May 2 – Leading Us in Triumph

Thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

2 Corinthians 2:14

There are many possibilities that arise out of unjust suffering for Christ’s sake. God may use your suffering to lead someone to Christ. He may use it to help you triumph over demonic persecution, or it may enable another who sees your godly response to persecution to respond in the same way.

Whatever the triumph of your suffering, you may be sure of one thing: if you suffer for Christ’s sake, God will lift you up and exalt you into His very presence. Christ will always cause us to triumph even though we suffer unjustly. Don’t underestimate the potential of unjust suffering for Christ’s sake. So endure whatever suffering comes your way in the light of your coming triumph in Christ![1]


paul was thankful for the privilege of being led by a sovereign god

But thanks be to God, who always leads us (2:14a)

Recognizing the Lord’s sovereign leading is foundational to a pastor’s (or any believer’s) joy, and it is the undergirding strength of his ministry. Paul’s confident hope was that God … always leads believers, through every circumstance of life. No matter what trials or persecutions he endured in Corinth, Ephesus, or anywhere else he ministered, Paul rejoiced that God was in control.

The apostle never lost his sense of wonder at the privilege of belonging to the ranks of the sovereign Lord, of marching behind the Commander in Chief in His Triumph. To Timothy he wrote,

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:12–16)

Contemplating the marvelous privilege of being led by God instead of fretting over his circumstances contributed to turning Paul’s discouragement into joy.

paul was thankful for the privilege of promised victory in christ

in triumph in Christ, (2:14b)

In keeping with the imagery of the Roman Triumph, Paul proclaimed that God leads believers in triumph in Christ. They follow the all-conquering Commander in the victory parade, sharing in the triumph of His decisive victory over sin, death, and hell. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus spoke of His ultimate victory over Satan and the forces of hell: “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” His followers share in His victory, as Paul declared in Romans 16:20: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” The writer of Hebrews also spoke of that victory: “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, so that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). In 1 John 3:8 the apostle John wrote, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” Christ won that victory on the cross: “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Col. 2:15). As Paul wrote to the Romans, “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Believers are not only coconquerors with Christ, but also “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17; cf. Gal. 3:29; Eph. 3:6; Titus 3:7; James 2:5). They follow behind their Commander in the Triumph, bringing the spoils of war—the souls of men and women “rescued … from the domain of darkness, and transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13; cf. Rom. 8:18–25, 28–30).

Though they may suffer setbacks and discouragement, believers’ ultimate triumph is certain. They will march victoriously in the Lord Jesus Christ’s Triumph on that glorious day when the heavenly choir cries out, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Believers will forever reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Peter 1:3–5).

paul was thankful for the privilege of having influence for christ

and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. (2:14c)

The sweet aroma of the Triumph arose from the incense-filled censers carried by the priests in the parade and from the garlands of flowers that were thrown into the streets. The fragrance speaks of influence; Paul’s point is that God, in wonderful condescending grace and mercy, manifests through believers the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ in every place. He uses human preachers to give off the sweet aroma of the gospel, to influence people with the saving knowledge of Christ. To the Romans Paul wrote, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things’!” (Rom. 10:14–15).

It is not that believers deserve such a high privilege of being influences for the eternal gospel. Paul was keenly aware of his unworthiness for such service to God. In 1 Corinthians 15:9 he wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” To the Ephesians he added, “I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:7–8). As previously noted, he expressed to Timothy his wonder that Christ chose him, a persecutor of the church, to preach the gospel:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:12–16)

No preacher should take lightly his inestimable privilege of proclaiming the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether or not preachers are successful, achieve popularity, or fulfill their ambitions is immaterial. The satisfaction of having an eternal influence for Jesus Christ should be sufficient. The issue is not results, but privilege. The disheartened preacher is disheartened because he focuses on circumstances; the joyful preacher is joyful because he focuses on the eternal worth of his service to God. The disheartened preacher considers his difficulties; the joyful preacher considers his privilege.[2]


2:14 Paul was not defeated. No matter where he went in the service of Christ there was victory. And so he bursts out in thanksgiving: But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ. A.T. Robertson says:

Without a word of explanation, Paul leaps out of the Slough of Despond and sprints like a bird to the heights of joy. He soars aloft like an eagle, with proud scorn of the valley beneath him.

Paul here borrows a figure from the triumphal processions of Roman conquerors. Returning home after glorious victories, they would lead their captives along the streets of the capital. Incense bearers would march along both sides, and the fragrance of the incense would permeate the scene. So Paul pictures the Lord marching as a conqueror from Troas to Macedonia, and leading the apostle in His train. Wherever the Lord goes, through His servants, there is victory. The fragrance of the knowledge of Christ is diffused through the apostle in every place. F. B. Meyer writes:

Wherever they went men knew Jesus better; the loveliness of the Master’s character became more apparent. Men became aware of a subtle fragrance, poured upon the air, which attracted them to the Man of Nazareth.

Thus Paul does not feel that he has suffered a defeat in his warfare with Satan, but the Lord has won a victory and Paul shares it.[3]


14 Paul likens the irresistible advance of the gospel, in spite of temporary frustration, to a Roman triumphus (“triumph”) in which the victorious general, along with his proud soldiers, used to “lead in triumphal procession” (thriambeuō, GK 2581; see Notes) the wretched prisoners of war, who were thus exposed to public ridicule. Paul sees himself and his fellow apostles not as exultant soldiers who share in their general’s victory pageant but as willing, joyful captives who count it a privilege to be part of God’s “triumph” and as vocal witnesses to the General’s victorious strength. Paul’s implied prior “defeat” will be his Damascus encounter when he surrendered to God or Christ (Php 3:12). In this context, “in Christ” will mean “through our union with Christ” or “in the cause of Christ,” though it may possibly mean “in Christ’s triumphal procession” (NEB, REB). The only other NT use of the verb thriambeuō is in Colossians 2:15, where the despoiled powers and authorities are seen as unwilling, sullen captives driven before the triumphal chariot of God, silent witnesses to the General’s power and majesty.

In the reference to the diffusion of “fragrance,” Paul may simply be developing the imagery, for perfumes were sometimes sprinkled or incense burned along the processional route. Through the apostles God was spreading far and wide the fragrant knowledge of Christ (Php 3:8, 10).[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 139). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 70–72). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1826). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Harris, M. J. (2008). 2 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 455–456). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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