know is this:
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.