The following sermon was prepared by Ps Lucas Stoltz. Click here: 2 Corinthians 2:12-17, to download or stream the audio sermon, or click here: 2 Corinthians 2:12-17, for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17, Hope for the Discouraged:

  • This is the third lockdown the South African churches have had to endure. Needless to say, it has discouraged many. Now I do want to say, if you are a true believer, then surely you feel the same way I do – discouraged.
  • So we need hope, amen? God’s Word points us to His hope. Hope means to trust in, wait for, look for, or desire something or someone; or to expect something beneficial in the future.
  • Now the Old Testament describes “hope” in the sense of “trust.” In Jeremiah 14:22, Jeremiah addresses God saying, “Our hope is in you.” Old Testament believers were also encouraged to wait for God hopefully, or expectantly. In fact, God promises that those who wait for him will not be disappointed (Isa 49:23).
  • Thus clearly teaching us that God is able to bring about the realization of one’s hopes. Therefore God is the true object of hope! The New Testament also consistently emphasizes hope as trust. Paul writes about setting our hope on God (1 Tim 4:10) and on Christ (Eph 1:12).
  • Paul further tells us that hope does not disappoint us (Rom 5:5). The reason is that we already have a taste of the future glory because of the love with which the Holy Spirit fills our hearts. So God’s Word tells us in summary, when we hope for something we wait for it through patience (Rom 8:25; 15:4).
  • God’s Word tells us that hope is the proper response to the promises of God. More generally, we are told that the Scriptures produce hope (Rom 15:4). The Holy Spirit is also a source of hope, for His power causes hope to abound (Rom 15:13). Finally, hope comes as a gift from God through grace (2 Th 2:16).
  • And so hope leads to joy, boldness, and faith and love. Hope also leads to comfort. Therefore I want us to look at 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 to go from our discouragement to a place of bearing hope in the face of everything.  

1. The Discouraged Context:

  • Text – v12-13
  • Explanation – Now in the context of the Corinthian church, Paul knew deep disappointment. In 2 Corinthians 7:6, he said he was depressed. Sin after sin followed another to such a degree that as he concludes this letter, he says in chapter 12:20, “I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” 
  • I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
  • Paul was discouragement by the Corinthians, as they had all the gifts, but they were divided, disorderly, and worldly. They fought each other, even sued each other. Some of them were involved in sexual sin, and they dishonoured the Lord’s Table.
  • Illustration – In additionally to all this, false teachers had come into the church. They managed to deceive the leaders and members of the church to join in a rebellion against Paul. On top of this, those who hated him and the gospel in Ephesus started a riot (Acts 19).
  • He needed to be comforted. In chapter 2:4, he says, “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.
  • Application – It seems as if Paul is on the brink of heartbreak. So he sent Titus out how they responded to his first letter. This brings us to our text. He had come to Troas very discouraged as his departure had been caused by the riots in Ephesus.
  • He comes to Troas, we can assume, to start a church or to evangelise to the city. How can we assume this? Well in Acts 16 tells us Paul had been here before and apparently he didn’t found a church. But go ahead to Acts 20, and we find a church there. So perhaps he founded it on this very short visit.
  • Conclusion – In fact, verse 12b says “A door was opened for me in the Lord.” It wasn’t strategically designed by Paul, the Lord was doing the work in this brief time there. This would be the best of all possible situations for a discouraged preacher. So you’d would think that he would be encouraged.
  • But look at verse 13, Paul says: “I had no rest for my spirit.” This tells us that he hasn’t gotten past his pain over the Corinthian church. Even a ministry opportunity brought him no relieve. What’s more, he didn’t find Titus.
  • Titus was on his way back to Paul who was coming from Ephesus. Titus was going to give the report of how they responded to the letters Paul had written, yet Paul hadn’t seen Titus.
  • Being burdened and overwhelmed, Paul left. He turned away from the open door, “taking my leave of them.” Hopefully you’d agree, it is so hard to imagine that such a man of God would seem so hopeless. However, that is the reality that can overcome you when you don’t understand hope.
  • Bridge – However, that is the reality that can overcome you when you don’t understand hope, when you don’t have a theology of hope. Therefore, Paul becomes an example of how to respond in the face of discouragement.

2. The Assurance of Hope:

  • Text – v14-17
  • Explanation – Now here’s a change! Somehow Paul is reminded of his hope in Christ. He uses the word “triumph.”
  • Illustration – In the Roman context, it is the highest honour that could be given to a victorious Roman general. This would be a Roman general who had been the commander-in-chief of a field army that has finished a campaign against an enemy. Now there are some specifics.
  • The victorious troops must be brought home, five thousand of the enemy’s army must have fallen in one encounter, and there must have been a gain on the territory.
  • Then, in this procession, the general would march through the streets of Rome to the capital, with the state officials and the politicians out in front. Behind them were the trumpeters and following them was the rewards taken from the conquered land. There would be white bulls offered in sacrifice to the ‘gods’ for giving the victory. And then the captives from the battle would be imprisoned in order to be executed.
  • It’s quite dark isn’t it? Anyway, there would be musicians playing music of triumph and the priests swinging their censers, and following in the back is the man. The general would be brought in a chariot pulled by four horses in purple. It’s also scenic. Imagine, while all this takes place, the army, in all the gear, would follow shouting, “Triumph! Triumph! Triumph!”
  • Application – That’s the assurance of a sealed hope! And that’s perhaps what Paul sees when he says, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ.” What’s the point here? Paul remembers that Christ wins. That’s our hope! So I’d like to share a few points for us to experience hope when we’re in a discouraged context:

2.1. We’re Part of His Army:

  • Text – v15
  • Explanation – Now I know that sound’s so Sunday School, but that’s a beautiful reality. It means that He leads us in His triumph. His leading us is the beginning of hope.
  • Friends, at the end of his life, Paul said; “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.
  • So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • Illustration – Paul’s hope was set on the Lord’s triumph. We’re in the victory parade, not as captives, as fellow conquerors in the triumph over sin, death and hell. And Scripture tells us that Christ will come back as King of kings and Lord of lords, and He will reign.
  • Application – Now remember the Roman triumphal march and the priests carrying censors burning with a strong fragrance? This would create a sweet aroma, which was known as the smell of victory.
  • Paul applies that to us and himself, saying “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.” This takes us to a second point of hope.

2.2. We’re a Sweet Aroma of Him:

  • Text – v15-16
  • Explanation – When we’re overcome by despair, a common thought is that ‘does my life really matter.’ But not only are we in the Lord’s army already marching a victory parade, we are a sweet aroma of the Gospel in every place. So yes, your life as a believer truly matters.
  • See, when the gospel is brought forward through your life in deed and word, the knowledge of God is spread. It is a sweet aroma. And a sweet aroma is firstly, a fragrance of Christ to God.
  • Illustration – Your life matters more than you can imagine. Therefore you have to be faithful in the proclamation of the gospel. 2 Corinthians 5:9, be pleasing to Him. As a fragrance, we have a life that has an eternal impact on the people around us, one among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, “to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.”
  • It means that your life, witnessing the gospel, reveals the condemnation to those who are perishing, but it also brings great reward to this who are being saved.
  • Application – 1 Peter 2:6-8 puts it this way, ““Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
  • So every time you proclaim the gospel, the Lord is using that as an aroma for His work. That is hopeful isn’t it? That despite your discouraged context, the Lord will use you for His work. What a source of encouragement and a cause for hope.

2.3. We Speak for Him

  • Text – v17
  • Explanation – The peddlers Paul refers to are cheats. It is like a street vendor selling fake goods. You go to their stall and they have all these branded products, but they aren’t make with the same quality, so they try to sell it to you, not for cheap, but an under market price. They corrupt what is meant to be good.
  • Illustration – Paul refers to folks who corrupt the Word of God purposely for whatever reason. But friends, it’s a pleasure, no – it’s a privilege to have a life that matters every time the gospel is proclaimed.
  • Application – Paul came out of a discouraged context through preaching the gospel. This is also what led to Paul gratitude to the Lord. So in your discouraged setting, friends I want you to be aware of the promise in Scriptures of an assured hope!
  • We’re in an army that has already won! We’re an aroma of Christ wherever we are. And we’re spokesmen for Christ. And remember Christ has won. Our lives matter and the Lord is with us. That is our great hope. Let us cling to the Lord and wait upon Him.