Paul loves the whole church. His heart is heavy with their needs, and with the needs of individual members. In vv.1-11 he is all too aware of the heartache about one brother who’s been disciplined for his sin. He has written to them about this situation already (v.3), and he knows that the church’s pain has not gone away, nor this man’s. Sin in the church is real, and must be dealt with. Equally, the grace of forgiveness must be shared with all who truly repent. Now Paul wants to see this penitent brother restored.
The Gospel which saves is also the Gospel which divides. Paul is called to a ministry which will not make him popular with many. That is a part of cross-bearing, for Paul and for every true believer. Discipleship means belonging to Christ. Paul compares it to being a captive slave, brought in procession behind the conqueror for all to see (v.14). So now he follows the real Conqueror, Jesus. The purpose of following is fruitfulness: as the Gospel is seen and heard, people discover “the fragrance of life” (v.16). They find Jesus Christ for themselves. No wonder Paul perseveres with his suffering life and ministry! No wonder he longs that the Corinthians know that this work is not all pretence, not all front, but true Christianity lived out of a full and sincere heart (vv.16-17).
And still some hate us. Jesus promised it (Jn. 15.18). Faithfulness does sometimes invite hatred. Who wants to be “the smell of death” (v.15), rejected and despised, written off as an enemy of society? Jesus didn’t, nor should we. It might well happen, though, even from our nearest and dearest. Maybe Jesus is calling us to a deeper, truer discipleship – whatever the cost.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord, I am naturally a comfort-seeking coward. Prize my selfish hands off all I hold dear which gets in the way of Your service. Thrill me with Your grace, and change me by it. I give myself again to You, the Lord of the only triumph that ever matters. Amen.