16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
2 Corinthians 2:16-17
We looked at triumphalism in my last blog and saw that it’s dangers are very real and challenging for Christians today. We have to resist the temptation to think that faith either, insulates us from trials and struggles or elevates us above them altogether. Our “triumph” is in our grace empowered endurance in the midst of suffering as we faithfully proclaim and live out the gospel.
We must also be extremely careful that we do not draw the wrong conclusions about triumphalism, especially in light of Paul’s question at the close of verse 16. Following the remarkable description of what constitutes true success in Christian life and ministry, Paul asks a pointed question: Who is sufficient for these things? I think most would respond almost immediately with what true humility demands and say, “not anyone and certainly not me.”
The reason some commentators think that Paul’s question calls for a negative answer is their belief that he has in mind self sufficiency. “I am unable to meet the demands, I don’t have the resources and qualifications,” but the word translated “sufficient” carries no such connotations. Paul is, in fact, looking for a positive response to his question. “Who is sufficient for these things?” “I am,” says Paul, “I am commissioned by God, I am not some sort of slick salesmen, I speak the very words of Christ.”
There are a couple of reasons for understanding Paul in this way. The language he uses is lifted from the call of Moses.
But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Exodus 4:10.
We know what happens next, Moses says he is not sufficient but then Moses is made sufficient by God. Therefore Paul sees his sufficiency as coming from God. See,
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 2 Corinthians 3:5
Next, if we look at the logical connection between verse 16 and 17 the word used is “for” or “because,” Paul is clearly contrasting himself with his opponents who took pride in their personal power and triumphant style of ministry. Unlike them, Paul will say, my ministry originates with God (2:17) and I am made adequate for it by God.
who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life 2 Corinthians 3:6.
How can Paul imply here, and say later (3:6), that he is adequate or sufficient to carry out this ministry and his opponents are not? His answer is direct and to the point, “they peddle the gospel, I don’t.”
The word translated “peddlers” is found only here in the New Testament. It carries the idea of a merchant who regularly cheated his customers by misrepresenting his product. Some historians take this a bit further explaining that the merchant’s prices were inflated and the goods tampered with for the sake of profit. It’s like buying a bottle of wine, emptying out a third and filling it up with water, re-corking it then selling it as the very best vintage wine.
Thus, the idea is of someone who dilutes the full strength of the gospel, perhaps eliminating (or at least minimising) its more difficult parts, or altering certain theological points, so that the finished “product” will be more appealing to the listeners. Their aim was obviously to gain as large a following as possible and potentially gain money.
So, on the one hand, we must resist all expressions of triumphalism whilst, on the other hand, we humbly acknowledge and give thanks for the fact that God has graciously equipped us as sufficient to give out the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ to a lost and dying world.
Therefore, the antidote to triumphalism isn’t defeatism or false humility but a God given, Christ-centered confidence that is biblically based and sustained by the Holy Spirit who has qualified us as stewards and ambassadors of the gospel.
Paul doesn’t disguise his true motives in ministry, he speaks with “sincerity “wanting only that people would understand the truth. Whether or not they choose to believe the gospel and live, or reject the truth and die, is beyond his control. Simply put, he did not change his preaching for personal gain or popularity.
He knows he is, “as commissioned by God.” In other words, what he says originates with God, not himself. He didn’t create the gospel. It isn’t the product of his imagination nor is it palatable to all. He speaks only what has been revealed. He is a passer on of the truth, not a manufacturer of it (see Galatians 1:11-17).
He speaks “in Christ” and out of the strength and confidence that flows from a vital, living union with Christ.
He lives and ministers “in the sight of God,” in God’s presence, under his omniscient and ever-watchful eye, mindful that every word he utters is known to God and that he will give a full account to God for what he speaks in God’s name. That’s powerful stuff! Paul was not accountable to any human court, least of all to the Corinthians, but ultimately to God alone.
Paul’s entire life as an apostle is contained in these verses and so too is yours and mine. It matters little whether we are students, teachers, at home, at work, politicians or pastors, our sufficiency is in Christ. Our adequacy comes from Him and so we can, by the grace of God, share the gospel of Christ.